It is interesting how quickly BC Liberal government promises are broken. A week ago we had the Throne Speech, with its skimpy and pessimistic Legislative agenda. It was followed this week by the Budget, which made no mention of how any of the proposals presented in the Throne Speech would be paid for.
The Throne speech’s promise of Violence Free BC will be no more than another slick slogan. There is no new money in the justice system to pay to implement it. A 10 year Transportation Plan will be largely fueled by the hot air of the BC Liberal government because no cash was committed to develop a comprehensive strategy. And $5m is being taken out of BC Ferries. As for skills training, which was hailed as the solution to many problems; well, there are no funds committed for that either. Nor is there any money set aside to settle the bills the government has run up in its politically motivated fight with BC’s teachers.
And this budget will have an immediate impact on individuals and businesses. While the government says it is not raising taxes we all know we face higher hydro bills, higher ferry fares, higher car insurance, higher tuition fees and another major increase in MSP.
When the premier was still a radio talk show host she said of the BC Liberal government of the day: “They are going to keep whacking you for MSP premiums”. So it is ironic but not really surprising that now she is leader, MSP premiums are still going up. For the last few years, the MSP increases were not supposed to be any higher than the increases to the healthcare budget. The current increase in the healthcare budget is 2.6% while MSP is going up by 4%. In fact MSP is now double what it was in 2001 - $1738 a year for a family. It is the fourth largest tax coming into the government’s coffers. And it is a regressive tax which means no matter what your income you pay the same amount. BC is almost alone in Canada in this monthly flat payment for health care. The Finance Minister made a faint boast about the million or so residents who don’t pay MSP or pay a reduced amount, which is tantamount to admitting that those million people are too poor to even reach the tax threshold.
Of course the BC Liberals have not wanted to talk about how much more people are going to be paying in indirect taxes, fees and fares. They put the focus of their budget on the distant prospect of a boom from liquefied natural gas. However, there will be no revenue flowing to the government from that source for years to come despite the BC Liberal promise that the first LNG plants would be up and running in a year.
And the BC Liberal campaign slogan, emblazoned across their campaign bus that criss-crossed the province, promising Debt Free BC was shown to be a joke on voters. Tuesday’s budget shows the province’s debt has risen faster under this premier than ever before and will rise by a further $7 billion over the next three years, to $69 billion.
In Question Period we have daily challenged the government on its economic management. For two days I asked the Minister of Transportation
about the reckless cuts to ferry services
that he ordered without having done without any analysis of the economic impact. The focus this week was primarily the popular tourism route which goes from Port Hardy to Bella Coola and which is being cut entirely. International tour operators are furious, businesses along the route are steaming, and yet the Minister is oblivious to the economic damage to communities or the damage to BC’s reputation. I sometimes wonder whether he’s even been on a ferry. He clearly has no understanding of the needs of coastal communities nor their inextricable links to the rest of BC.
Serious social issues were completely ignored with this budget. We know, and are appalled by, BC’s continuing awful record on child poverty as well as the low levels of welfare and disability payment. But there is neither short nor long term relief for those tens of thousands of families who need assistance.
The opportunity was there for the government to have done so much more for the people of BC. The Finance Minister described his budget as “boring”; dangerous and short-sighted would be a more accurate interpretation.
On a cheerful note, as the Olympics draw to a close, I had the opportunity to talk about a North Island athlete: slope style snowboarder Spencer O’Brien
, who comes from Alert Bay, started skiing at Mount Cain and moved on to Mount Washington.
Next week we’ll be continuing to debate the budget and likely start looking at some of the legislation which has been tabled. Our opportunity to go through the budget line by line will start in a couple of weeks.
Over the weekend, I will be involved in meetings related to my critic area in Vancouver. However I can always be reached by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, by phone at 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 250 949 9473 in Port Hardy or toll free at 1 866 387 5100. And feel free to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter clairetrevena.