This week was the centrepiece for the BC Liberals of the short pre-election session with the tabling of their budget. Not surprisingly it is designed to encourage people to forget the last 16 years.
That however is unlikely. Their “big idea” is a cut to the MSP, although that won’t happen until next year. The BC Liberals have doubled this regressive tax over the last 16 years; it went up again just last month. But now they find that they don’t really need the money, thereby proving our argument that there is no direct link between MSP and the health care budget, it is just a cash grab. We in the Opposition have long been saying that we need to do away with the MSP completely and if elected will do just that. By the way, BC is the only province that imposes compulsory charges for the public health plan.
And MSP has been a cash cow for the BC Liberals, bringing in more than corporate and other taxes. Likewise the BC Liberals have been milking BC Hydro and ICBC. They have been taking money out of these Crown corporations, which belong to the public, and forcing rates up and up so they can show a surplus in the budget.
Not surprisingly Christy Clark’s myth of LNG, its prosperity fund and the amazing benefits it would allegedly bring the province were hardly mentioned during the budget speech. And the promise ahead of the last election of a debt-free BC has become even more of a joke than it was four years ago. The budget admits the province’s debt will be $66.7 billion by this March and $77.7 billion by 2020.
Any spending on education announced in the budget was forced upon the government by the Supreme Court of Canada and it will not make up for 16 years of starving the system. As I mentioned in my response to the budget , a whole generation of young people have gone through kindergarten to Grade 12 with their education suffering from this underfunding with consequences like text books becoming rare and parents and teachers forced to buy basic supplies.
There was not one mention of seniors in the budget. Despite our province’s aging population and the real need in all areas for seniors care, there was no commitment to any relief or investment.
During Question Period on Wednesday, I raised serious concerns about access to bathing for seniors who have mobility challenges in Port McNeill *. The Minister of Health not only did not answer the question he started talking about health care in Haida Gwaii. It seemed clear that he is not only geographically challenged but also that he doesn’t care about either Port McNeill or the seniors living there.
Also missing in the budget was any reference to BC Ferries, our marine highway. Despite fares going up more than 160% on some routes in the last 16 years, there was no relief for people living in ferry dependent communities.
I did ask the Minister of Transportation whether he would reveal the sale price of the Queen of Chilliwack **. He’s long maintained he cannot say how much the vessel, in which $18m had been invested just ahead of her sale, went for. But since we know the Queen of Burnaby sold for $425,000 just last week, there’s no question of corporate confidentiality. But he still refused to answer.
While ferries were excluded from the budget speech, old-fashioned pavement politics came into play with announcements of investments in certain highways. And you can tell it is election year when the planned patching of the Inland Island Highway coming into Campbell River gets its own government news release.
Further, there was barely any reference to our forest sector in the budget even though it still underpins our North Island communities. And when it comes to the environment, little was offered: the BC Liberals re-announced some extra dollars for BC Parks but that will in no way deal with the years of starvation.
Outside the budget and Question Period, which occupied the whole of the Legislative week, I was able to tell the House about an unique business on Malcolm Island: a wasabi farm ***. And I presented a petition on behalf of the Campbell River branch of the Catholic Women’s League.
I will be in Vancouver this weekend for meetings on my shadow Transportation file but can always be reached by email at Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org , on Facebook, and sometimes on Twitter .@clairetrevena. I can also be found the traditional way by phone: 250 287 5100 in Campbell River, 250 949 9473 in Port Hardy and 1 866 387 5100 toll free.
If you are having problems with these links go to:
* https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/40th-parliament/6th-session/20170222pm-House-Blues (scroll to 14:25)
** https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/40th-parliament/6th-session/20170221am-Hansard-v41n11 (scroll to 10:30)
*** https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/40th-parliament/6th-session/20170221am-Hansard-v41n11 (scroll to 10:20)