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Opposition parties point to what’s missing in provincial budget

Mike Bernier. Facebook photo
Mike Bernier
About 35 people showed up at Books and Co. Friday night to listen to Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau, one of three Green Party MLAs, speak on proportional representation. Bill Phillips photo
Sonia Furstenau

British Columbia’s opposition parties say Tuesday’s provincial budget was lacking in several areas.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson tabled the provincial budget yesterday that included an updated forecast deficit of $8.1 billion for 2020-21, down from the 2020 Fall Economic and Fiscal Update projection of $13.6 billion. This decrease is because of higher-than-expected revenues, including tax revenue as a result of activities such as strong housing and retail sales, and moderately lower spending.

“British Columbians were looking for a shot of optimism that the NDP had a plan going forward, that individuals and small businesses who have struggled for the past year would get some help,” said Mike Bernier, BC Liberal Critic for Finance. “What we saw will be a disappointment to those people. There’s no plan for economic recovery, there’s still no jobs plan, and there’s nothing to make British Columbians feel hopeful about the future of this province as we move beyond COVID-19.”

The Liberals claim that, while in the third wave of the pandemic:

  • Health authorities are seeing a cut of $1.1 billion in funding;
  • School districts are seeing a cut of $53 million;
  • There are no new supports to help people get by immediately, today;
  • There is no new, comprehensive funding for jobs and economic recovery;
  • There is no private-sector jobs plan;
  • There is no funding for the George Massey Tunnel Replacement

“All you need to know about the NDP’s priorities is that the Minister of Jobs – the one in charge of economic recovery – saw his budget cut,” said Bernier. “The recovery grant funding is from last May, which illustrates just how incompetent they’ve been. They’ve abandoned their commitment to affordability. There’s no new support for individuals who are struggling to pay their bills, the $400 annual renters’ rebate has disappeared, and they’ve actually cut funding to school districts.”

Meanwhile the Green Party of B.C. saw a few positives in the budget, but also highlighted areas they would have liked included.

“I welcome the much-needed investments in Budget 2021 in areas like health care and supporting people and businesses through COVID-19, but I had been hoping to see a far more ambitious agenda from this government,” said B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. “This is the time to recognize the pivotal moment we are in, when we can pair our recovery from COVID-19 with a transformative plan that ensures a green and just future for B.C.

“Right now around the world, other jurisdictions are recognizing that reducing inequality, addressing climate change and building a clean economy are not just nice-to-haves, they are absolute imperatives. If we fail to reach for the limits of our potential now, we risk being left behind.”

She said she was glad to see the government acknowledge that the recovery from COVID-19 will be uneven, but “I remain troubled by their continued sole reliance on outdated economic indicators like GDP growth.”

Robinson said the world has changed dramatically since the province released its last budget. B.C.’s real gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have declined by 5.3 per cent in 2020. As the recovery continues, B.C.’s real GDP is forecast to grow by 4.4 per cent in 2021 and 3.8 per cent in 2022, reaching pre-pandemic levels by next year.

“British Columbians have lived with a growing affordability crisis for years, and they know that growth driven by an out of control housing market actually makes life harder,” said Furstenau. “B.C.’s economy continues to rely far too much on real estate to drive revenues. We need to change the way we assess the health of our economy if we are going to address the structural inequalities that are built into it.”

Furstenau pointed to the following areas as notably lacking in the government’s budget:

  • No funding for preventative mental health services that would fully incorporate mental health care under MSP.
  • No real action to cool the housing market and tackle the affordability crisis gripping cities and towns across BC.
  • Lack of implementation of the recommendations of the basic income panel, including to provide people with disabilities, women fleeing violence, and youth aging out of care with a basic income.
  • No funding to create a paradigm shift in our forestry sector and to implement the recommendations of the Old Growth Strategic Review Panel, including through funding for Indigenous-led protected areas and conservation financing.
  • Lack of ambitious climate action that matches the scale of the challenge we face.
  • Lack of funding and policy direction to fulfill the government’s promise to “fix the cracks” in our seniors care system.
  • Inadequate plan for a green recovery that prioritizes investments in rapid transit, clean infrastructure, and worker transition.

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