General · 28th February 2014
Much of the debate in the Legislature this week centred on the budget. That is normal the week after it is tabled, but the focus tightened after the premier’s extraordinary claim that there are no new taxes. She also said the budget was balanced "without raising taxes, borrowing or stealing." We challenged the government on its claims repeatedly in Question Period and in our responses to the budget in debate because new taxes, fees and levies will actually bring in $4.4 billion.
This is a budget that raises MSP by another 4 percent, leading to a doubling of this regressive flat tax over the last 10 years. MSP now brings in more than property tax, more than carbon tax, more than fuel tax and more than natural gas royalties. It raises for the province the same amount as corporate taxes.
And small businesses as well as individuals are going to be hit by the 28 percent increase in hydro bills, sanctioned in the budget. This increase is a consequence of the BC Liberals gross mismanagement of the once proud public utility. This is also the budget which allows for a 7.5 percent increase in ferry fares and takes another $5m out of the government’s contribution to our marine highway.
Inmy response to the budget I talked about the importance of progressive taxation to fund the services on which individuals, businesses and communities rely, rather than the flat taxes that are being imposed. Progressive taxes are simply a fairer and more equitable way to pay for our health care, our schools or our roads.
I also raised specific concerns for the constituency, in particular the lack of funding for rural Internet and the crisis at Campbell River Hospital. The budget allocates only $2m for rural internet provision which is far short of what is needed to provide broadband to all our rural communities. And I hear time and again when I am in communities across the North Island that they do not have broadband and that it is essential for existing businesses, for economic growth and simply to attract new residents.
Many communities that were promised new hospitals by the BC Liberals in the last election have had a rude awakening because they will not be getting new buildings after all. So we are somewhat lucky that funding for the new Campbell River Hospital was earmarked in the previous budget. However, I keep urging the Minister of Health to reconsider the allocation of bed spaces. Our hospital has had up to 114 patients over the last few weeks in a hospital built for 80; surgeries have been cancelled and patients have been transferred to Nanaimo and Duncan. The new hospital has a capacity of 95 beds and as we have a crisis now, we already know we will face a crisis in the future. Good planning and good capital investment would mean that we get extra spaces included now while the building is still in the design phase. But that appears to be very unlikely.
The BC Liberal’s capital strategy allows for a $7.1 billion increase in debt, taking the provincial total to $68.9 billion by the end of 2016-17. The BC Liberals are focused on the mantra of the balanced budget hoping people will ignore another broken campaign promise, the claim we will be debt free.
The reality is that a budget is based on priorities and this government’s priorities favour those with money and with power. So it is not surprising that when we asked in Question Period earlier in the week about the provision of a shuttle bus on the Highway of Tears, one the recommendations from the Missing Women’s Inquiry, we were dismissed. The Attorney General’s responses were quite shocking and would offer no comfort to women living along that route nor the families of victims: she used our questions as an excuse to talk about crime reduction in the province.
The BC Liberals are primarily focused on being re-elected. The Independent Electoral Boundary Commission is scheduled to examine whether there should be a redistribution of seats. The BC Liberals feel no shame and are eager to interfere with that process. They have introduced Bill 2, the Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act, which would result in preserving safe BC Liberal seats. The government argues they are protecting rural representation but as I mentioned when I spoke against this blatant gerrymandering, it is strange that the two semi-urban ridings in Kamloops are included in this ring fencing but the definitely rural and much larger constituency of North Island is not. And nor should it be. The Electoral Boundaries Commission should, indeed must, be free to do its job without political interference.
I was again able to question the Transport Minister about cuts to our marine highway and the impact those will have up and down the coast, on businesses, families and communities. It is absolutely incredible that these decisions were made with no analysis of the economic impact or any understanding of the needs of coastal communities. And the Minister’s response shows that he has no comprehension of what the cuts and continually rising fares will mean.
I am back in the constituency this weekend. I’ll be in the Campbell River office on Friday and I hope to see lots of people at the rally in support of the workers at New Horizons on Sunday: that starts at noon at Spirit Square.
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.