The budget presented by the BC Liberals this year showed just what drives a Christy Clark government: fantasy
The Premier promised what she called a Prosperity Fund just ahead of the last election. It was to be made up with billions of dollars generated as a result of the (fantasy) LNG industry. Since Ms. Clark’s timeline for that industry to launch has been dramatically missed, it is not producing those promised billions in revenue. But with the next election little more than a year away she needs the fantasy to continue. So this budget created a fantasy “prosperity” fund. The seed money: $100m. But how to fund it when there is no LNG billions rolling in? Well, that $100m matches exactly the amount of revenue generated by the latest hike in MSP which is, of course, paid for by everyone in BC.
The Premier has derided MSP in the past as antiquated and said there should be a better way of tax collection. But she did not use the opportunity presented by her budget to deal with it. No other province charges a flat tax such as MSP to pay for its health care. Some tried but gave up as it was too cumbersome, expensive and unfair. But instead of integrating MSP into a progressive tax system the BC Liberals have gone for minor tinkering: they have, effective next year, (election year) removed children from MSP bills and have increased the threshold for people on low incomes to receive assistance in paying it. However the annual hikes in rates will continue and some families will end up paying more because of the loss of the couples allowance.
MSP is no fantasy for the government. It now raises more for the public purse than our resource industries, forestry and mining. And everyone pays the same, whether they earn $50,000 or $250,000.
Another fantasy promoted by the BC Liberals was the much hyped plans for housing which the government promised would deal with the inflated Lower Mainland market. It will do little to increase affordability for most families. Changes in the property transfer tax on new homes may assist some people but will not help many buy their first home. And it provides no assistance to those in the rental market.
The fantasy budget was also a sad day for education which has been so desperately starved of funds over the last 15 years. Despite pleas from school districts across the province for more money, including a strong letter to the Education Minister from School District 72, Christy Clark has effectively frozen funding. The impact on our public education continues to be felt through the whole system and we will all suffer from the results of shortchanging our kids. SD72 is struggling with school closures, the last resort for any school board. I presented a petition with more than 1,300 names to the Legislature opposing the closure of Oyster River Elementary.
The fantasy budget of course provided capital announcements, including our new hospital, making one wonder whether the government is perhaps unaware that it is almost complete. However there was no sign that there will be relief on parking fees at the new hospital, despite continued lobbying by mayors from across the North Island and myself.
Once again ferry reliant communities did not get a break from the budget; our marine highway, our ferry system, was effectively ignored. I asked about the bargain basement sale of the Queen of Chilliwack – refitted with public money for $15m and sold for $2m. I was not surprised that the Minister of Transportation had no answer.
But there was cause for celebration this week as the Legislature welcomed two new NDP members at a moving and joyful ceremony. The first aboriginal woman to sit in the Legislature, Melanie Mark, who now represents Vancouver Mount Pleasant and Jodie Wickens, who represents Coquitlam Burke Mountain, were sworn in on Wednesday morning.
I am working part time as I continue my recovery, but will be in Campbell River on Friday before returning to Victoria and continuing the debate on the fantasy budget next week. I can always be reached by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca, or by phone in Campbell River on 250 287 5100, in Port Hardy on 250 949 9473 or toll free at 1 866 387 5100. You can also friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter clairetrevena or check out my web page www.clairetrevena.ca