The provincial budget tabled by the B.C. NDP last week falls short of promising a way out of pandemic-related spending, according to Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka.
Reacting to the provincial budget from Finance Minister Selena Robinson, the Kootenay-based MLA added that plan lacks sufficient weight on the natural resource and tourism sectors, while failing to plan for enough revenue generation necessary to pay for COVID-19 relief.
“It’s not spectacular … (and) because we’re in such a crazy time right now, we need something spectacular,” said Shypitka.
“We need some hope, we need a real good vision, we need a plan for not only protecting ourselves from the pandemic, but also giving us inspiration and hope to have projects to be shovel-ready when we’re out of this and with the vaccines coming, people are looking down that road. They’re looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and this budget doesn’t reflect that.”
The budget outlined $8.7 billion in new spending over a three-year fiscal plan. An $8 billion deficit is forecasted, while the plan also projects the debt climbing to $71.6 billion this year.
“We expected to see a deficit. Nobody could ever think there wouldn’t be one, but it’s how the deficit is proposed and how the solutions aren’t there to pay it off anytime soon,” Shypitka said.
The budget includes $4 billion in new spending over three years on health and mental health care, including earmarking $900 million to continue COVID-19 related services, and $7.8 billion for health care-related capital investments.
The budget also touts a $500 million investment in expanding mental health and substance use services in response to both the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the overdose crisis.
On education, the province is adding $1.2 billion for operating funding over the next three years as well as $3.5 billion in capital investments to expand, renovate or replace schools.
Funding for various business supports was included, as well as $100 million for for the tourism industry that has been one of the hardest hit sectors impacted by the pandemic.
Shypitka, the B.C. Liberal Party shadow minister for energy and mines, also criticized the lack of attention on mining and natural resource-related industries, including Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
“The only time they mention mining in the budget is that we need it to get to a low-carbon economy,” Shypitka said. “Well, that’s great little pat on the back, but lets put the money where your mouth is. We’re looking at huge infrastructure projects with electric vehicles, we want to electrify our province so we can get lower greenhouse gas emissions, so we need that mining. We need those metals and minerals to be put in place to enable us to do that.
“If not, we’re importing from other jurisdictions that are less green and less friendly with our safety standards and our human rights standards and it’s going to come at a premium. So why are we not using what we’ve got here?”
Shypitka pointed to “shovel-ready” projects in the Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish and the Tilbury expansion in the Lower Mainland that could begin construction this year and provide LNG to domestic and Asian markets.
“China is a huge importer of natural gas and Canada’s got such a competitive advantage to where our location is,” Shypitka said.
While the budget announced $2 billion in development funding through HousingHub, which will help local governments, non-profits and the private sector to provide rental and home ownership opportunities, Shypitka criticized the pace at which the funding may be made available, pointing to challenges, eligibility issues and delays for businesses in pandemic-related relief efforts.
On childcare, Shypitka said it is an issue that needs to be addressed, but pointed out that the NDP are not pursuing a universal $10-a-day daycare which had previosuly been a campaign commitment in the previous two provinical elections. Instead, the government announced a Universal Child Care Prototype Program, which was expanded in the budget to 3,750 child care spaces.
He also called out another campaign promise — the $400 renter’s rebate — that was not included in the budget.
“It’s a lot of false promises that they failed to address and now they’re trying to rewrite the rhetoric a bit,” Shypitka said.
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