The Legislature continues to debate the 2017 B.C. budget. Here are some excerpts from remarks by Carole James, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill and NDP spokesperson for finance.
C. James: I rise to continue my response to Budget 2017…
The Finance Minister said — I’ll just read a few things from both the throne speech and the budget — in his opening remarks that his government was committed to moving away from feast-or-famine budgets. Well, in fact, Budget 2017 is just the opposite of moving away from feast-and-famine budgets. The government even admits in the budget that they’ve tightened their belt. They’ve not been able to provide resources to the public and to services, and now is the time that they’re looking at it.
Well, to me, that, in fact, is the definition of feast-and-famine budgets….
The government also talked in the budget speech, and the Finance Minister talked in his budget speech, about years of sacrifice by all of us in British Columbia, and that the government is now in a position to pay you back, to invest in your household and to invest in your families. In the throne speech, the government said we have “the ability to do more, and to be caring from strength.” “We want to give back to you.”
The government says they’re in a position to give back to you. Well, let’s remember — and I don’t believe any member of the public will forget this — that it isn’t the government’s money. They’re not giving it back to you. They took it from you in the first place.
… Just in the Premier’s time, so just in the last five years, this Premier has increased medical service premiums by 24 percent. Since 2011, they’ve gone up 24 percent. What does that work out to? It works out to roughly $345 a family. That’s the increase.
This government actually takes in more from MSP than corporate income tax. That’s incredible. When you take a look at what that does to a family budget, when you think of what that increase will cost an average middle-class family…. There are families in this province who pay more in MSP than they do in income tax — more in medical services premiums than they do in income tax. So while we actually hear the government stand up and crow — and you do hear this in the budget; “We have the lowest taxes” — they don’t include….
C. James: I’d suggest that the members hold their applause, because if you take a look at the lowest taxes and take a look at MSP premiums, in fact families are paying more under this government. I finally heard the Health Minister, actually, in question period, call the MSP a tax. It’s the first time.
This government actually stands up and says: “Oh, it’s not a tax. Our income taxes are low.” They don’t include things like MSP. They don’t include all the additional costs like hydro and ICBC. That’s the choice this government made. “Oh, yeah, don’t worry. Look over here. Things aren’t bad. Don’t pay attention over here where we’ve increased costs for you and your family.”
As we know, MSP is one of the most regressive taxes there is. If you make $45,000 as a family or you make $400,000 as a family, you pay exactly the same premium. That’s an unfair tax, and this government has continued and continued with this tax.
What does Budget 2017 do to MSP? Well, it announces that the government has seen the light. They’re going to actually eliminate MSP premiums eventually, they say, and they’re going to begin by reducing our MSP premiums. Well, as I said at the start, there’s no question that this is an election year. This budget makes it obvious. It was only six months ago that the government, the Finance Minister and others across the way actually mocked the NDP for even suggesting that the MSP premium should be gone.
…. Now the government comes forward at election time and says: “Forget what we’ve said. Forget everything we’ve done. Now we care about it. Now we’re going to move and look at it. By the way, you’re going to see them reduced by 50 percent.” Well, let’s not forget that this government actually increased MSP premiums. They’ve doubled them since 2002. So taking 50 percent away is actually taking away the increase that this government presented and took away from British Columbians….
What’s happened to hydro rates under this government and, actually, directly under this Premier? Hydro rates have skyrocketed. They’ve gone up 30 percent since 2011. What has that cost the taxpayer? That’s cost the average taxpayer $375 more every single year.
While the government has increased hydro rates since 2011 by 30 percent, they’ve also decided to take an unprecedented $700 million a year out of Hydro and put it to their bottom line. In other words, they padded their surplus with money from Hydro. Who has to pay for that? The public. The public has to pay for that….
Don’t forget that in the last election, in 2013, the Premier stood up and said that she didn’t think hydro increases were going to be necessary, that you weren’t going to see them. That’s what she said before the election. After the election — a 30 percent increase in hydro rates and continuing to go up. That doesn’t take into account the challenges that are going to be left at Hydro because of the government taking money to pad their budget.
What about the other Crown corporation, ICBC? Again, a Crown corporation. I think this is really important for all of us to recognize: these Crown corporations belong to the public. They don’t belong to the government. They belong to the public, and the public are the shareholders of those Crown corporations. But you would never know that, given how the government treats ICBC and Hydro as their own piggy banks to put money into the surplus so that they can look good when it comes to election year and make you pay for it.
What’s happened to ICBC rates? When budgets come forward, particularly in an election year, it’s important to take a look at what the government’s record is — not simply to look at the promise they made, not simply to look at what’s there but to actually look at the track record. This government has a 16-year track record. If we take a look at this Premier’s record alone from 2011, the ICBC rate increase, 36 percent, has cost drivers $235 more each year. And what’s it predicted to do? Go up 42 percent in the next five years. That’s the prediction.
…. Now, I’m glad to know that student loan interest rates are finally going to be dropped in this budget, but I think it’s important to note that we were the only province that was gouging students in this kind of way. We had the highest interest rate in the entire country, right here in British Columbia: 33 percent higher, in fact, than the Canadian average.
Again, the government is hoping you’ll forget that. They’re hoping you’ll just take a look at this budget that they tabled and not remember their record — their record of making life more difficult for families in British Columbia….
SOURCE: B.C. Hansard transcripts.