Debate in the Legislature on Monday, April 23, 2018 between Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson and Finance Minister Carole James:
A. Wilkinson: I’m sure the incoming government figured out very quickly that school boards are required to balance their budgets. This is an essential component of our government system. Of course, they’re required present their budgets to government seven days from now, on April 30.
The question obviously arises. On February 28, the Premier stood and said that groups such as government agencies and non-profits would be kept whole from the employers health tax. This represents a major cost to school districts, with no alternative revenue source. The question is simple: to the Premier, when does he intend to keep his promise?
Hon. C. James: Thank you to the member, the Leader of the Opposition, for the question. I’m very proud of the fact that on this side of the House, unlike the other side of the House, we made a decision that we will to eliminate Medical Service premiums in 2020 for all British Columbians.
We are also ensuring that we are fiscally responsible. We are bringing in resources for health care through an employers health tax. We are in discussions with groups and organizations. The implementation does not begin until January 1, 2019. Those discussions are going very well.
Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplemental.
A. Wilkinson: It appears that the Minister of Finance’s standard lines have not changed since February 28. So we have to ask, with seven days left before the Surrey school district has to present a balanced budget: how will they make up their $21 million deficit they’re incurring because of the employers health tax?
We have a Premier who held out that this is not going to be a problem. He reassured all the school districts that they’d be okay. And lo and behold, broken promise yet again.
The obvious question — and not to ride on the Finance Minister’s coat-tails — is: will he keep his word, tell the Surrey school district they need not run a deficit and provide for the students for which he campaigned in the election, rather than break his word yet again?
Hon. C. James: I will remind the member, as the Surrey school board knows and as all school boards know and others who are paying Medical Service premiums, they are saving 50 percent as of January 1 this year because we reduced Medical Service premiums by50 percent. We also recognize that there will be some costs on January 1, 2019. We are in discussions. Those discussions are going well.
Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Official Opposition on a second supplemental.
A. Wilkinson: Well, here we have more dodging and weaving from the Finance Minister. The Surrey school board reports it’s paying an extra, incremental $7 million next year because of the employers health tax. The Finance Minister says: “Oh, don’t worry about it. They’re going to have their MSP payments reduced.” Well, she seems to have forgotten already that next year is the double-up year, with both MSP premiums and the employers health tax, a double hit to school districts.
So these school districts, all around the province, need answers in the next four business days, not rhetoric from the Finance Minister. Are they running deficits or not? The question goes directly to the Premier. Will he instruct his Finance Minister to make school districts whole, so they can get on with the business of teaching children, not fighting with the Finance Ministry over their budgets?
Hon. C. James: Well, to hear the other side stand up and talk about educating children is unbelievable in this House. That side, the old government, did everything they could to ensure that children didn’t have smaller classes, that students didn’t get the support they needed. We have invested record investments in education because we believe in public education in this province. The other side may have trouble understanding what it’s like to work with others, but we are working with others. We are working with school boards. We are having those discussions. We will have a resolution. We will make school boards be able to continue the kind of good work that they’re doing in educating students around this province.
Source: BC Hansard.