The provincial budget is balanced, but there’s a difference of opinion about whether it strikes the right balance.
The B.C. Liberal government made its budget announcement Tuesday in the legislature.
“A balanced budget is critically important,” said Michelle Stilwell, a Liberal minister and MLA for Parksville-Qualicum. “It’s showing that we here in British Columbia are steady and we’re stable, we continue to be leaders and really, we’re the envy of the country compared to other provinces.”
Leonard Krog, NDP MLA for Nanaimo, said he’s delighted the budget is balanced, but said it’s only balanced in terms of revenues and expenditures.
“Ultimately, balancing a budget, for a government, is a fairly simple process except for the politics of it,” he said.
“What we’ve really seen is a government year after year says, ‘we’re giving you lower taxes,’ but in the meantime, bump up fixed fees that everybody pays, regardless of their income, and that’s contributing and exacerbating the growing disparities in our society.”
Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced housing affordability measures, expanded disability assistance and breaks on MSP premiums and introduced a new B.C. Prosperity Fund.
Stilwell said there’s a lot in the budget that will benefit families on the mid-Island, pointing to an extension of the $1,200 Registered Education Savings Plan grant, a $1,000 home renovation tax credit for people with disabilities and $217 million over three years to the Ministry of Children and Family Development for vulnerable youths.
Stilwell’s Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation is another budget beneficiary with a $456 million increase over the next three years.
“It means that we are able to manage the growing caseload that we have, as well as provide some equity and fairness into the system that we weren’t seeing for persons with disabilities across the province, as well as a moderate lift in rates,” she said.
The prosperity fund, seeded with $100 million in surplus dollars, is earmarked mostly to pay down the province’s debt. The fund was a Liberal election promise, originally linked with liquefied natural gas wealth.
“We in the Opposition call it the fantasy fund,” said Krog. “That was supposed to be the natural gas riches and we haven’t one plant out of 20 that are operating. It’s a shell game to cover the biggest broken promise any politician’s made in a campaign.”
He said there were many omissions in the budget speech, such as education funding, and no measures to address delays in the justice system, a shortage of family doctors, or ferry rates.
Krog said the NDP will continue to raise its concerns in the legislature and elsewhere.
“Ultimately, the people of British Columbia are going to pass judgment,” he said.
Stilwell said “there’s so much” in the budget for British Columbians.
“Really, what it comes down to is we’re focused on creating jobs and growing the economy so that we can make these investments,” she said.