BC Liberals are patting each other on the back for a 2016 budget that, they say, is disciplined and balanced.
“British Columbia’s continued fiscal discipline and steady economic growth are providing the means for new and increased funding for services, helping families with the cost of living, and taking new steps to help promote home ownership,” Finance Minister Michael de Jong said Tuesday as he brought in the government’s 2016 financial plan.
“Balanced Budget 2016 invests $1.6 billion in new and increased spending over three years on core services in addition to annual 3% increases in the health ministry budget, almost $500 million of which is funded by lower interest costs due to the retirement of operating debt.”
New or increased investments in government programs and services include:
- $3.2 billion over three years added to the Ministry of Health compared to 2015-16.
- $673 million in additional support for children, families and individuals in need over three years, including $217 million for the Ministry of Children and Family Development to support vulnerable youth and their families, and $456 million for the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation to support those in need and to increase monthly disability income assistance rates.
- $143 million over three years to enhance key areas of the BC economy that support jobs in communities, including the new $75-million Rural Dividend Program to help small communities strengthen and diversify their economies, additional support for youth trades training, building the B.C. wood brand in India, and additional BC Transit funding.
- Changes to Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums and enhanced premium assistance effective Jan. 1, 2017, will help lower-income families, individuals, and seniors with the cost of living. All children will be exempted from MSP premiums, directly benefitting about 70,000 single-parent families. By making children free and expanding premium assistance, an additional 335,000 people will see their premiums reduced and an additional 45,000 people will no longer pay MSP premiums at all. With these changes, de Jong said, a single-parent with two children would, for example, save up to $1,224 each year, and a senior couple earning up to $51,000 may now qualify for reduced premiums. Once the changes are implemented, nearly two million British Columbians will pay no premiums at all.
- Government is acting to help the housing market respond to high demand for homes, which is resulting in rapidly rising prices, particularly among single-family homes in the Lower Mainland.
- Budget 2016 introduces a new full exemption from the property transfer tax on newly constructed homes (including condominiums) priced up to $750,000. This exemption will save purchasers up to $13,000 on a newly constructed home and is estimated to provide approximately $75 million in property transfer tax relief for new construction in 2016-17. The cost of this measure will be offset by adding a third tier to the property transfer tax rate, increasing the rate to 3% from 2% on the fair market value of property above $2 million.
- Proposed changes to the Property Transfer Tax Act will authorize government to collect new information from owners when they register their property. The government will resume collecting data that specifically identifies foreign purchasers. Beginning this summer, individuals who purchase property will need to disclose if they are citizens or permanent residents of Canada, and, if they are not, their citizenship and country of residence.
Needless to say, the new budget did not impress the Official Opposition.
“The actual budget documents for 2016-17 shows that the BC Liberals have little intention of addressing the needs of British Columbians, making life more affordable for families, or behaving responsibly in their management of our resources,” Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald said in a statement.
“For example, the BC Liberals are continuing with their $235 million tax cut to BC’s wealthiest 2%. Instead of addressing the needs of those who can use the help most, we are giving a significant tax break to those who need it least.”
He said the government is still claiming that they are on the path to being debt-free, “despite the fact that under Premier Clark’s watch the debt has increased more than any other BC premier.”
“In the last election, the BC Liberals claimed that the windfall from Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) would build a Prosperity Fund, create 100,000 jobs, eliminate the provincial debt, and bring an end to provincial sales tax. But it takes only a cursory glance at the real projections for LNG to see that this was a fantasy, a fantasy that every BC Liberal MLA and candidate was willing to parrot,” Macdonald said.
Instead, he said, the budget will include increased costs for people through Medical Services Plan (MSP) fees, BC Hydro rates, ICBC charges and park fees, an estimated average increase of $900 per family per year. And it will leave the public school and public health systems without the funding they require.
Despite BC Liberals claims to have a plan for job creation, over a dozen mines in this province have closed and 2,280 mining jobs have been lost, said Macdonald who is the Official Opposition Critic for Energy, Mines and Resources.
“This budget clearly does not address the issues that face the people I represent,” he said. “For instance, the much needed Trans-Canada Highway upgrade remains essentially unfunded, despite numerous announcements and promises that this was a priority for the government.” continued Macdonald.
“The people of Columbia River-Revelstoke deserve better; they deserve a government that actually listens to and cares about their priorities.”