Premier Christy Clark at the Lions Hall. Photo by Nikki Fredrikson

This year marks the fifth consecutive balanced budget the province of British Columbia has announced and on Friday, March 10th, B.C. Premier Christy Clark joined East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce building at the Invermere Crossroads to discuss the budget and its impact on rural B.C.

The Premier started her speech by discussing the importance of job creation, stating that when her government introduced the BC Jobs Plan, the province was ninth in jobs creation in Canada, but today were number one in job creation in Canada.

I believe a job is the most important life-changing element in most peoples lives. If you dont have a job, you dont have the ability to look after the people you love, you dont have the ability to provide for the people who depend on you, said Premier Clark.

She went on to say the provinces economic prosperity has not been spread evenly and rural communities have felt the downturn of commodity prices more than other people have in Vancouver, Kelowna, Victoria. The provincial government understands that rural communities need support to sustain workers and wealth during an economic downturn, she said.

Our rural economic development strategy, which Bill (Bennett) was crucial in helping design, is a $3.6 billion investment building vital infrastructure across the province; over 26,000 jobs for rural British Columbians, said Premier Clark.

Premier Clark announced a $40 million investment in broadband access to rural communities so rural areas have equal access to jobs in the tech business.

We know that tech is a lifestyle-driven business; people come in the tech industry when they can have great skiing opportunities and fishing opportunities and they can live somewhere they love, said Premier Clark. The only thing that limits people in being able to do that anywhere in the province is broadband internet access.

Another announcement Premier Clark made is a billion dollar investment in lowering taxes with the government committing to cut MSP (medical services plan) premiums by 50 per cent for almost all households. Two million households dont pay MSP now; another two million British Columbians will only pay half MSP. For the remaining 800,000 in the province, the governments intent is to eliminate MSP all together in the next term, she explained.

We dont want to get rid of MSP by raising your taxes. On the other side, we want to make sure this tax cut we deliver is a genuine reduction in the overall amount that comes out of peoples pockets, said Premier Clark.

Premier Clark and BC Liberal candidate for the Columbia River-Revelstoke riding Doug Clovechok spoke to The Pioneer after the presentation regarding rising BC Hydro rates and the potential of a cost increase in propane for Columbia Valley residents.

Regarding hydro rates, the Premier stated the government has made requests with the British Columbia Utilities Commission and is hoping for a positive decision that will change pricing.

I think it would be the fair thing to do for rate payers, she said.The current system of BC Hydro works for the vast majority of the province. I dont think it works here, because of the issue with respect to access to natural gas, Premier Clark continued. Were hoping this decision will come down soon and were hoping it will be positive. If its not positive, were going to have to re-assess and were going to have to re-think another plan.

Regarding propane prices, Mr. Clovechok said residents have got to take the initiative and say, no, thats not good enough when it comes to pricing. Im one of those propane users and you just have to really, really negotiate your rates with these companies I use Lo-Cost so there is a third one (in addition to Superior Propane that is proposing to purchase CanWest). I negotiate my rate with them every year. Its something weve really got to stress to people, negotiate, said Mr. Clovechok.

The premier was unable to comment on Jumbo Glacier Resort as it is currently in court proceedings, but she spoke to the importance of creating tourism opportunities.

Lets think about all the other tourism projects we can get working on, identify them, bring the community together behind them, find a way to find them and build them, I think thats where we need to go, said Premier Clark.

Also, at the Chamber of Commerce event, Premier Christy Clark and MLA Bill Bennett jointly announced $1 million of funding for the Westside Legacy Trail on behalf of BikeBC (see page 10 for the Greenways statement).