De Jong seeks input on budget

Finance minister hopes B.C. families will take part in “tele-town hall” Wednesday

Michael de Jong

B.C.’s finance minister Michael de Jong is “cautiously optimistic” about the province’s economy, he told Cranbrook on Monday.

The Minister visited the East Kootenay this week to connect with local business people in the ongoing budget consultations.

He addressed a special luncheon of Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce members about the importance of balancing the budget and supporting affordability for B.C. families.

“If you look at where we are as a province compared to virtually every other jurisdiction, we are still on track, as difficult as it will be to balance the budget. We are still predicting economic growth, albeit modest growth. We have to be cautious, the same way that families and businesses here in the East Kootenay have to be cautious. There is not a lot of money to splash around,” said Minister de Jong.

“But we are in this position because we have been prudent. It’s why we have a triple A credit rating. It’s why we are in a position to balance our budget and talk about family affordability when just about every other jurisdiction in North America is headed in the opposite direction.”

De Jong was slated to visit East Kootenay Regional Hospital later Monday to see the Intensive Care Unit, which is due for replacement.

“It’s certainly one that my colleague Bill Bennett (MLA for Kootenay East) has identified and continues to push as a top priority. It’s pretty obvious that the facility is dated. I will have a better idea as a result of the visit today.”

He stressed that all levels of government need to work together on capital projects such as infrastructure.

“There’s one taxpayer, and what that taxpayer expects is that federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments work together to maximize every hard-earned dollar they spend,” said De Jong.

One of the hardest challenges facing East Kootenay businesses is a shortage of labour, he went on, especially skilled workers in the mines.

“Much of our focus has been on ensuring the training opportunities are there and that local folks and British Columbians are taking advantage of those opportunities,” said de Jong.

“We are developing training opportunities closer to home, tailoring training opportunities to what the workforce requires.”

Minister de Jong will be holding a tele-town hall for East Kootenay residents this Wednesday, November 7 at 7 p.m.

If you have a publicly listed telephone number, you will receive a call at home just before 7 p.m. Wednesday with a recorded message asking if you would like to participate in the tele-town hall. If you opt in, you will have the opportunity to ask questions of de Jong and identify your priorities for B.C.’s budget.

“This is where I do the listening,” said De Jong. “They will be able to ask me questions, they will be able to identify what some of their priorities are.

“I hope when people’s phone rings that they will have a few minutes for us and we can have a good conversation.”