Winners and losers in B.C.’s budget announcement

The fact that last year's provincial election was so close is a good sign that no matter what the government decides to do, someone will be disappointed.

Credit: B.C. Government News on Twitter

Who won and lost when NDP Finance Minister Carole James brought down her inaugural budget?

Last year’s provincial election was so close that no matter what the government decides to do, someone will be disappointed.

So it is with the February 20 budget announcement by the governing NDP-Green coalition, which, depending on who you ask, is either a rousing success or a troubling letdown. Sure, there’s some middle ground, too, but it’s always more fun to deal in hyperbole. Here’s who stand to gain and lose the most in the wake of B.C.’s new budget.

Winner: The arts

Over the next three years, the province will boost BC Arts Council grant funding by $15 million. The budget will also grant $3 million over three years to government agency Creative BC for the film, music, publishing and digital media sectors.

The BC Arts Council offers arm’s-length funding to artists and organizations through a peer evaluation process. The BC Liberals had frozen the council’s budget at $24 million annually since 2013-14.

Loser: The business community

In the words of BC Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Val Litwin, the budget’s new business taxation, created to balance the chopping of Medical Services Plan premiums, “flies in the face of an innovative economy.”

Companies with a payroll of more than $1.5 million will pay a rate of 1.9 percent on their total, while those with a payroll between $500,000 and $1.5 million will pay a reduced tax. 

Winner: Renters

The government will invest $378 million over three years and more than $1.8 billion over the next 10 years in rental housing to improve options for middle-income British Columbians.

This is an encouraging sign for renters in Vancouver, especially, who have been faced with some of the highest costs and lowest vacancy rates in the country. 

Loser: Foreign real estate buyers

Those who don’t live in B.C. but hope to buy property here were hit twice by the budget: first, by the creation of a new speculation tax that will target foreign and domestic speculators who don’t pay taxes in B.C. This measure, which includes owners of empty homes, will apply in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, the Capital and Nanaimo regional districts, and Kelowna.

Second, the foreign home buyers tax is being increased and expanded so these purchasers will pay more for what the budget’s 30-point housing plan calls the “high quality of life they enjoy” when they move to B.C. Effective February 21, the tax jumps to 20 percent from 15 percent.

Winner: Child-care users

Starting April 1, parents with children in licensed care will be eligible for a number of fee reductions, saving families up to $1,250 a month.

Through an investment of $1 billion over three years, the province will create more than 22,000 child-care spaces.

Loser: The poor

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) wasn’t a huge fan of the budget.

“There are no increases to welfare and disability rates, leaving approximately 180,000 British Columbians struggling to survive on these deeply inadequate rates,” BCPRC community organizer Trish Garner said in a statement.

Winner: Travellers

Finally, some good news for those who depend on BC Ferries. No, it’s not a decrease in fares across the board, but for some passengers it’s the next best thing: a freeze.

Ticket prices on all three major routes (Vancouver to Victoria and Nanaimo) will be frozen, and fares on smaller routes will drop 15 percent.

Senior citizens will also get a 100-percent fare discount when travelling Monday through Thursday. However, the provincial sales tax on luxury vehicles will rise, with the funds going toward more services for British Columbians. 

Loser: Climate change campaigners

Despite the presence of the BC Green Party in government, the budget didn’t please those who believe the province should be more concerned about climate change.

“There’s no question affordability is a huge issue for far too many working families, but longer term affordability issues are being neglected as a result,” Sierra Club BC communications director Tim Pearson said in a statement. “Budget 2018 attempts to address intensifying climate impacts—which will continue to get more and more expensive—but does not allocate nearly enough resources to this growing challenge.”

Pearson contended that the budget tries to address issues like wildfires and groundwater protection, as well as moving B.C.’s economy away from fossil fuels, but doesn’t allocate enough resources to them. 

“The mitigation and adaptation measures in Budget 2018 pale in comparison to the challenges ahead,” Pearson said.