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Reaction varied to B.C. budget tabled Tuesday

Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond

Reaction to the British Columbia budget has been mixed, with the biggest criticism coming from the opposition Liberals who say it is another ‘tax and spend’ budget.

 “Once again John Horgan and the NDP have put forward a budget with no economic plan and with the only source of revenue being the pockets of taxpayers,” said BC Liberal Finance Co-Critic MLA Shirley Bond, in a news release. “They have squandered the opportunity to help people with no focus on growing the economy or delivering on their promises to make life affordable. No $400 annual renters’ rebate, no $10-a-day childcare, and we’re still 98 years away from the NDP fulfilling their affordable housing target.”

By 2022, the amount paid in taxes per household in B.C. will have increased by over $2,362 under the NDP government, claimed Bond. Under John Horgan, taxes are up $5.7 billion while spending has increased by $11.4 billion, she added.

According to budget documents, British Columbia will continue its streak of losing full-time private-sector jobs, with up to 32,800 lost in the past eight months, she said.

“We needed to see a budget that would repair British Columbia’s reputation as a competitive place to do business, encourage investment, and create well-paying family-supporting jobs. This budget failed to hit the mark and has made it clear that people can’t afford more of John Horgan and the NDP,” said Bond.

The BC Nurses’ Union, while applauding the provincial government’s focus on children, families and vulnerable populations, says the budget lacks a health human resources plan and education for nursing students.

BCNU president Christine Sorensen said the government has done little to address the province’s nursing shortage or come up with a clear plan to address the projection that B.C. will need upwards of 25,000 new nurses in the next 10 years to keep up with health-care demands.

“The government projects that B.C.’s population is expected to grow by more than one million people in the next 15 years,” she said. “What are they doing to ensure there are enough skilled nurses in the workforce to manage the health-care needs of this growing population? This budget does very little to support BC’s skilled nursing workforce.”

BCNU wants to see a health human resources plan applied to the government’s 13 new or upgraded hospitals announced over the last year.

“We are pleased to hear of the capital infrastructure investments that are desperately needed to manage complex population needs across BC,” says Sorensen. “However, there is no government strategy to figure out how to staff these facilities. Where are the nurses and health-care professionals going to come from?” she asks.

Sorensen says the government’s new BC Access Grant, aimed at making life more affordable for BC students, should be extended to include nursing students and all health-care programs.

“This budget includes mention of a nursing degree program in Fort St. John. That program will support 32 seats in full capacity. We welcome this effort, but this is not going to be enough to meet this province’s demands.”

Not increasing welfare or disability rates going into the second year of BC’s first Poverty Reduction Plan is very disappointing say Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist Iglika Ivanova and public policy analyst Alex Hemingway.

“This is a very cautious budget,” Ivanova says. “We can afford to do more and the need is clear especially in areas like poverty and child care access. For example, almost half the child care spaces promised two years ago must be created this year if the target is to be met, and social assistance rates remain thousands of dollars below the poverty line. That’s worrying.”

Bright points in the budget include the creation of a new tax bracket for the top one per cent of earners, which improves tax fairness and will help address inequality while also raising additional revenue for investments in much-needed areas like housing, child care, public transit, climate change and poverty reduction, she said. The BC Child Opportunity Benefit (launching in October) will also provide families with additional funds.

However, Ivanova says that given BC’s strong economic performance, the province can afford to invest more.

 “The government is maintaining momentum on spending announced in previous budgets for key investments in infrastructure and public services,” he says. “But by putting over a billion dollars into contingency funds, it is leaving money on the table that could be invested in social and environmental priorities.”

The additional funds budgeted for the CleanBC plan for carbon neutral public facilities is positive, but undermined by the government’s continued focus on LNG development as an economic driver, Hemingway and Ivanova say.

“The government’s investment in CleanBC doesn’t reflect the urgency of the climate crisis,” Hemingway says, explaining that it is essential for BC to start to invest significantly in the transition of the province’s fossil fuel sector.

Another positive investment is the BC Access Grant for post-secondary students that will provide up to $4,000 for upfront costs of tuition for more than 40,000 low- and middle-income students around the province, as well as the highest-level in BC history in capital spending for infrastructure projects like new and upgraded hospitals and health facilities, highway and transit projects and housing, Ivanova says.

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