Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu addresses a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce virtual town hall on the provincial budget with benefits for her riding Monday, March 7. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu addresses a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce virtual town hall on the provincial budget with benefits for her riding Monday, March 7. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

B.C. budget to boost North Okanagan

MLAs Harwinder Sandhu and Nathan Cullen discuss figures during chamber of commerce town hall meeting

Greater Vernon will benefit from the 2022 provincial budget.

Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu made a cameo appearance in a virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Monday, March 7, and discussed how housing, post-secondary education and health care for her riding’s residents have been addressed in the budget.

“Our record capital spending is focused more on creating more affordable housing…,” said Sandhu in regards to a $27.4 billion commitment over three years to provincial infrastructure, the highest level ever introduced. “There are projects in planning or development all over Greater Vernon.”

Sandhu said more than 534 homes are in development, under construction or now open. Thirty-five more affordable rental homes for Indigenous elders and families are under construction, as are 48 more affordable rental homes for seniors. Another 52 supportive homes for people experiencing homelessness are being built on 27th Street in Vernon.

Housing starts in B.C. in 2021 rose a record 25.6 per cent.

The MLA also tied new housing to post-secondary education, as Okanagan College will house 376 new student beds to provide students more affordable housing options.

As for health care, Sandhu – a former registered nurse at Vernon Jubilee Hospital – said residents will have increased access to care through expanded imagining facilities at Kelowna General Hospital.

The budget story was to have been discussed by Selina Robinson, but the finance minister took ill Monday morning and could not participate. Pinch-hitting for her was Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen, the province’s municipal affairs minister.

Cullen said the economic forecast for B.C. is bright but cautious.

“Economic indicators show our strengths but there is also reasons for continued caution and I think this is important as we look to the positive signs to also be very sober and clear-eyed about the risks that remain.”

Employment grew by 6.6 per cent, said Cullen, and retail sales, which he said are always a clear indicator as to how the economy is doing, rose 13.6 per cent.

Among the highlights in budget 2022 is to make life more affordable for British Columbians by investing in the economy, environment and its social strengths.

“We build upon our efforts to improve access to health care, to make progress for families by advancing our $10 a day child care program,” said Cullen. “We will help schools, hospitals, more affordable housing and transportation infrastructure while creating thousands and thousands of new jobs in those fields. We will grow a strong and skilled workforce and build strong, resilient communities.”

Following Cullen’s nearly 30-minute presentation, he took questions from the chamber on topics such as inflation, affordable housing, child care, waste water recovery projects and if affordable housing will mean mitigating tax increases.

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roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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