There was a lot to unpack in the NDP’s first provincial budget in 16 years.
Presented by Finance Minister Carole James today (February 20), it includes an intensified tax regime for foreign buyers of B.C. real estate, a new tax on super-luxury cars, and the elimination of MSP premiums by 2020. It does not include a $10-a-day childcare plan, as was promised in the NDP’s 2016 election platform, but does make major investments in childcare and early-childhood education.
"Budget 2018 balances the needs and priorities of British Columbians with the fiscal prudence that marks B.C. as an economic leader in Canada," James said quoted in a media release. "Our province needs bold action, and Budget 2018 delivers by investing in choices that make life more affordable, improving the services we all count on, and supporting a strong, sustainable economy for all British Columbians."
Others reviews weren’t quite as glowing but were still mostly positive.
Housing Central, an umbrella group that includes the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA) and a number of partners, praised the NDP encouraging development.
“Budget 2018 includes a number of important measures the community housing sector has been calling for to support affordable housing throughout B.C.,” their media release states.
“In particular, the creation of a Housing Hub within B.C. Housing to foster deeper partnerships between government and the community housing sector will bring together the stakeholders who will play key roles in developing and implementing the solutions to the current housing crisis.”
The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) gave James’ first budget a mixed review.
“It is good to see the rebuilding and enhancing of B.C.’s social services through the budget focus on housing and child care but we are leaving many British Columbians far behind,” the BCPRC’s Trish Garner said quoted in a release. “There are no increases to welfare and disability rates, leaving approximately 180,000 British Columbians struggling to survive on these deeply inadequate rates.”
The Pembina Institute gave the budget a good grade for striking a balance between the environment and the economy.
“This provincial budget shows it is possible to prioritize the wellbeing of our communities and families in tandem with addressing the climate challenge,” said the organization’s acting B.C. director, Karen Tam Wu.
“A clear signal is being sent to emissions-intensive industries: competitive companies are important to B.C., and so is transitioning to a low-carbon economy. We look forward to the rollout of budget measures that will support emissions-intensive industries in making the low-carbon transition—via the creation of an industry incentive program, new investments in low-carbon innovation, and the development of an energy roadmap for B.C.”
The David Suzuki Foundation was similarly supportive, but with caveats.
“British Columbia took a big step toward reducing its carbon footprint today, announcing plans to increase public transit investments and strengthen its carbon tax,” its release reads. “However, B.C. Budget 2018 stalls on the promise outlined in the 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement to apply the carbon tax to methane emissions from the province’s largest polluter, the oil and gas industry.
Of course, not everyone was pleased.
The Urban Development Institute’s president and CEO, Anne McMullin, singled out the NDP’s plan to expand and intensify the tax scheme that the former Liberal government implemented against real-estate sales to foreign nationals.
“We are extremely concerned new and far reaching housing-tax increases will not have a positive impact on affordability,” McMullin said quoted in a release. “These half billion in alarming, new real estate taxes also target local buyers and homeowners.
“Unfortunately, today’s budget did not address the real problem of getting new housing approved and built.”
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) was among the least impressed by the NDP’s budget. Its press release began by claiming the budget puts B.C.’s “economy on autopilot”.
“It offers nothing for how to grow prosperity, how to get to yes on major projects, or how to attract investment to B.C.,” said ICBA spokesperson Jordan Bateman. “In fact, its tax hikes hinder that effort. With a razor-thin surplus dependent on a lot of things going right, B.C. taxpayers should be alarmed that the NDP government has stopped paying attention to growing the economy.”
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce praised the NDP for its investments in social services but expressed concern for where the money is going to come from to pay for those programs.
“Today’s provincial budget reflects a social agenda with meaningful investments in both housing attainability and childcare—two areas of deep interest to the B.C. Chamber network —but it leaves the business community to pick up a $1.92 billion tab on MSP by the fiscal year 2020,” its release reads.
Chamber president and CEO Val Litwin argued the plan will hurt B.C.’s economy in the long term.
“This new burden, shifted entirely onto the shoulders of business owners, flies in the face of an innovative economy—a phrase that featured prominently in every ministers’ mandate letter in July, but very little in today’s speech,” he said. “This new tax will have a negative effect on growth and investment.”