BC Budget 2018 was released on February 20, outlining the provincial government’s initiatives and financial commitments for the next year. The budget is the NDP’s first full financial plan since assuming power in government last July. The announcement prompted responses from groups across the region.
Housing for students
The 2018 budget saw the government committing $450 million over the course of the next three years to a student housing program. The money will be used to provide loans to housing projects in post-secondary institutions.
The Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) celebrated this announcement as a “historic housing investment.” According to ABCS, post-secondary institutions other than UBC have been struggling to construct housing on-campus for the past ten years. In a press release, ABCS chair Caitlin McCutchen called the investment “[. . .] a transformation in the way the provincial government views student housing.”
“We now have a government that is putting the focus on students, and that is a welcome benefit for access to education.” – Caitlin McCutchen, chairperson for Alliance of BC Students
The financial investment will directly contribute to the construction of 5,000 living spaces on campuses across the province, to accompany an addition 3,000 that will be funded by the institutions. The aim of this initiative is to give more students access to on-campus housing, freeing up housing spaces in the rest of the province.
Housing for the rest of the province
The government leveraged the budget as an opportunity to take another stab at the housing crisis in BC. A new annual speculation tax was introduced, which will apply to out-of-province homeowners who don’t pay income tax in BC. The province hopes this will target owners of vacant properties in the region, and so it will exempt homeowners who rent out their homes long-term to tenants.
The foreign buyers tax was also increased from 15% to 20%, and will apply to anyone from outside the province.
BC finance minister Carol James called the measures “bold”: “We’re the first province in Canada that is bringing in a speculation tax. [. . .] These are ‘firsts’ here, and we’ll track it carefully.”
SFU professor Andrey Pavlov commented that the sweeping plan fell short of what the province needed to improve the housing crisis: “Prices may be lower a year from now, but people are facing higher taxes in this budget. So at the end of the day, I can’t imagine many people are going to keep the same level of disposable income. [. . .] The key is to increase income and keep the prices the same or lower at the same time.”
“Everyone is going to be poorer.” – Andrey Pavlov, SFU professor
Indigenous culture and communities
The budget included $50 million to preserve and revitalize Indigenous languages in BC.
CEO of First People’s Cultural Council Tracey Herbert commented, “In BC we have 60% of Canada’s Indigenous languages and they’re all severely endangered.” She called the budget announcement to devote financial resources to the maintenance of these languages “exciting for the organization.”
The budget also involved a $158 million commitment alongside Indigenous housing societies and and First Nations to address Indigenous housing needs by building and supporting 1,750 living spaces.
Historic investment in childcare
The government made the largest investment in childcare in BC’s history, totalling $1 billion. The benefit aims to reduce child-care costs by up to $1,250 per child per month, and increase the number of families supported from 26,000 to 86,000. The budget aims to add 22,000 new child care spaces across the province.
When asked by The Peak to comment on the investment, associate professor Jennifer Marchbank said that the investment “in conjunction with the agreement with the federal government to bring in an additional $153 million (over two years) is a good start to building a policy of universal child care.”
“As my own research on child care in Europe has shown there is a direct correlation between child care availability and the ability to be economically active (especially for mothers) which improves families’ ability to earn money,” added Marchbank. “I also think that the policies to slow down the housing market prices and the investment into training more Early Childhood Educators can also help.”
While running for office, the NDP had promised $10-a-day childcare. No mention of that goal was made during the budget announcement.
Carbon tax was increased by $5 per tonne. The increase is expected to bring in an additional $200 million of revenue.
The move was favourably received by the David Suzuki Foundation: in a press release, science and policy director Ian Bruce called the tax “an incentive [for BC citizens and businesses] to be a part of the solution, by switching to clean energy or adopting more energy-efficient practices.”
However, the Foundation called for the government to increase pressure on the oil and gas industry via a similar tax levied on the methane emitters. “Citizens pay their fair share of carbon tax. It’s only fair that the province’s largest emitter — the oil and gas industry — pays a carbon tax on its methane emissions too,” commented Bruce.
The tax had been frozen since 2012.