Sunday, April 14, 2024

‘Smoke and mirrors’: Some BC organizations sceptical about Budget 2024

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The BC government announced their budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday, February 22nd, causing concerns for some groups.

Shortly after the announcement, these organizations spoke out against it saying they are sceptical.

Some of these organizations include Stand.earth, an environmental advocacy group; the BC Construction Association (BCCA); the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce (GVCC); as well as the BC Green Party. 

This budget announcement is of great importance to the BC NDPs because it is the last one to be announced before the upcoming election this October. 


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Stand.earth

Stand.earth believes that the BC government failed to make any significant investments in further climate solutions and forest protection while they committed billions of dollars to housing and health care.

With the worst wildfire season on record taking place just last year, they wish that the BC NDP’s final budget before the election was taking more action against investing in big polluters.

“Last year, many of us watched in horror while communities from Kelowna to the Shushwap went up in flames,” said Liz McDowell, Senior Campaigns Director at Stand.earth. 

McDowell says that the Province should be doing everything in their power to divest in companies which contribute to climate change by polluting heavily.

“While we welcome more heat pump rebates for climate-resilient housing along with new investments in EV charging, today’s budget is lacking the ambition needed to meet the scale of the challenge,” she continued.   

Stand.earth also believes that Budget 2024 is still providing too many subsidies to fossil fuel companies, however they are pleased that more funding is being provided to better prepare for drought and wildfire prevention. 

Despite this new funding for preparation, they say there is still room for improvement. In 2023, the Province reportedly spent nearly $1 billion on wildfire response against a budget of just $204 million. 

Lastly, they wish the budget provided more in the way of old-growth forest protections, saying that the BC NDPs need to better prove they are committed to reducing harmful logging practices while preserving crucial ecosystems.


BC Construction Association (BCCA)

The BCCA say they share the BC government’s vision of getting more housing built faster, but there are some gaps that need to be filled in order for this to happen more efficiently, calling the budget unrealistic.

Their top three priorities are for the Province to address the shortage of the construction workforce, the permitting and inspection timelines from municipalities and utility companies as well as the lack of prompt payment legislation. 

The BCCA says it is unrealistic for the construction industry to meet the demands of the Province while these three key issues are not being addressed. 

“While there is cause for optimism coming out of today’s budget, a dose of realism is needed when it comes to key issues for BC’s construction industry,” said Chris Atchison, President of BCCA. 

“We are very concerned that the ongoing absence of Prompt Payment Legislation cripples BC’s construction industry, making it very difficult for us to help deliver the ambitious projects championed by the Eby Government.”

They are hopeful the Province will hear their pleas and work harder to remove barriers that will allow them to better hasten their efforts. 


Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce (GVCC)

While the GVCC welcomed several initiatives in the new budget, but are worried about some areas that will impact businesses throughout the province. 

One thing they commented on was the exemption for the Employer Health Tax that will impact businesses with payrolls of up to $1 million, they would like to see the exemption increased to $2 million some more businesses will be able to increase wages and better promote staff from within.

Overall, the GVCC say that they believe Budget 2024 was relatively constrained considering its the last budget to be released ahead of the provincial election this October.

The GVCC says the budget’s high deficit of $7.9 billion is disconcerting as it is an increase of nearly $2 billion since last year. 

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy told members of the GVCC at a recent luncheon that the deficit is necessary in order to maintain public services during what she called,  “extraordinary times.”

The GVCC say that they are happy with the funding being committed to BC Family Benefit program, deterrents for homebuyers quickly reselling their properties, electricity rebates and the cost-coverage for in vitro fertilizaton, but they wish more consideration had been taken for struggling small businesses, such as restaurants. 

“We had hoped to see more investment in business, specifically help for the restaurant sector, but instead we’re concerned the increase to the carbon tax will make it ever more expensive for those businesses that rely on natural gas for their operations,” said Bruce Williams, CEO of the GVCC.

“We also have questions about the impact that the cap on international students will have on revenue that post-secondary schools rely on, as well as about the province’s plan to ensure our court system has the resources needed to more effectively deal with repeat offenders.”


BC Green Party

The BC Green Party are taking a critical stance following the Budget 2024 announcement, calling it a “smoke and mirrors” budget. 

They say the BC NDPs failed to read the room in a year that should have seen more bold moves. 

According to the BC Greens, health care, housing and climate action are in a state of calamity in the province and the government’s budget only offers the illusion of action while failing to create concrete solutions. 

“This budget is disappointingly familiar, it lacks innovation and forward-thinking initiatives,” said Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the BC Green Party and MLA for Cowichan Valley. 

“This government has demonstrated it’s not interested in creating a livable world for our children. Instead, they are telling British Columbians to fend for themselves.”

Fursteneau continued by accusing the BC NDPs of being to lenient on fossil fuel companies when the province is uniquely positioned to be a leader in clean energy. 

“This budget is based on a fantasy—one where we can tie our province to increasing pollution from fossil fuels while spending less each year responding to climate emergencies,” the BC Green leader said. 

“This doesn’t add up. The cost of fighting wildfires was $1 billion last year; missing from this budget is an acknowledgement of the costs of climate inaction, or a sense that the government understands the size and scale of the problems we are facing.

She says that the one time rebates offered up by this budget are also an illusion when what the province needs is bold action and bold investments to battle inequality. 

“A budget is an expression of our values,” said Fursteneau. 

“This budget puts low-income British Columbians last, at a time when our elders are being forced to homelessness, people with disabilities are unable to meet their basic needs, and 100,000 households are spending more than 50% of their income on rent.”

The BC Green Party ultimately hoped to see more payoff for British Columbians stemming from the massive investments being made. 

mm
Curtis Blandy
curtis@victoriabuzz.com

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