The provincial government announced Tuesday last week that it would balance its budget again in 2015-16 and invest $1.6 billon in new and increased spending over three years on core services, in addition to annual three-per-cent increases in the health ministry budget. But North Island MLA Claire Trevena feels British Columbians were looking for relief, but they won’t find it in this budget.
“I think this budget has left people without much hope,” she said Thursday morning after the budget was presented. “I think people were looking for measures of affordability.”
Balanced Budget 2016 includes $673 million in additional support for children, families and individuals in need through the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, as well as investing $143 over three years to enhance key areas of the B.C. 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 have been announced to Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums, effective Jan. 1, 2017, including exempting children from MSP premiums and enhancing premium assistance.
“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,” the provincial government states in a press release.
Trevena says yes, there are changes to MSP premiums, but getting rid of the couples’ bracket means some people will actually end up paying more, even though children will be exempt.
Trevena thinks the provincial budget is “very disappointing” for people.
“There doesn’t seem to be any breaks for regular working people,” she said.
“There is big talk of changes to property transfer tax; it’s not going to change very much for people in Campbell River looking to buy their first house.”
Trevena is disappointed that there is no more money coming to education and there is no acknowledgment that the public education system “is being starved for cash and has been starved for cash for years.”
“It really is hard to find good news,” she said.
Budget 2016 establishes the BC Prosperity Fund with an inaugural commitment of $100 million from the forecast 2015-16 surplus to establish this long-term legacy, which is intended to help eliminate the Province’s debt over time; make investments in health care, education, transportation, family support and “other priorities that provide future benefits to B.C.” and “preserve a share of today’s prosperity for future generations.”
Trevena also finds the creation of the Prosperity Fund “laughable.”
“The aspect of the Prosperity Fund is a fantasy and I think that underlines that this budget is a fantasy,” she said. “The way I look at it, it’s a fantasy budget and a fantasy fund … ‘let’s pretend it’s all fabulous, people are making hundreds of thousands of dollars and everyone is living the good life.’ Unfortunately, many, many people are not and many, many people are struggling.”
Trevena also recently provided reaction to the BC Throne Speech. The Legislature is back in session, and Trevena is back to work after undergoing open heart surgery to have a heart valve replaced near the end of last year.
She provided her first MLA’s report for 2016 on Feb. 12.
“With an election a year away, this is the time the BC Liberals, who have been in power for 15 years, try to show that they have new ideas,” she wrote.
“However, the annual Throne Speech belied that; it was vacuous, repetitive and, to be honest, in some sections, it was insulting and divisive. It was no surprise that Christy Clark clung to her LNG pipe dream in the speech, which sets the agenda for the coming session. So much was placed on that in the last election that, despite missing all target dates so far, she is still heralding LNG as the saviour of the province. However, Ms. Clark has had to scale back on her promises. She originally told British Columbians 100,000 jobs would be created by LNG. But in this Throne Speech, she now says 13,000 jobs will be ‘saved’ – whatever ‘saved’ means.”
In her update, Trevena also noted that the Throne Speech touched on possible changes to the government’s strategy on housing.
“But what was clearly lacking in the government’s first major statement of the year was any commitment to make life more affordable,” she wrote. “There was nothing to give comfort to those struggling with ever increasing hydro bills, the continuing unfairness of MSP and the ridiculous costs of our ferry service.”
Trevena is also Shadow Transportation Minister, and she says she intends to continue questioning the government about ferries, highways and “their pet projects” such as the multi-million dollar bridge planned to replace the Massey Tunnel.