If last year's provincial budget could be described as "petty" after Finance Minister Mike de Jong doled out an increase in assistance rates for those living with disabilities -- only to claw most of it back by ending the subsidized bus pass program -- this year's budget could best be described as "petulant."
This is de Jong's "I don't want to, but I will because it's an election year" budget.
There were some positive measures: reducing the interest rate charged on student loans by 2.5 per cent is a good step, and reducing the PST on electricity for businesses -- towards its eventual elimination -- is a positive move as well.
B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong. (Photo: Chad Hipolito/CP)
Most of it, however, comes across as a good old college try at throwing a bit of money at anything political -- one-time funding, if possible -- but not enough to actually address any one of the problems.
The budget noted that B.C. saw a net in-flow of 50,306 people during the first nine months of 2016, and then a few pages further on boasted of its investment in affordable housing.
The government's plan will see 4,900 new units built over five years, less than a quarter of the number brought in by former premier Gordon Campbell over his 10 years in office.
The $100 billion B.C. Prosperity Fund charade continues apace with another $400 million tossed into the kitty. Just $99.5 billion left to go.
In the 2013 Throne Speech, Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon told the assembled that: "Future natural gas royalties will be designated to this fund, ensuring British Columbia families can benefit from the prosperity created."
De Jong's fiscal petulance shines through on the MSP file.
Last year, natural gas royalties brought in $159 million.
Guichon also noted that the government "spends approximately $2.4 billion (annually) on interest to service the total provincial debt."
It spends $2.68 billion today.
Turns out a not so funny thing happened along the road towards a Debt-Free B.C., the province's debt has actually grown under Premier Christy Clark by $21.5 billion, from $45.15 billion in 2010/11 to $66.666 billion in 2016/17.
And to think that the B.C. Liberal party once attacked the then-governing NDP for allowing the debt to skyrocket by "$17 billion" over 10 years.
A Debt-Free B.C.'s total debt should hit $77.7 billion by 2020 or $15,781 for "every woman, man and child," as the Liberals put it in 2001 when they attacked the NDP over the province's then per capita debt of $8,428.
De Jong's fiscal petulance shines through on the MSP file, however.
Premier of British Columbia Christy Clark. (Photo: Kevin Light/Reuters)
In an op-ed following the release of the budget, de Jong wrote: "With Budget 2017 we intend to move to eliminate Medical Services Plan premiums."
"Intend," "move" -- decisive verbs. Could have thrown in a "hope" for good measure.
De Jong went on: "As a first step, we are cutting MSP premiums in half for families and individuals with family net incomes of up to $120,000 per year, effective Jan. 1, 2018."
"As a result, in addition to the estimated two million people who currently pay no premiums, a further two million British Columbians will see their premiums cut in half -- a move that will put almost $1 billion in the pockets of middle-class British Columbians."
Last year, MSP premiums brought in $2.5 billion. In 2018/19 -- the first full fiscal year where the cuts will be in effect -- they're forecast to bring in $1.72 billion.
Rumour has it some hefty ICBC and B.C. Hydro hikes are coming down the pipe.
After the two million who will see their premiums cut in half are added to "the estimated two million" paying no premiums at all, makes one wonder how many are left to pay the full MSP freight.
There are only 4.06 million British Columbians over the age of 15.
Perhaps the government is counting on most of those who will be eligible for the cut not to know about the necessary paperwork required to receive it?
Putting "almost $1 billion in the pockets of middle-class British Columbians" is a nice touch, but it wasn't that long ago - 2010/11 to be exact - when MSP premiums brought in the roughly $1.72 billion de Jong estimates he'll see in 2018/19.
The post-budget scramble to try and explain the MSP measure speaks to the old adage that a camel really is a horse designed by a committee.
But don't think those two million British Columbians are ungrateful.
Rumour has it some hefty ICBC and B.C. Hydro hikes are coming down the pipe.
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The Liberal government delivered its maiden budget Tuesday, March 22. A deficit of $29.4 billion in 2016-17, nearly three times the $10 billion promised during the fall election campaign, and a projected deficit of $17.7 billion in 2019-20 rather than the balanced budget that was promised in October. (Source: The Canadian Press)
One of the earmarks of the budget is a commitment to spending on aboriginal issues. This includes: - $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education on First Nations reserves, including language and cultural programs, plus $969.4 million over five years for education infrastructure. - $1.2 billion over five years for social infrastructure for Aboriginal Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and northern communities. - $10.4 million over three years for new women's shelters in First Nations communities, and $33.6 million over five years and $8.3 million ongoing for support services. - $40 million over two years for the inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will be changing the structure of Canada's child benefits, ending income splitting and other tax credits for families and parents. This means: - $10 billion more over two years for a new Canada child benefit, absorbing and replacing both the Canada child tax benefit and the universal child care benefit. Targeted to low and middle-income families, the government says the new benefit provides an average increase of nearly $2,300 in 2016-17. - An end to income splitting for couples with children, the children's fitness tax credit and the children's arts tax credit. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The government will spend $2.5 billion over two years on a suite of changes, including reducing the required work experience for new entrants and re-entrants; halving the two-week waiting period; extending a pilot project to allow claimants to work while collecting benefits; simplifying job-search requirements; and extending the benefit eligibility window in specific regions with a higher unemployment rate. (Source: The Canadian Press)
- $5.6 billion more in benefits to veterans and their families over five years, including a disability award that increases to $360,000, retroactive to 2006, and an earnings loss benefit to injured vets of 90 per cent of pre-release salary. The government is also re-opening nine veterans' service offices across the country and adding a 10th. - Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
Planned National Defence purchases worth $3.7 billion — ships, planes and vehicles — are being deferred indefinitely. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget includes $3.4 billion over five years to increase the guaranteed income supplement top-up benefit by up to $947 annually for single seniors, and restore the old age security eligibility age to 65 from 67. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals broke a major campaign promise to cut the small business tax rate. Instead, the rate will remain at the current 10.5 per cent on the first $500,000 of active business income. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $1.53 billion over five years to increase Canada student grants to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students, to $1,200 from $800 for middle-income students and to $1,800 from $1,200 for part-time students. $2 billion over three years is also earmarked for a new strategic investment fund for infrastructure improvements at colleges and universities, in partnership with provinces and territories.
The Liberals' green infrastructure plan includes: - $2.2 billion over five years in water and wastewater treatment and waste management - $2 billion over two years for a low-carbon economy fund - Over $1 billion over four years to support future clean technology investments - $345.3 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada and the National Research Council to take action to address air pollution. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The Liberals will spend $500,000 to help understand the role of foreign homebuyers in the country's housing market. The government says comprehensive and reliable data on the number of homes sold to foreign buyers does not exist right now. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The marquee Liberal commitment to Syrian refugee resettlement could end up costing taxpayers close to $1 billion. The budget provided an additional $245 million over five years to bring in the remaining 10,000 people needed to meet the Liberal promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
$142.3 million over five years will be spent to add new national parks and improve access during the 150th anniversary of Confederation. (Source: The Canadian Press
The Grits will provide up to $178 million over two years for the provinces for urgent affordable housing needs. Read more here (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget earmarks $38.5 million over two years to strengthen and modernize Canada's food safety system. (Source: The Canadian Press)