Photo: NDP Premier of British Columbia John Horgan speaking at a podium Credit: BC NDP (CC BY 2.0)
Yesterday, in the midst of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NDP government in British Columbia tabled their 2021 budget. While this budget may not be bold and daring it lays the framework for supporting low and middle-income Canadians in British Columbia, which is a refreshing direction to see from one of our provincial governments.
In her budget speech BC’s Finance Minister Selina Robinson said this budget is about investing in people and for the most part, we agree. Overall, this is an incredibly caring and progressive budget that we’re sure makes many Canadians wish they lived in BC.
Here is a list of a few parts of the BC budget that we like, and one missing item we’re disappointed they missed.
Free transit for kids aged 12 and under
- If you grew up with a car, you may be surprised how many families travel by transit. The BC government says making transit free for kids 12 and under will help over 340,000 children and we believe them. Public transit is an essential service for low-income and middle-income families.
- The B.C. government is bringing forward two big initiatives to tackle affordable housing: a commitment of $2 billion for a low-interest loan program to help developers build middle-income housing and an additional $80 million to funding the government’s own housing affordability plan.
- If you haven’t heard, housing prices in Canada are out of control. We like that the BC government is creating policy that focuses on making housing affordable, not real estate for the wealthy to invest in like a commodity on the stock market.
Helping the marginalized: $175 a month increase in income and disability assistance and $50 a month supplement for low-income seniors
- A $175 increase is a historic rate. According to Minister Robinson this represents a 53% increase in income assistance rates since 2017.
- The government also added a $50 monthly income supplement to low-income seniors, another group badly in need of government assistance.
- The assistance from both these policies should help address the needs of more than 300,000 of BC’s marginalized population according to the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives.
- These two policies are a clear signal the BC government recognizes that vulnerable residents have been ignored by previous government policy and needed help. It is a good step by the NDP government.
$500 million to mental health and addiction services
- Mental health was already an area badly in need of funding in our health systems, now that the COVID-19 pandemic is riding through our country, that need is amplified. The BC government is recognizing that mental health will be needed for many British Columbians today and in the future.
- As for addiction, NDP MP Don Davies has already put together a strong case on how dangerous opioid overdoses have become in this country and that policy is needed to address addiction problems. We are glad the BC government is addressing addiction problems with this funding.
No guarantee of paid sick days
- With BC in the midst of their worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic now is the critical time to implement paid sick days. Over the past two weeks, the province broke records consistently in new COVID-19 cases. The best way to prevent new cases is to avoid the virus spreading in the workplace. To do that, workers need to be able to still get paid while taking a sick day if they think they have COVID-19. The BC government not recognizing the urgency to put sick days into this budget is disappointing.
- The NDP government has stated they are working with the federal government on a plan for paid sick days but that is the same excuse used by government’s like Doug Ford’s Conservatives in Ontario, who have also resisted paid sick days in the height of the pandemic.
- The NDP is a party that represents labour. Paid sick days should be a foundational policy to ensure workers are represented. There is no reason the NDP should and could not fix this hiccup and implement paid sick days immediately.