By Scott Stanfield
The B.C. NDP has tabled an updated budget that intends to make the province more affordable for residents. Higher-than-expected surpluses will pay for affordable rental housing, a cut in MSP premiums and an increase in monthly income/disability assistance, among other initiatives.
“This budget update is about investing in people,” Comox Valley NDP MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard said. “We heard throughout the earlier part of the year, and we know from our experiences, about the issues around affordability and the lack of services, and the need to be building sustainable economies with good jobs throughout B.C.”
Leonard said the NDP has an “aggressive timeline” to move forward on a fair wages commission, which calls for a $15/hour minimum wage.
“That’s really the basis of affordability, is what people are capable of doing with their hard-earned money.”
She also notes a strong investment in affordable housing. Over two years, at a cost of $291 million, there will be 2,000 modular homes with supports constructed for the homeless in B.C. Another $208 million over four years will be spent on 1,700 affordable rental units.
“It’s the first step,” Leonard said. “We’re going to have a comprehensive housing strategy by the full budget next February.”
The NDP is also cutting MSP premiums in half — “We are committed to eliminating it,” Leonard said — and providing a $100 monthly increase for people on income and disability assistance.
There is also money for education, improved home and residential care, wildfire suppression and the fentanyl crisis.
“I’m really proud that we’re investing in a ministry that’s going to be focussed to try and come up with ways to overcome this one (fentanyl crisis). Our commitment to creating more treatment beds can make a phenomenal difference. It’s a life and death difference.”
Missing from the budget is money to provide a $400 renter’s rebate, a freeze on B.C. ferry and BC Hydro rates, and $10-a-day daycare.
“We’re in a position of working across party lines,” Leonard said. “We’re working to get the best policies into place as possible. The NDP is 100 per cent committed to getting to $10-a-day child care. We’re not ignoring. In fact, we’re putting $20 million into new childcare investments. That will create 4,000 new childcare spaces.”
The BC Liberals criticize the NDP for increasing the corporate tax rate from 11 to 12 per cent — which the former party in power suggests will take away B.C.’s competitive advantage.
“I think that we’re in line with the corporate taxes, with Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” Leonard said. “We do remain competitive. Investing in people is the first step in investing in our economy. We are hopeful and optimistic about the future — and not just for the top one or two per cent, but for everyone.”
The party, she adds, is helping small businesses by dropping the small business tax by 20 per cent, and eliminating sales tax on electricity for small businesses.
“These are steps in supporting business in each and every one of our communities.”
Regarding education, Leonard is pleased to see tuition-free adult basic education at North Island College.
“They are very committed to their students and the community,” she said. “They worked hard to try and keep tuitions down. It’s wonderful to remove those barriers.”
For the new generation of students, government has committed $681 million over three years for resources and supports.
“Plus $50 million for space for the kids that are going back to school,” Leonard said.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Leonard notes that many seniors who want to stay at home have growing needs to have supports in place.
“We have committed to include them in the budget. We’re trying to give a little bit to everyone in the most need.”
Leonard also notes government’s commitment to the 97 calls to action on the Truth and Reconciliation report, and to adopt and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
“If we’re talking about being respectful and moving forward nation to nation, this is the way to go,” she said. “I’m so proud of our premier for setting the tone so we can move forward.”