The finance minister referred to B.C.’s 2015 budget as a “hat trick,” but according to the NDP MLA for the Kootenay West riding, this region was shutout.
“There really isn’t anything for the Interior,” says Katrine Conroy. “He (Finance Minister Mike de Jong) kept referring to the budget as a hat trick, because there is surplus in the balanced budget,” she explained. “My question is ‘Who’s paying for that?’”
She maintains working families in the Kootenays are paying for the surplus because the region pays more for rates, such as hydropower, which allows the government to fill up its coffers.
“Who’s benefitting? The top two per cent of people, they are getting the benefit of it all.”
The MLA was referring to the province’s move to reduce income taxes for the top two per cent of wage earners in B.C., which amounts to $230 million.
In 2013, the province made a commitment to apply extra tax to income over $150,000 annually, then remove it in two years.
“But they’ve made commitments to a lot of people that they haven’t followed through with,” she said. “So this is the hardest to accept, because once a tax is implemented, people expect it to keep going.”
Another troubling aspect to the budget, says Conroy, is the increase to Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums, which will have an average family forking over $1,725 this year.
“That’s gone up 100 per cent since 2001,” she said, noting that year the annual premium was $864. “The concern for me is that this is a regressive tax, because someone who earns $30,000 a year pays exactly the same as someone who earns $100,000 a year. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Since the budget was made public on Wednesday, and listed a new $660 early childhood tax credit, Conroy has talked to members of her constituency, in particular young mothers.
“I don’t know too many people with a daycare bill for $660 a year,” she said.
Conroy spoke to one mother who has two children under the age of three, and she wants to go back to school to become a nurse.
“She said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Conroy explained. “She suggested all that money go into a system of daycare to bring costs down and be more reasonable and cost effective for people to go to work or back to school,” she added. “This is very short sighted.”
B.C.’s natural resource revenue is forecast to decline about 7 per cent this year, which is mostly due to lower prices for natural gas and oil.
According to Conroy, the government’s focus on the LNG has come at a cost to other B.C. primary industries like forestry.
“The LNG was supposed to be our saviour, and pull us out of the glue, make us debt free and create 100,000 jobs” she said. “While she’s (Premier Christy Clark) been trying to bring in all these LNG companies with pipe dreams, things have not been going well. None of that has come to fruition.”
Conroy considered B.C.’s forestry industry and her concern about exporting raw logs.
“Raw longs are being shipped off in massive amounts over to Asia, when we know there are mills on the coast just starving for logs,” she continued. “They are shutting down because all the logs are going overseas, to China.”
Additionally, the budget allots for multi-million infrastructure improvements in the Lower Mainland ($2.9 billion), but no money for highways or bridges in the West Kootenay region.
“I find it so frustrating when they talk about being the gateway to Asia and becoming the best port in the world,” she said. “But we have goat trails between Highway 1 and Highway 3 in some spots. And if you’ve driven over the Rogers Pass, there’s a lot of work to do in that area,” said Conroy. “More focus needs to be on Interior roads over the fancy ones they are building in the Lower Mainland.”
There were two glimmers of hope for the Kootenay area in general, however.
“They said more money will be invested in hospice, which could mean money coming for a regional hospice facility to be built in Castlegar,” she explained. “They didn’t say where they were going to invest, only that they wanted to increase hospice beds by 2020. But I am hoping they have the Kootenays in mind.”
Finally, Conroy noted that the province recognized the BC SPCA is in need of assistance to build new animal shelters across the province.
“I am hoping this means they are looking at rebuilding some of the facilities in the West Kootenay, because that’s been needed for some time.”