The provincial government’s budget for the coming fiscal year has been released, and officials and organizations both in the East Kootenay and across the province have wasted no time responding with a cascade of commentary, some of it supportive of the budget and some it trashing it.
The local Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce found much encouragement in the new budget (which covers April 2016 to March 2017) for more remote parts of the province, with local chamber president Peter Smith saying: “it is our (Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce’s) assessment that today’s provincial budget is good for rural B.C. and therefore good for the Columbia Valley residents, our local economy and our members. It is the role of the Chamber to help our members leverage some of the initiatives presented in the budget, (and) you can be sure that it will be the agenda for our next board meeting.”
Columbia-River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald on the other hand, was quick to denounce it in a press release.
“The actual budget documents for 2016-2017 shows that the BC Liberals have little intention of addressing the needs of British Columbians, making life more affordable for families, or behaving responsibly in their management of our resources,” said Macdonald in the release. “For example, the BC Liberals are continuing with their $235 million tax cut to B.C.’s wealthiest two per cent. Instead of addressing the needs of those who can use the help most, we are giving a significant tax break to those who need it least.”
“This budget clearly does not address the issues that face the people I represent. For instance, the much needed Trans-Canada Highway upgrade remains essentially unfunded, despite numerous announcements and promises that this was a priority for the government,” continued Macdonald. He’s also disappointed with the budget’s projections for liquid natural gas (LNG) industry, which he said fall far short of the 100,000 jobs the industry was supposed to bring. He contrasted that with job loses in the resource sector, and put specific emphasis on the closure of the mill in Canal Flats, which resulted in the loss of roughly 150 jobs.
Macdonald also assailed the budget for not spending enough on the public health or education systems and for increased costs for people through Medical Services Plan (MSP) fees, BC Hydro rates, ICBC charges and park fees, which he estimates will means an average increase of $900 per family per year.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) was one of the organizations to put out press releases welcoming the new B.C. budget, pointing out that the province has committed to invest tens of millions of dollars to protect communities from the impact of earthquakes, floods and wildfires.
“We are pleased with the emergency preparedness investments,” said Western and Pacific IBC vice president Bill Adams.
Many of those in the agriculture industry were also pleased with the budget, saying they appreciated its new provisions to support the growth of the industry in B.C.
“Investment in agriculture is a no brainer,” said B.C. Agriculture Council (BCAC) chair Stan Vander Waal in a press release. “Agriculture is a sustainable economic pillar and it’s regarded by the United Nations as one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty and hunger, especially in rural communities. Investment in the resilience of B.C. agriculture is an investment in the health of British Columbians and the long-term success our provincial economy.”
The B.C. Labour Federation, the B.C. Teacher’s Federation (the teachers’ union), the B.C. Student’s Federation and environmental groups were among the organizations that issued press releases communicating that they were less than thrilled.
“Once again, Christy Clark is big on talk and yet fails to support the very people who keep our province moving forward every day,” said B.C. Federation of Labour secretary treasurer Aaron Ekman. “The premier is cherry-picking her numbers and ignoring the impact on real people. Working people aren’t living on the premier’s ‘island of prosperity’ — they are paying more taxes, higher fees and increased fares every time they walk out the door.”
“At a time when British Columbia should be investing more in public education to match increasing enrolment, inflation, downloaded costs and growing needs, the 2016 budget is another failure by this government to support students,” said B.C. Teacher’s Federation president Jim Iker. “The projected increase in funding is just another shell game that fails to account for increases in student enrolment and rising costs.”
“Once again, the B.C. Liberal government has failed to address the growing funding crisis in the post-secondary system,” said Federation of Post-Secondary Educators and Canadian Federation of Students B.C. chapter president George Davison. “Every year, B.C.’s colleges and universities have to make do with less. This puts a squeeze on students and educators alike. Fees keep going up for students, and faculty have to try to maintain quality programs with fewer resources.”
“I was hoping for a budget that would really show climate and environmental leadership, instead we have a government trying to move ahead with highway expansion, LNG and the $8.8 billion Site C vanity project,” said Wilderness Committee national policy director Gwen Barlee.
The provincial government unveiled the new budget on Tuesday, February 16th.