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Cabinet ministers answer B.C. budget questions in Nanaimo

MLAs stopped by Nanaimo Chinese Cultural Society centre April 15
MLA Sheila Malcolmson speaks with Susan Mah, co-president of the Nanaimo Chinese Freemasons, at the Nanaimo Chinese Cultural Society on Monday, April 15. (Jessica R. Durling/News Bulletin)

Community members asked about doctor shortages and other local priorities as B.C. cabinet ministers held a budget-focused town hall this week in Nanaimo.

George Chow, minister of citizens’ services, and Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo MLA and minister of social development and poverty reduction, along with Doug Routley, Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA, answered questions Monday, April 15, at the Nanaimo Chinese Cultural Society centre.

Malcolmson called the doctor shortage the “No. 1” frustration expressed to her office.

“Anybody who is without a family doctor, we really want you to be on our health registry to be connected with a GP or nurse practitioner,” she told audience members. “We’re really hoping that if you’re on that list you will be getting a phone call saying, ‘We now have found someone for you in Nanaimo’ because of this recalibration and using some of the technology to match patients and doctors.”

READ MORE: BUDGET 2024: B.C. runs record deficit of almost $8B, focuses on temporary relief

Released in late February, B.C.’s budget included increases to health care as well as several temporary relief measures for B.C. families, but also came at the cost of a nearly $8-billion deficit.

The relief measures included a one-time hydro affordability credit that starts this month. The province previously estimated the credit will save households an average of $100 over the course of the year. Other relief measures include an increase to family benefits and a temporary increase to the climate action tax credit.

Malcolmson told the News Bulletin that the credits were the quickest way to get more money in people’s pockets, while working on long-term fixes such as affordable housing and childcare.

“People are really challenged economically right now from the terrible hit from the cost of global inflation, we wanted to get support to people as quickly as we could,” she said. “Affordable housing is a huge one, no question. We’ve got people moving in just in the next two weeks, for example, into Nanaimo housing we opened up.”

Chow drew attention to the elimination of the medical services plan premiums in 2020, and the recent expansion to the number of businesses that don’t have to pay the employer health tax.

“Now 90 per cent of businesses, mainly small businesses in B.C., don’t need to pay into this … That’s a great affordability issue as well, I think we’re very happy with that,” he said.