While BC residents deal with exorbitantly high living costs and public services that lag behind the rest of Canada, the new provincial budget recently tabled by the Liberal majority shows a clear lack of understanding of current needs for improvements to funding in British Columbia. Premier Christy Clark remains obsessed with balancing the province’s books at the expense of ordinary British Columbians.
Instead of putting its $879 million surplus to make desperately-needed increases to areas like education or poverty reduction, the province is paying off its ballooning debt — BC’s total debt is predicted increase from $64 billion to over $70 billion in the next two years.
With natural resource industries in Canada suffering, returns from capital investments, made by taking out loans, may not yield sufficient returns. It would be a naive to label the budget as strong financial stewardship on the government’s part: they simply have not been responsible at managing their debt.
In light of the upcoming transit referendum, this budget is even more erroneous. Lower Mainland residents will be taxed even more to pay for a service the government has now shown itself capable of paying for. Instead of applying a budget surplus to meet the growing need for better transit, those who want improvements from TransLink will have to pay out of pocket.
Daycare costs have priced many families out of receiving affordable childcare and yet, unlike Quebec, the province has no plan to take action on this epidemic problem. This is despite the fact that this lack of childcare might be costing BC business over $600 million annually.
The province has, since 2008, cut down its public services by 25 per cent, and this readily explains why the Liberals have been so ‘effective’ at producing what could best be described as a faux surplus. In fact, while our services have decreased, the cost to regular British Columbians continues to climb: with the new budget, MSP premiums will rise by four per cent, BC Hydro premiums will increase by six per cent, and there will be increases in fees for using transport infrastructure like ferries as well as ICBC premiums.
It would be a naive to label the budget as strong financial stewardship.
Middle- and low-income earners in BC who rely on these services and must grapple with high living costs will no doubt be hit hard by this increase, but the budget ignores their needs. Instead, the government has chosen to end a temporary tax hike on high-income earners, without any such breaks for lower-income earners. British Columbia is currently the only province without any plan to reduce poverty.
What would Premier Clark say to the many impoverished children who live in BC, barely subsisting on the government’s measly social assistance payments (which have been frozen at the same rate for seven years now)? Chad, Afghanistan, and the Central African Republic are all countries with a life expectancy rate higher than the life expectancy of homeless people in BC, who, according to CBC, on average die between the ages of 40 and 49.
How will Premier Clark defend her budget to these individuals, who ought to matter as much in the political process as anyone else?
It is clear that to the BC Liberals, the homeless, the impoverished, and even the middle class are not individuals worthy of benefits, tax breaks, or special consideration in the political process. With even the economic benefits of their budget remaining dubious at best, it remains unclear why the Liberals continue on this path. If it is to persuade the wealthiest British Columbians to support them come election time, then it will be the obligation of ordinary citizens to show the government that we matter too.