Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness calls the provincial government’s budget released on Feb. 20 “a classic, big tax-and-spend NDP budget” that he says benefits from 16 years of BC Liberal fiscal discipline.
The budget speech delivered in the legislature in Victoria by Finance Minister Carole James also relies on the assumption that the economy will continue to grow, Throness said.
“Given this assumption, it’s too bad that there are no significant initiatives in the budget to actually grow the economy,” Throness told The Progress. “There are no mentions, for example, of backbone industries like forestry, mining, oil and gas development, aquaculture or energy generation in the budget.”
• READ MORE: BC BUDGET: Liberals blast ‘tax and spend’ plan
Throness, who serves as the official Opposition critic for the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), said on his file that there was no new money for supporting foster parents, and no mention of adoption, two areas in need.
“We have a critical shortage of [foster parents] in Chilliwack, and shortages all around B.C.,” he said. “I pressed the Minister (Katrine Conroy) about this in the Estimates process and received no answer.”
Throness said MCFD will receive $203 million more this year, although he is unclear where the money will go.
One element supported by the BC Liberals is $20 million for special needs children.
On child care, James touted a “made-in-B.C.” plan with an investment of more than $1 billion towards the goal of universal child care. And the new child care benefit to be rolled out in September means $1,250 per month per child for families with pre-tax incomes of $45,000 or less.
But there was no mention of the NDP’s campaign promise of $10-a-day child care, something the BC Liberals and Throness won’t let them forget.
“I find it quite astounding how brazenly the NDP can ignore campaign promises and get away with it!” Throness said.
He said that his party, too, recognizes more is needed on child care and they promised 13,000 new spaces by 2020. But what Throness and the BC Liberals are critical of is the public model that he says is an “inflexible, big-government solution.”
“Like any public-only system, big-government daycare will be plagued with rising costs due to unionization (49 unions supported the call for $10-a-day daycare), bureaucracy, high regulatory burden for providers, and waiting lists. Just look at our health care system for the model.”
As for Chilliwack specifically, Throness was critical of many elements of the budget but pointed to many possible opportunities.
On the down side: there is no mention of Chilliwack in the budget; no funds to widen Highway 1; the new south-side school was not on the list; and the new foreign buyers tax will be expanded to include the Fraser Valley rising from 15 to 20 per cent.
On the up side for Throness: the building of courthouses has been confirmed, which should likely include Chilliwack’s planned expansion; expansion of BC Parks is coming that should include 25 new campsites at Maple Bay already underway; and funding for housing and infrastructure should flow to Chilliwack.
See below for a full list of Throness’s “difficulties” and “opportunities.”
Difficulties for Chilliwack:
• There is no mention of Chilliwack in the budget.
• There are no funds to widen Highway 1.
• A new school for south Chilliwack was not listed in the budget. It could be hidden in the fine print, but it was not on the list in the main budget document.
• The new payroll tax for employers will start next January, bringing in $1.9 billion per year. That will hit many businesses in Chilliwack.
• Minimum wage will rise by a third over the next four years. Helpful to some workers (though not young ones) and hurtful to jobs and employers.
• The carbon tax will increase by $5 on April 1 which will affect fuel and natural gas prices, as will the fact that the carbon tax will no longer be revenue-neutral; an effective $1.2 billion tax increase. Any tax-relief programs funded by the carbon tax are now in jeopardy.
• A new speculation tax will cover the Fraser Valley, initially 0.5 per cent of assessed value and rising to two per cent of assessed value in January.
• The foreign buyers tax will be expanded to include the Fraser Valley, and will rise from 15 to 20 per cent.
• The ‘review’ of the Homeowner’s Grant is an ominous signal; its reduction or elimination would mean an effective property tax increase of hundreds of dollars annually for every property owner.
Possible opportunities for Chilliwack:
• The building of courthouses has been confirmed; this likely includes Chilliwack’s planned expansion.
• The expansion of BC Parks was confirmed. This will no doubt include the 25 new campsites at Maple Bay already underway.
• The government will build 2,500 new units of housing for the homeless. We have yet to find out if any of this will come to Chilliwack where the need is great.
• The budget promises $15.8 billion for infrastructure over the next three years. I have hopes that Chilliwack might get some funding here. Cultus Lake, for instance, has an infrastructure proposal in for its waste water treatment facility.
• UFV may benefit from $450 million for student housing.
• There is $50 million in the budget for indigenous languages.
• Seniors will enjoy free ferry fares from Monday to Thursday once again.
• There are commitments to build affordable housing for seniors and Indigenous peoples.
• Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters will increase, on average, by $930 per year. We have many seniors on that program.
• More funding for more hours of care for seniors in residential care is a good thing.
• MSP premiums will be phased out completely (but not until January 1, 2020).