The BC Budget was released by Finance Minister Carol James on Tuesday, with a projected surplus of $219 million and remaining in the black for the next two years.
The budget includes what the NDP have touted as historic investments in affordability issues such as housing and childcare, while other priorities include tackling real estate speculations and eliminating Medical Services Premiums, but adding a payroll tax.
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka called the MSP changes taking from one hand and taking with another.
Shypitka added that before the government changed, the Liberals were planning to cut MSP in half and eliminating it, while the NDP have eliminated MSP, they’ve rolled the existing user fees into a payroll tax.
The payroll tax is expected to raise $1.9 billion per year as opposed to the $2.6 billion that was collected through the MSP fees.
Other health care initiatives in the budget included $1.5 billion increase in spending on care for seniors and providing primary care teams for those without a family doctor.
For childcare, the budget unveiled more than $1 billion over three years in spending that includes a child care benefit along with up to $350/month for licensed child care providers to reduce daycare fees.
With the plan, the NDP hopes to create 24,000 childcare spaces over the next three years.
Shypitka held the government’s feet to the fire over their childcare promises, noting their election platform featured a $10-a-day daycare plan that was absent from the budget.
“They wanted to make childcare affordable to all British Columbians, they ran on a big slogan that everyone deserves $10 a day daycare and I think everybody remembers that,” Shypitka said.
For housing, the budget announced $1.6 billion over three years, with $378 million committed to building 14,000 homes. Other funding initiatives include the creation of 2,500 new modular homes for low-income and social housing, while student housing got attention with an eye to creating 5,000 new student beds.
Shypitka said the housing plan from the budget was a far cry from the 114,000 new affordable units that the NDP promised during the election.
“It just speaks volumes on the character of this government and how they duped British Columbians once again in making false promises,” Shypitka said.
Other housing initiatives more specific to reigning in the rapidly unaffordable cost of living in places like Metro Vancouver include a speculation tax that is exempt on principal properties. The foreign buyers tax will also rise to 20 per cent in Metro Vancouver and be expanded to other urban areas such as Nanaimo and Kelowna.
The budget also tabbed $72 million for wildfire recovery and earmarked $9 million for the addition of 20 Conservation Officer Services members in the province, none of which are guaranteed to come to the East Kootenay.
But Shypitka said he was frustrated there was nothing mentioned about wildlife in the budget plan.
“There was a little blurb in there about having some program in place, but they never mentioned an independent third-party funding model separate from government,” Shypitka said, “in order to gather cash and facilitate scientific-driven data to incorporate a complete holistic wildlfie biodiversity land-use plan. This is what’s needed.”
It would have been such an easy item to add in, Shypitka continued.
“We’re talking about ecosystems, biodiversity, this is about addressing habitat loss…these are Green Party fundamentals, they’re fundamentals of mine and I think the NDP and any government would wrap their arms around it, yet they didn’t take the low hanging fruit here,” Shypitka said.
Other rural concerns focused on funding for fencing and cost recovery for lost livestock due to predation.
Shypitka also raised concerns about the camping reservation system for BC Parks, which has been overloaded with demand from out-of-province visitors in the summer and taking away camping opportunities for British Columbians.
With files from Kat Slepian and Tom Fletcher