The BC NDP has delivered its first budget update since taking over for the Liberals. Finance Minister Carole James outlined a roadmap to how the government intends to pay for the promises made during the election campaign.
Overall, the budget update includes billions in new spending over the next three years.
That covers everything from battling the opioid crisis, increased social assistance rates, building new rental housing and housing for the homeless, reducing tolls, spending more in the K-12 education system, and cutting MSP premiums in half starting in January.
But James admitted there was some uncertainty, pointing out to a historic wildfire season, along with fiscal challenges at ICBC. She also mentioned a cloud caused by softwood lumber and NAFTA negotiations.
“We hope that it won’t have the kind of impact some people are talking about,” said James, “but it’s something we have to include in our fiscal plan.”
Here are the main takeaways from Monday’s budget:
Families across B.C. may have been waiting for substantial increases to child care funding, but despite promises in the NDP election platform it is mostly missing from this budget update.
The platform indicated an NDP government would spend $175 million on childcare this fiscal year, as it moves towards implementing $10/day daycare.
But instead, just $20 million in new funding is mentioned to create 4,100 new daycare spaces.
During the new government’s throne speech, the NDP hinted at a universal child care program.
The NDP had said their plan was to create 22,000 new child care spaces in the next three years.
Affordability was also central to the NDP’s campaign.
During the throne speech, the New Democrats promised to help renters by closing the fixed-lease loophole and by increasing support to the Residential Tenancy Branch to help both landlords and tenants.
One of the promises made during the election was a $400 renters rebate, intended to help struggling families, was missing from Monday’s budget.
The $400 grant was supposed to be per unit and all renters in B.C. were going to be eligible, regardless of income.
But the NDP said they are taking steps to reduce backlogs at the Residential Tenancy Branch.
The province is putting $7 million towards hiring 30 new full-time staff and building a new compliance unit, tasked with cracking down on repeat offender landlords and tenants.
The government had also promised to build 114,000 new rental and co-op homes across B.C. The budget promises a half-billion dollars in new capital spending towards the construction of new housing.
That includes $208 million to build 1,700 new affordable rental housing units over the next four years.
James said that housing will help seniors, families, and people with mental health challenges.
There is also new money to help house people who are homeless.
The government said $291 million is also being allocated to build 2,000 new modular housing units for the homeless over the next two years, with another $170 million being set aside to help operate that housing.
The budget update includes $681 million in education spending not seen in February’s budget.
The biggest chunk was approved by the B.C. Liberals after their loss at the Supreme Court of Canada, which forced them to restore class size and composition to pre-2002 levels.
But another $160 million is being added to fund enrolment growth and other pressures.
Another campaign promise was the elimination of tuition fees for adult basic education as well as English as a Second Language classes.
The government also promised to end post-secondary tuition for children in government care.
Education funding was a key aspect of the campaign trail, especially as the government is forced to comply with a Supreme Court ruling on class size and composition.
Transit and transportation
Even though the NDP has followed through with its promises to eliminate bridge tolls, many were hoping the budget would paint a clearer picture on how they plan to pay for the move.
The decision costs the province about $479 million.
The $430-million accounts for the loss of toll revenue, with another $38-million for maintaining the Port Mann Bridge.
The budget update doesn’t include the costs for the Golden Ears Bridge for future years, because that has yet to be negotiated with TransLink.
The government had also promised to increase the provincial share of funding for public transportation improvements to 40 per cent.
Another promise the NDP made was to bring back seniors’ discount for BC Ferries during weekdays.
The province is moving ahead with a 50 per cent cut in MSP premiums for all British Columbians, costing the province about $400-million a year in lost revenue.
It’s a departure from the B.C. Liberals’ approach of cutting premiums in half for those with family incomes less than $120,000 a year.
James said the Liberal government’s plan was unworkable, leading to additional administrative fees.
She adds it would have forced people to apply for a break, which means many wouldn’t even get it.
The NDP had promised to reduce and eventually eliminate Medical Services Plan premiums. It also promised to build new hospitals and patient care centres.
One of the hospitals promised will be for Burnaby, with a price tag estimated at $1.2-billion. Horgan had previously said the money could come from a five-year capital investment plan that would be part of their platform.
Previously announced increases to welfare and disability rates add $472 million to this budget update.
It’s what the NDP are calling the first meaningful increase in a decade.
James said the move will impact 190,000 British Columbians.
And while the province continues to maintain it will keep its promise to bring back bus passes for those with disabilities, the budget update did not include a price tag for that program.
Some big spending from the B.C. NDP on the fentanyl emergency, including $265 million in new funding for the Ministry of Health and $32 million to boost police resources and the B.C. Coroners Service.
The creation of a new Mental Health and Addictions Ministry also has a $25-million price tag.
In addition to the bus pass for people with disabilities, another key election promise that is nowhere to be seen in this budget is the introduction of a housing speculation tax.
James said some of the blame for the missing promises is placed with the delay in figuring out who would form government.
“No one expected we’d be doing a budget in September. We had hoped we would be doing a budget in early summer,” said James.
As a result, she said her government just didn’t have the time to implement all their key promises, but she says it was out of their control.
“The time it took to get into the legislature and to be able to have the confidence vote took longer than anyone expected because of the previous government and previous premier,” said James.
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