It was budget week in Victoria. The government tabled what it claims is a balanced budget but that is as much as a fantasy as the previous week’s projections of a prosperity fund, brimming with wealth, 30 years down the road.
The arguments that the budget is balanced are bogus: the government has booked sales of public property against it, even though that goes against advice from leading economists; it is claiming false profitability at BC Hydro when in reality our public utility is facing a $15.8 billion debt; and it is making cuts across the board. I raised serious concerns
in my response to the budget
. Cuts to forest health of $35m will have an impact on key industries in our communities - both forestry and tourism - and is incredibly short sighted. Also short sighted are the cuts to post secondary education, at a time when we should be investing in training and apprenticeships.
Parents may receive a $55 a month child benefit, in another two years (which will pay for one day of child care today) but MSP payments are rising by another 4 percent. That makes a 92 percent increase in MSP since the Liberals took office 12 years ago. Our ferries are losing $10m - which likely will be turned into increased fares by the BC Liberals.
Our new hospital is in the budget, and as the row continues over whether there is an adequate number of beds, I was pleased to note that the budget states the project figures "are estimates and will be confirmed through the planning and procurement process". That suggests flexibility.
The budget is a tragedy for the Ministry of Children and Families, my critic area. The increase in funding is below the rate of inflation and yet the needs of vulnerable kids is growing. With understaffing across the ministry and a growing demand, particularly from children with complex needs, there is a crisis waiting to happen.
I asked the minister in question period
how she expected to fund the six new beds she promised as a result of the Children’s Representative’s latest report into the Tasering of a child in ministry care in Prince George; there was no clear answer. Those places cost approximately $4m a year; the whole budget is only going up $11m and wage increases also have to come out of that figure.
The other area of serious concern in the ministry, that I raised in question period
is its data management system - ICM - which cost more than $200m and isn’t suited for the work of child welfare. The Ministry did not see what other jurisdictions were using before purchasing this, and now continues to throw money at it in an attempt to put enough band aids on that it can be used.
It is that kind of waste which results in an austerity budget like the one tabled this week. We have to get beyond the facile argument that running a government is like running a household. It isn’t. This government is responsible for the well being of more than 4 million. It is responsible for massive infrastructure; it is responsible for hundreds of thousand square kilometres of public lands. There are times when you have to accept that a budget will not balance. Even Alberta recognises that and has a deficit - because it knows it needs to provide services for its citizens. There are times when a deficit is simply a responsible approach.
I talked about the importance of tourism to the North Island
in my remarks on the government’s bill which establishes Destinations BC, a new Crown Corporation to look after tourism in BC. This bill is a direct result of failed BC Liberal policy. For many years we had a good independent crown corp., Tourism BC but the BC Liberals dismantled that. What they soon found was what they put in its place simply didn’t do the job. The new Destinations BC is much weaker than its predecessor and allows for direct ministerial involvement.
And some good news for the constituency came out of Bill 5 which altered the boundaries of Elk Falls provincial park to allow work to start on the John Hart Dam generating station. While parks should be cherished, I spoke in favour of this
because of the importance of the project for Campbell River.
This week also saw the introduction of a Bill from the leader of the opposition, Adrian Dix, which would end the use of tax payers’ dollars for partisan advertising. All advertising by government would be checked by the Auditor General to make sure it provides information that residents need, not spin to promote a political party. At the moment the government is spending $17m on partisan advertising: I keep thinking how that $17 m could be used providing support for kids or seniors, or put into our marine highways or our forests.
I won't be back in the constituency this weekend as I have meetings to attend in Vancouver. However you can always reach me at claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, by phone at 250 287 5100 in Campbell River or 250 949 9473 in Port Hardy, or friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter clairetrevena.