BY CAROLE JAMES
I tabled my first budget update as Finance Minister on Monday. It’s a budget update that carves a path toward economic growth by investing in our greatest resource—people.
Since I was elected in 2005, I’ve seen the effects of government choices that didn’t focus on making people’s lives better. I’ve heard from families struggling, individuals denied supports and services when they need them, and businesses unable find enough staff because people don’t have the necessary training or can’t afford to live in their communities.
With our budget update, government is making the choice to put people first. A budget should benefit all people, not just a few at the top. That means we’re taking the first steps to make life more affordable for people, provide them with services they need, and ensure our sustainable economy works for everyone.
Housing affordability is an issue across our province. That’s why we’ve invested in the construction of more than 1,700 new units of affordable rental housing across B.C. and another 2,000 modular housing units and supports for people who are homeless. This helps address some urgent housing needs while we partner with all levels of government to develop a comprehensive housing strategy. We’re also taking first steps to assist those on income assistance and disability assistance by increasing assistance by $100 per month and increasing earnings exemptions by $200 per month.
We’re moving forward with new investments to increase spending on early childhood development and child care to $330 million this year and support more than 4,000 new child care spaces. We’re also working towards fully eliminating the Medical Services Plan premiums within four years, starting with a 50 per cent reduction January 1, 2018 to save individuals up to $450 per year and families up to $900 per year.
While we find ways to make life affordable for people, we’re going to rebuild and strengthen the services people count on. This budget invests in classrooms with $681 million over three years for smaller classes, increased resources, and more supports for children, including hiring approximately 3,500 teachers. We’re also providing $50 million in capital funding to address space requirements for kids going back to school. This investment will go directly to fund the future of our province by providing our school system with the resources it needs to help kids succeed.
To provide immediate help for the pressures in our health system, we’re investing an additional $603 million over three years in the Ministry of Health. That includes $265 million to address the fentanyl emergency and $25 million to establish a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to develop a seamless, coordinated mental health and addictions system.
When you invest in people, you’re investing in a good economy. For example, we’ve restored free English Language Learning and Adult Basic Education courses. All adults can now enrol in approved post-secondary and K–12 courses without having to pay tuition. The benefits are obvious, because when people can grow their skills, they can further contribute to our economy.
While investing in people, we’re also looking for ways to help B.C.’s economy continue to grow. We’re starting with an Innovation Commissioner who will be both advocate and ambassador for B.C.’s technology sector. We’re also establishing an Emerging Economy Task Force to develop “made-in-B.C. solutions” to encourage innovative and sustainable industries to drive our economic growth in the 21st century.
This budget update supports much-needed economic growth in small and rural communities, including restoring the tax benefit for credit unions and making it permanent. To help small businesses thrive, we’re lowering the small business corporate income tax rate from 2.5 per cent to 2 per cent. We’re also phasing out PST on electricity for businesses to give them the dollars to invest in new technologies and create more jobs while supporting industry to transition to less carbon-intensive energy sources.
With this Budget Update 2017, government has begun to lay the foundation for a better B.C. We’re putting people first by improving the services they need and making their lives more affordable while supporting a strong, sustainable economy that provides good jobs across our province.