The release of the new budget for British Columbia has received mixed reactions from multiple groups across the province.
Minister of Finance, Kevin Falcon said, “We introduced a budget that I think speaks to the times we are in. We are in very different times now and I think there is a new reality for government. I don’t think every government has yet figured that out but in British Columbia we have been watching very carefully what’s happening in Europe, the United States and even in other parts of Canada with real concern. The concern is underpinned by governments that have lost discipline and control in expenditures. They have found themselves in positions where they are labouring under very large deficits and huge debts.”
However Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald released a statement which said, “The 2012 BC Liberal budget appears to be more of the same from a government that has presided over the erosion of key government services and the mismanagement of taxpayers’ dollars over the last 11 years.”
“Too many times this government has put forward budget numbers that turned out to be inaccurate, so it’s hard to take these numbers too seriously,” said Macdonald. “But what is clear is that Premier Christy Clark is continuing to follow the same path of cutting key services and wasting money on things like advertising campaigns that are nothing more than government propaganda. People in my area are clear that they expect their government to provide quality health and education services. They expect the justice system to work. And they expect government to be a good steward of our land base. But after 11 years of BC Liberal government, rural communities have less access to healthcare, seniors are not getting the care they deserve and our public lands are not being managed properly for the future.”
The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation quickly released a statement about the budget. “This means $100 million in cuts to public schools next year alone,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. She noted that $130 million would be needed just to keep up with inflation. The $30 million in the so-called Learning Improvement Fund to deal with class composition is completely inadequate to meet the real needs.” Lambert noted that B.C. schools have already endured a decade of cuts. “That means a whole generation of students have grown up going to school in larger classes without adequate support and a lack of specialist teachers to meet diverse needs,” she said. “Now we’re looking at another three years of ongoing cuts and increasing demands on teachers to fill the gaps and meet students’ needs.”
The New Democrat finance critic Bruce Ralston explained, “After a decade of deceit and mismanagement, there is nothing here for families and the middle class looking for relief in tough times and hope for a better future. Education and skills training offers a huge opportunity to invest in our young people to meet the looming skills shortage and prepare for the jobs of the future.” Ralston went on to add, “This was supposed to be a defining moment for Premier Clark and her government, but instead we are seeing a continuation of the Liberals’ failed legacy.”
Falcon explained that this budget is important for the province as a whole if it is to move forward in tough economic times.
“In British Columbia we are taking the approach that we want to maintain fiscal discipline we have demonstrated over the last 10 years,” Falcon said.
One area of great concern in the Golden area is the Forestry industry. Falcon said the government has been working hard to help the industry grow.
“We’re doing everything we can to continue to support the lumber sector. Particularly during a very difficult time. A time when U.S. housing start ups continue to be anemic. One of the things we have made some really progress in is opening up new markets in China. That has revitalized a segment of the sector but there is still lots of work to do,” Falcon said.
Macdonald disagreed with this assessment.
“In fact, they are continuing to cut funding for forest health, despite recent reports from the Auditor General and from forest professionals that our public forest lands are in crisis, Macdonald said. “British Columbians need a government that understands its responsibility to its taxpayers. Taxpayers need to feel confident that their government is focused on providing vital services, improving economic opportunities and protecting our environment. This is the very least that a citizenry should expect from its government.”
Falcon explained the budget actually does many things to help many different families in the province.
“There are all kinds of families that we think about in a budget like this. The children’s arts and sports tax credit is actually for families. The $10,000 first time buyers bonus is a real benefit for families particularly young people trying to get into their first home. The $1000 senior renovation tax credit is very significant for seniors, being able to stay in their homes and not have to go to a facility…I think there is actually a lot here that responds to the needs of families. Obviously if you only take the position that additional dollars is the only yard stick you use to determine something is good for families I would fundamentally disagree with that premise,” he said.
Art Kube, President of the 80,000-member Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of B.C. did not see things this way.
“What’s really needed – as COSCO has proposed for years – is a comprehensive home care and home support program designed to help seniors live with dignity and independence in their own homes. Not only is this good for seniors’ quality of life, but it reduces the intake into residential care and acute care. Improving seniors’ lives in this way would actually reduce overall health care costs, and especially capital costs.”