Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy says our region will continue to suffer with the release of Tuesday’s provincial budget.
“The minister started off saying it wouldn’t be that interesting… but it’s not status quo.”
One part of the budget includes a $600-million allowance for the new premier, who will be elected by Liberal party members on Feb. 26.
“I would question that,” Conroy said. “I think that’s the pre-election slush fund? Who are they going to buy off with that?”
One troubling part of the budget, Conroy said, was lack of a child poverty reduction strategy and no commitment to child poverty whatsoever.
“We have the worst child poverty rate in the province for the seventh year in a row,” she said.
Conroy said it’s estimated another 3,000 people will go on income assistance in B.C. in the coming years. With cuts to grants for post secondary education, she said the burden is shifting to young people, who used to be helped by the government when paying for school.
“The budget cuts for student aid is $54 million.”
Approximately $9 million has also been cut in courts services, Conroy said.
“It’s a little interesting fact that they cut the funding for crown prosecutors by $6 million,” Conroy said, when the political aids to cut down the B.C. Rail trial cost $6 million.
Another hit to the Kootenay came in the way of forests, she said.
“There’s a cut to forest stewardship — $21-million. We need to plant trees, we need to rejuvenate our forest industry to sustain us in the years to come,” she said. “It’s very troubling.”
Colin Hansen, minister of finance, wrote in B.C. Budget Highlights package that $605-million has been allocated for health care in 2013, for a total increase of almost $2-billion in comparison to 2010.
He also said per-pupil spending will increase to over $8,000 by 2011/12 in the school system which is the highest in the province’s history.
Another highlight is allocating an additional $65-million to the Ministry of Social Development over three years to provide income assistance.
“We’ve seen how the Liberals budgets have affected our region,” Conroy said, who approaches the budget with a skeptical eye. “Our medical services plans, the fees for that are going up, electricity costs are going to go up.”
Conroy believes the budget will change again when the new premier is sworn in next month.
“He or she is probably going to bring in their own budget,” she said. “So we’re going through all of this with these cuts and then what? That person will have $600-million bucks to do something with.”
The provincial projection is by the end of the fiscal year on March 31, B.C. will have a deficit of $1.3 billion — down from $1.7 billion estimated a year ago. However, a large part of the recovery is expected from the HST.
The budget projects HST revenues of $4.2 billion this year and rising to $6.5 billion in three years.
If the HST is scrapped, $1.6 billion will have to be repaid to the federal government for transition funds and reconstructing a provincial sales tax department would cots $30-million per year.
“We’re just starting to dig into this budget,” Conroy said.
This week, of which the House sits for four days, also brought the Throne Speech, of which Conroy said delved too much into the past and not enough into the future.
“Well the Olympics was a year ago, it was great, the athletes were wonderful, the volunteers were great, but we have to move on,” she said. “Like one colleague said, it was a big snoozefest.”
After the budget has been fully looked at, Conroy said the next item on her plate is focusing on the provincial NDP and Liberal leadership races.
– With files from Tom Fletcher