Today (February 19) the B.C. NDP released a provincial budget that includes a little something for most people but nothing too radical that might really cause anyone to celebrate (or get too upset).
One constituency that was given something significant is post-secondary students.
“To help make sure young people are able to start their careers without being saddled with debt, Budget 2019 eliminates interest from all new and existing British Columbia student loans,” reads a media release accompanying the budget’s tabling in the legislature.
In addition, under the Extended Family Program, foster parents will receive a 75-percent increase to support payments. That was met with cheers from groups like the SOS Children’s Village B.C.
Responses from environmental organizations suggest the planet is another winner with the province’s budget for 2019.
“B.C. has set off on a climate action marathon, and the 2019 budget marks an early milestone. Indeed, the allocation of $902 million over three years represents the largest climate action investment on an annual basis in B.C. history," said Karen Tam Wu, B.C. director at the Pembina Institute. "We’re pleased the government is backing up its commitment to get B.C. on track to our climate targets with substantial dollars for the programs laid out in the CleanBC plan.”
The NDP’s sizable investment in CleanBC—a plan for B.C. to achieve 75 percent of carbon-emission reductions it wants by 2030—was a point emphasized by several organizations working on climate change in B.C.
Other environmental groups gave the 2019 budget more mixed reviews.
“Finally, we’re getting started in reducing carbon pollution,” Wilderness Committee climate campaigner Peter McCartney said quoted in a media release. “But with our life support systems already showing signs of collapse, consumer rebates and industry programs just aren’t going to cut it.”
The Wilderness Committee criticized the NDP for supporting the LNG Canada project that’s planned for a location outside of Kitimat.
The David Suzuki Foundation also praised the budget for its sizable investment in CleanBC, but maintained the NDP’s plans for climate change are not sufficient.
“Modernizing B.C.’s transportation systems and vehicles is a smart choice. These investments will mean better health, cleaner air and less time stuck in traffic for B.C. families,” the organization’s science and policy director, Ian Bruce, said quoted in a release.
However, he added: “B.C.’s renewable energy sector has a vital role to play in meeting B.C.’s climate goals. With the exception of some key investment for Indigenous projects, today’s budget overlooked some of B.C.’s greatest assets.”
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. (ICBA) was even less impressed.
“Economic winter is coming,” read the top of its media release issued in response to the budget.
“Around the world, prudent leaders are preparing for the next downturn as economic warning lights pop on,” ICBA spokesperson Jordan Bateman said quoted there. “But in B.C., the NDP Government thinks economic growth will continue on happily for at least the next three years—and are taxing, borrowing and spending like mad.”
Bateman added a shot if criticism for what he described as the NDP’s habit of announcing the same funding initiatives more than once.
“This budget re-announces a lot of last year’s measures and pre-announces a lot of next year’s, like changes to child tax credits,” Bateman said. “There was very little for today, and nothing to give the construction industry—which powers the B.C. economy—any comfort.”
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) also expressed concerns.
“A new Employers’ Health Tax, an increasing carbon tax, a rising minimum wage, climbing corporate tax rates – these costs are weighing down the backbone of BC’s economy,” said Val Litwin, president and CEO of the chamber. “Beyond a number of limited tax enhancements, we didn’t see anything today that will materially help BC’s SMEs compete in the years ahead—and our data shows there are storm clouds looming”.
Representing workers, the B.C. Federation of Labour (BCFL) struck a more positive note.
“When you start to add up the increased infrastructure funding ($20 billion), the jobs created through retrofits of public buildings ($40 million) and private homes ($41 million), there is funding in this budget for a lot of good, green jobs being created,” said BCFL president Laird Cronk. “An initiative near and dear to my heart is the addition of $6 million from CleanBC to support training programs for automotive technicians and electricians in the zero-emission vehicle sector”.
Organizations that focus on social supports were similarly more positive about B.C.’s budget for 2019.
The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC), for example, called the document a “powerful new tool to combat child poverty”.
“This is a family budget building on last year’s significant and continued investments in child care, and we’re pleased to see B.C. finally get in line with other provinces and providing a child benefit that extends up to age 18,” said Trish Garner, community organizer with the organization. She however added it is the BCPRC’s position that more money remains available for greater increases to existing welfare rates.
“Given the significant surpluses budgeted of $274 million, $287 million and then $585 million over the next three years, as well as the forecast allowances and contingency funds, we have the fiscal room to provide a much bigger increase to welfare and disability assistance rates,” Garner explained. “There is no reason to keep people struggling to survive at these shockingly low rates.”
There were a couple of hot topics on which the NDP’s budget for 2019 was surprisingly quiet.
There’s almost nothing in it on the province’s overdose epidemic, for example. That’s despite the crisis killing nearly 1,500 people per year for two consecutive years now.
And on housing, the Urban Development Institute (UDI) gave the 2019 budget a very poor review.
“Sadly, Budget 2019 offers little to encourage more housing options for British Columbians and zero incentives for purpose-built rental homes,” UDI president and CEO Anne McMullin said quoted in a media release. “In fact, Budget 2019 forecasts a dramatic collapse in provincial housing starts, including rental homes, over the next four years.
“This slowdown in starts will result in less homes, taking us back to average levels in the 1990s, when we critically need more housing options as our region is poised to attract 500,000 new jobs and one million new residents over the next 20 years," she continued. "It’s difficult to see how government will be able to meaningfully improve the vacancy rate, while building fewer rental homes.”
Other organizations weren’t as critical on what the budget does include for housing.
“Budget 2019 makes important new commitments to improving income supports and addressing homelessness through greater coordination and prevention measures,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association. “Combined with last year’s historic investment into new affordable homes, this budget will help ease the pressure for many British Columbians struggling to make ends meet.”