In the photo: Finance Minister Mike de Jong says lack of job growth in the past two years is disappointing, but government is continuing its emphasis on natural gas and trade. Tom Fletcher photo/Black Press
City MLAs are defending the newest provincial budget that will see another in a long string of increases to Medical Services Plan premiums, along with hikes at ICBC and BC Hydro.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong introduced a budget this week that forecasts the province’s books will be balanced this year for a second time.
To get there, Medical Services Premiums (MSP) will go up by four per cent this year. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates MSP premiums have risen by one-third in six years.
Premiums have doubled over the 13 years of B.C. Liberal government.
“We ran a campaign on that budget,” Health Minister Terry Lake said. “The NDP didn’t say anything about MSP in their pre-election budget. They didn’t promise to reduce or lower them.”
Lake said the Liberals set out a three-year plan that included MSP increases.
“We were clear and transparent that MSP would go up. If we didn’t do that, we couldn’t fund health care or would have to take from programs like education or an increase in social services — things like that.”
The B.C. Liberals under Premier Christy Clark are forecasting a second balanced budget with little room to manoeuvre.
To get there, it is selling some government assets and raising user fees outside taxes.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone said along with increases, government has pledged to put another $2.5 billion into health care in three years.
“In another three years from now, with the addition of $2.5 billion, health care will represent 42 per cent of the entire provincial budget,” Stone said.
“We’re asking some British Columbians to pay a little more for the rising cost of health care.”
Those who earn less than $22,000 a year are exempted from paying MSP premiums, while another 200,000 people pay on a graduated scale.
The increases to MSP come on top of what the government forecasts will be a 28 per cent increase to BC Hydro premiums over the next five years.
Stone, who is responsible for Crown corporation ICBC, acknowledges drivers face a 4.9 per cent hike to basic premiums — something made easier by a four per cent drop in optional premiums.
That is being driven by increasing number and severity of bodily injury cases.
“The increase for 80 per cent of British Columbians with both works out to about $11 a year,” he said.
The NDP estimates the MSP and BC Hydro increases will cost the average family nearly $900 a year more by the end of the government’s three-year plan.
Stone and Lake are scheduled to meet with city business leaders today (March 21) in TRU’s Mountain Room during a Kamloops Chamber of Commerce luncheon to promote the 2014 budget.
Business, labour respond to British Columbia’s 2014 budget
Business, labour and other organizations gathered in Victoria for the budget presentation. A sampling of their responses:
• Phil Venoit of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said building trades unions are looking for more emphasis on trades training. A new art school in Vancouver is not the right priority for a province that is trying to ramp up major industrial development, he said.
B.C. has lost many industrial workers to Alberta, and they are generally paid substantially more there so it is difficult to lure them back home, Venoit said.
• Phil Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association, said the “boring” budget is a sign of stability.
“When they’re investing in significantly in infrastructure to create skills training, that’s what government needs to do,” Hochstein said. “The private sector will create the jobs.”
• Bonnie Pearson of the Hospital Employees’ Union said the government’s emphasis on keeping health care spending growth down to little more than two per cent a year is being felt at the service level.
“As it stands, there is a workload crisis in long-term care that has produced some of the most dangerous working conditions in the province in terms of injuries,” Pearson said.
• Mike Klassen, B.C. director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, gave the 2014 budget a letter grade of B-minus for its lack of measures for small business, but an A for not adding any new taxes and balancing the books.