Carole James talks with politicians and other community members Friday at the Coast Bastion Hotel. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

B.C.’s finance minister holds round table in Nanaimo to talk about the budget

Carole James met with politicians and other community members Friday at the Coast Bastion Hotel

B.C.’s finance minister was in Nanaimo this week to collect feedback on the recently released provincial budget.

Carole James hosted a round table discussion Friday afternoon at the Coast Bastion Hotel with politicians and other community members to talk about the budget that was released in February and to find out what aspects Nanaimo liked and didn’t like.

Some of those present included Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson, City of Nanaimo Coun. Jerry Hong, Snuneymuxw councillor Douglas White III, VIU president Ralph Nilson and Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce CEO Kim Smythe. Labour and non-profits were also represented.

“Today was a reminder again: the communities are already working together…” James said. “Groups are already connected with each other. Government needs to catch up with communities. We need to model what the communities are modelling. They’re working across sectors.”

James said the NDP government sought to present a budget that was not only balanced fiscally, but balanced in its approach. She talked about two priorities in the budget, housing affordability and child care, as well as a range of other spending.

Most of the reaction in the room was positive, with praise for the childcare measures including child care benefits, a child care fee reduction program, new child care spaces and support for early childhood educators. James said getting women back into the workforce will impact GDP and Nilson said child care is important in helping to make post-secondary education accessible.

Nilson and Malcolmson liked that the B.C. government seemed to be taking on some provincial responsibility in regards to truth and reconciliation and White said co-operation with First Nations, including discussions about revenue sharing, will be important in moving forward on resource development.

Hong asked about MSP, expressing concern, as a small business owner, about the threshold at which a new payroll tax will kick in. He also wondered how MSP changes would impact municipalities; James replied that the province tried to create a level playing field for the public sector and the private sector.

Spending to address the overdose crisis didn’t come up at the round-table, but James was asked about it afterward and mentioned a few measures, including provision of naloxone kits and related training, support for supervised consumption sites, and the recently announced community action teams. She said education is a focus considering so many of the overdose deaths come when people use alone.

“It’s not people, as people may imagine, out on the streets. These are individuals who are dying in their own homes and haven’t shared, because of stigma and everything else, the issue of their drug challenges,” James said.

She said she anticipates federal dollars to help with the issue, and said there is an expert team working at the provincial level “providing the expertise and the scientific direction around where we should head and where we can have the biggest impact on saving lives, prevention and education.”

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