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B.C. NDP government set to unveil 3rd straight balanced budget under ‘challenging’ circumstances

Budget 2020: charging PST on sweetened carbonated beverages
The province will start charging PST on “sweetened carbonated drinks.”

Finance Minister Carole James is expected to introduce a balanced budget on Tuesday but it won’t have a lot of new spending.

This is expected to be the NDP government’s third straight balanced budget. But James said keeping the province’s books in the black was more “challenging” than the last two years.

“There is no question this is a more moderate economic growth budget. It has certainly been more challenging. There are always more requests that there are resources for. That is why it is important to stay focused on people at the centre of everything,” James said.

“There is no question this was a more difficult year. We are certainly seeing a moderation in the global economy, which has an impact on British Columbia.”

READ MORE: B.C. finance minister calls for discretionary spending cuts to protect budget

James will buck an old tradition of getting new budget shoes, opting instead for her husband to shine a pair of old “practical” shoes.

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The finance minister spent Monday visiting with families at the family art festival at the Cedar Hill Community Centre in Saanich.

“Families really have been at the heart of what we have been doing as government and you will see that again tomorrow in the budget,” James said.

“We will focus once again on affordability for families.”

B.C. government marks looming end of MSP
B.C. government marks looming end of MSP

The NDP has been downplaying expectations for the budget as global forces have cooled economies around the world. The second-quarter fiscal report showed a revised budget surplus of $148 million, cut nearly in half from the projections in Budget 2019.

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) has dragged down the province’s bottom line. But a proposed change to a no-fault insurance system, as well as a cap on soft-tissue injuries, will allow the government to forecast profits at the public insurer.

British Columbia continues to lead the country in economic growth. Along with providing more affordable child care, the province also got rid of Medical Services Plan premiums this year.

Top economists give B.C. finance minister advice
Top economists give B.C. finance minister advice

But B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation Kris Sims says the provincial budget is “balanced on a tightrope with no safety harness.”

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“James said B.C.’s operational surplus was sitting at $148 million, $31 million less than previously forecast. That’s a tiny surplus when considering the entire operational budget is about $59 billion,” Sims said.

“The biggest risk factor? The ICBC dumpster fire. The government forced monopoly on auto insurance lost more than $1 billion last year when the government had been hoping it would only be about $50 million in the red.”

Sims is also concerned about climbing debt numbers. The provincial debt is set to hit $70 billion on Feb. 18.

“Our provincial budget shouldn’t be teetering on the brink of red ink and our province shouldn’t be diving deeper into debt when our economy is doing relatively well with a strong workforce and plentiful natural resources,” Sims said.

READ MORE: B.C. government axing lawyer, legal costs to create no-fault style insurance at ICBC

Health care spending once again is supposed to be the largest item in the budget.

Paul Kershaw of UBC’s School of Population & Public Health says he is expecting the budget to under-invest in programs that promote health and well-being by over-investing in health care.

“The scientific evidence is clear. Health doesn’t start with healthcare. It starts where we are born, grow, live, work and age,” Kershaw said.

“It will always be important to have a strong medical care system. But this system primarily treats illness after people fall sick. We need more focus on what makes people well, and prevents their becoming sick in the first place.”

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