VICTORIA - The latest provincial budget revealed Tuesday heralds tax savings for B.C. Families in the form of a $10,000 maximum grant for new home buyers, a $1,000 maximum home renovation tax credit for seniors and fitness and arts tax credits for children to the tune of $25 per child which comes into effect next year.
"We will continue seeking ways to make life a little easier for families as the climate of global economic uncertainty continues," said Finance Minster Kevin Falcon, Liberal MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale. "It's a budget that speaks to the times that we're in."
But while the ink was still drying on the document, critics slammed the new provincial budget on numerous fronts.
Falcon announced Tuesday that the Ministry of Health's budget will increase by $1.5 billion over the next three years. Still, the BC Nurses' Union calls the "historically small increases" in healthcare spending, outlined in the budget, ignore the need for more staffing to support seniors and other patients.
"This budget provides health authorities no resources to ensure patients are safe as they languish in hospital hallways or wait at home for limited community-based support or for placement in long term care homes," union president Debra McPherson said. The B.C. Health Coalition also criticized the budget for being "silent" on seniors' care.
Falcon said funding for school districts will increase, despite declining enrollment.
But Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, says Tuesday's budget signals deep cuts to public schools.
"Sadly, this government is putting B.C. in a race to the bottom," she said.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, which represents BC Hydro and ICBC workers, accused the government of "raiding" Crown corporation coffers while rates are rising.
"They're mismanaging two of B.C.'s most vitally important Crown corporations to cover for their own financial ineptitude," said David Black, president of COPE 378. This "mismanagement," he added, means the average person will pay higher Hydro rates and ICBC premiums. "Welcome to Premier Clark's Families First agenda," Black said.
Barry O'Neill, president of the Canadian Union of Public Workers, said the new budget has average British Columbians paying more for less.
"Hydro rates are going up by seven per cent, ICBC rates are going up by four per cent and the Liberals are jacking up tuition fees by five per cent in the first year of the fiscal plan alone," O'Neill noted.
John Cummins, leader of the BC Conservative Party, slammed the Liberals for delivering what he characterized as "an NDP budget."
"The core features of this budget are ballooning debt levels, higher taxes and growing spending masked by accounting tricks," Cummins charged.
"After budget 2012, most working British Columbians will also pay about $75 more on their provincial income tax payments," he added. "On July 1st, the carbon tax will be increased and will collect $212 million more from the pockets of British Columbians. MSP rates are increasing and will take another $134 million from British Columbians. ICBC is projecting an 11 per cent increase for basic coverage, which is a stealth tax on British Columbians. BC Hydro is raising rates on customers, and is incurring more debt. All of these are measures which will make the lives of British Columbians more expensive."
Surrey-Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston, finance critic for the NDP, also dug into the budget.
"There's really nothing in it for most of the citizens of Surrey," he said.
He criticized the government for once again raising medical service premiums, which have gone up 85 per cent since 2002.
Ralston maintains that rather than set up the children's fitness and arts tax credit, which he called a "boutique" cut, it would have been better to put that money into the public school system "so everyone can benefit."
The NDP MLA charged that the budget contains "no evidence of change" from the Gordon Campbell days.
"It's a complete failure in that regard," he said, adding that Premier Christy Clark is "more or less living out Gordon Campbell's mandate."
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