February 19, 2019 6:05 pm
Updated: February 20, 2019 1:21 am

B.C. budget 2019: Government’s stand-pat, balanced budget includes moderate child care, housing boosts

WATCH: The NDP government has tabled a stay-the-course budget for 2019, with little new spending, but a surplus and more debt. Richard Zussman has the highlights.

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The B.C. government has introduced a stay-the-course budget that has minimal new funding increases to housing and childcare, while introducing a brand new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit that doesn’t come into effect until October 2020.

For the second straight budget, the NDP has balanced the books with the forecast surplus of $274 million this fiscal year, climbing up to $585 million in 2021/22.

WATCH: Keith Baldrey with more on 2019 B.C. budget

“British Columbia is thriving. We have a balanced budget across the fiscal track. We are the only province in Canada with an AAA credit rating from the major international agencies,” Finance Minister Carole James said.

“Under the last government health and education were underfunded. Fiscal management turned ICBC and BC Hydro to fiscal messes and money laundering in the housing market was able to take root in our province.”

WATCH: Coverage of the 2019 provincial budget on Globalnews.ca

READ MORE: What to expect from the 2019 British Columbia provincial budget

There are some red flags for the economy in the provincial budget. Housing starts are down 30 per cent and property transfer tax revenues have levelled out after years of growth.

The province acknowledges there are risks ahead but some of the province’s leading economists don’t believe that risk is being accounted for properly.

WATCH: NDP budget promises to fix ICBC

“I think the government in this budget is coasting a bit on what has been a fairly strong economy,” B.C. Business council executive vice-president Jock Finlayson said.

“We do see a material slow down in the U.S. and globally. I don’t think this budget takes enough account of the economic risks that are there.”

READ MORE: New report says B.C. housing market in midst of recession that could last for 3 years


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The B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit replaces the Early Childhood Tax Benefit, which provided support until a child turned six years old. The new program will apply the financial supports to parents until a child turns 18.

A family earning between $55,500 and $80,000 annually with two children will receive $1,380 a year from the province as part of the benefit. Parents can apply effective October 1, 2020 when they apply for the Canada Child Benefit.

“For anyone who has raised a child, they know how transformational that kind of support with be,” James said. “From the ability to put healthy meals on the dinner table, to being able to buy your child a good winter coat, that kind of support is going to make an incredible difference.”

LISTEN: Breaking down the 2019 budget with Richard Zussman

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READ MORE: B.C. rolls out $750,000 in child care grants with more to come ‘soon’

Part of the challenge for the NDP is the bills that are coming due for the major investments made in last year’s budget.

The province has tacked on an additional $76 million to buy land and build modular homes, bringing the number of modular homes number and funded by the province to 2,200. In Budget 2018, the province committed $7 billion over 10 years for housing.

“This budget can best be described as resting on last year’s laurels leaving some uncertainty ahead when it comes to the affordability agenda announced by the province,” Generation Squeeze founder Paul Kershaw said.

“If you look at the total increase in new spending, less than 20 per cent of it goes to people under the age of 45. ”

WATCH: BC Liberals react to the B.C. budget:

Some of that new funding for the younger generation is targeted at parents through childcare funding. James announced an additional $27 million, small potatoes compared to the $1.3 billion over next three years the government has already committed.

In order to pay for the CleanBC plan, the province is providing additional funding to incentive programs. None of the incentive programs are new, instead the funding will be allocated for zero-emission vehicles, heat pumps and retrofitting homes through existing programs.

The province is committing $90 million to push people towards zero-emission vehicles, a big chunk of that is part of a program the province says could lead to savings of up to $6,000 on the purchase of a new zero-emission vehicle.

“We are reducing climate pollution by shifting homes, vehicles and businesses away from fossil fuels towards clean B.C. electricity,” James said. “With CleanBC we are building a strong, sustainable, low carbon economy.”

WATCH: Coverage of the 2019 provincial budget on Globalnews.ca

Part of the CleanBC plan is up to $14,000 for homeowners to switch to high-efficiency heating equipment and make building improvements. British Columbians will be eligible to receive $2,000 to replace a fossil fuel heating system with an electric heat pump and up to $1,000 to upgrade windows.

“Our concern here is this is all taxpayers’ money that they are using against them as a form of incentive,” Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. Director Kris Sims said. “It’s not just magical money coming. They are trying to give you your money back.”

Medical Service Plan premiums are set to be eliminated on January 1, 2020 but to help offset the costs the Employers Health Tax is already in place in the province. Businesses pay into the tax on a sliding scale, with those with the highest payrolls paying the most tax.

The NDP is also committing to getting rid of the losses at ICBC. The public insurer lost $1.3 billion last year and is projecting a $1.18-billion loss this year.

But the government is forecasting a major turnaround at ICBC that would see the corporation make $86 million in 2020/21. The big savings are projected to come after the province puts caps on soft tissue injuries on April 1, 2019 and accounts for the savings associated with limiting expert reports lawyers can use in ICBC court cases.

“We are on the cusp of implementing the biggest changes we have made to auto insurance in 43 years. The changes are profound and they are going to radically change the way claims are settled.” ICBC President Nicolas Jimenez said. “We are estimating about a $1.2 billion in savings in the changes we are making.”

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