The B.C. NDP critic for the green economy, technology, and TransLink says that yesterday's provincial budget won't offer any relief for transit riders.
"There's absolutely no mention of transit in the Lower Mainland in this budget," Vancouver-Fairview MLA George Heyman told the Georgia Straight. "This government continues to ignore the need for additional infrastructure: the Broadway subway, the rapid transit south of the Fraser [River], or simply more buses on the roads, more SeaBuses, and more West Coast Express service."
Heyman said the B.C. Liberals' insistence that new transit funding be approved by voters is jeopardizing the possibility of obtaining federal money to improve TransLink service.
"We have a federal government that's offering money for infrastructure," he noted, "and this provincial government seems so fixed on their ridiculous commitment to referenda that we may not be in a position to take advantage of it."
Heyman also questioned the government's claim that its budget is making life better for British Columbians.
He maintained that in the last few years, Finance Minister Mike de Jong has consistently increased fees and taxes, citing rising medical-services premiums, B.C. Hydro rates, ICBC levies, ferry fares, and bridge tolls that combine to make life less affordable for average families.
At the same time, Heyman claimed that people who need the least help have benefited from Premier Christy Clark's fiscal policies.
"Last year, they eliminated the high-income surtax for the richest two percent of British Columbians and gave them a $230-million tax break," Heyman said. "They've continued that tax break. We've said that was the wrong thing to do then and we say it's the wrong thing to do now. What we need is a return to a fairer, more progressive income-tax system."
Fees rose before upcoming changes to medical-services premiums
Heyman paid special attention to the government's emphasis that it's expanding medical-services-premium assistance and exempting children from these levies starting in 2017.
"Medical-services plan premiums have gone up 24 percent since 2011," the NDP MLA said. "All the budget does with this unfair tax is tinker around the edges.
"Even the small benefits that are being brought in by Christy Clark and her government don't take effect until January 2017," Heyman continued. "In the meantime, she's set up a fantasy prosperity fund with $100 million, which is pretty much exactly equal to the $100 million that accrues from a four-percent increase in the medical-services plan premium that took effect January 1, 2016."
According to the budget, those with family incomes over $45,000 will pay $240 more per year and single adults earning more than $42,000 will pay $36 more. Single parents with two kids will save $864 per year and single parents with one child will save $696 per year.
"Once the changes are implemented, nearly two million British Columbians will pay no premiums at all," de Jong stated.
Heyman, however, declared that it's not fair that until January 1 of next year, somebody earning $30,000 per year will pay the same medical-services plan premiums as a person earning $2 million per year.
"The limit is rising to $42,000 next year, but that's still an unfair, inequitable tax," he said.
MLA says green economy needs bigger boost
Heyman also accused the government of failing to support renewable energy. He called it an "opportunity" that's being killed by the premier and the cabinet's zeal to proceed with the Site C hydroelectric project on the Peace River.
Heyman noted that the Canadian Wind Energy Association recently closed its B.C. operations because Energy Minister Bill Bennett and Premier Christy Clark won't issue any new calls for new renewable energy in the next decade, and possibly longer.
"That's a problem for development of jobs and industry in every corner of B.C.," Heyman said. "And it's a problem for British Columbians who think we should be taking advantage of dropping tech prices and advancing technology in both wind and solar and other forms of energy production—instead of throwing all of our eggs into the basket of one big dam in Northeast B.C. with a price tag that's likely to go up steeply in the coming years."
With regard to technology, Heyman said that the premier talked a good game at the recent B.C. High Tech Summit. But he claimed that this was merely an attempt to divert attention from her failed initiative to launch a liquefied-natural-gas sector.
"There's nothing in this budget to support the promises she made of [computer] coding classes for every child," he stated.
Heyman also said that leaders in the tech sector, such as Ryan Holmes at Hootsuite, have noted that high housing prices in the Lower Mainland are a barrier to attracting and keeping talented workers.
"The tech businesses are very mobile, as are tech workers," Heyman said. "We need to address housing and the cost of living in this region if we're going to build this sector and retain young people who grew up here and want to continue to work and live here.
"Until we do that, we're simply going to hollow our city's core and we're going to hollow out the burgeoning tech sector, which is, in my view, the future of British Columbia," he declared.