It’s been an interesting year in B.C., politically, economically and socially. It sets the table for an unpredictable 2020.
In January, new municipal councils had just taken office – some with very ambitious agendas. A year later, what stands out is the increase in property taxes. Vancouver is a shining example. The 2019 property tax increase was 4.5 per cent, the 2020 increase seven per cent.
This exclusive of increases for TransLink and Metro Vancouver, the regional district.
In all parts of B.C., property taxes jumped in 2019 because of the provincial Employer Health Tax, meant to replace Medical Services Plan premiums. All employers with a payroll of $500,000 or more must pay the tax – including local governments, health authorities, school districts and other agencies funded by taxpayers. MSP premiums are now history, but taxpayers now pay even more – indirectly.
The B.C. economy continues to do well generally, with low unemployment rates and good job creation numbers. The province is running a surplus – rare in provincial circles these days. Local situations aren’t all as promising. The forest industry is in crisis mode – many mills have been shut down this year, largely due to a limited supply of timber and high stumpage rates.
A strike by loggers and contractors against Western Forest Products on northern Vancouver Island is in its sixth month, with no resolution in sight. No one in business or politics seems to have any clear answers as to how best to restore the industry to at least some of its former strength.
On the LNG front, which has the potential to create a lot of jobs and boost economic activity well into the future, two projects are proceeding nicely – the LNG Canada project in Kitimat and Woodfibre project in Squamish. A third project, the Kitimat LNG project, has some challenges. Chevron, a 50 per cent partner, wants out. Thus far, no potential buyer has come forward.
LNG is good for the environment. It has the potential to significantly lower emissions in China and other parts of Asia. Natural gas emits slightly less than half the carbon dioxide emitted by coal. Changing Chinese coal plants to natural gas will be a significant step towards lowering worldwide emissions. This point is not made nearly often enough by political leaders.
The Green Party under Andrew Weaver, who is departing his job as party leader early in 2020 and says he won’t even be a member of the party after his resignation, opposes LNG with all its might. The party lacks understanding of the resource-based economy of much of B.C. outside Vancouver and Victoria, and short-sightedly ignores benefits of helping Asian countries reduce emissions.
One of the most significant moves made by the B.C. Legislature this year was unanimous adoption of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people. Implications go far beyond provincial laws.First Nations people will take a more leading role in the economy. Many social issues which have plagued many First Nation communities from the time of first contact with Europeans have a much better chance of resolution.
ICBC, which impacts all B.C. drivers, continues to be a raging dumpster fire. There is no sign of the fire even being tamped down. This will plague the government and hit drivers hard.
Frank Bucholtz is a columnist and former editor with Black Press Media. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org