Browsing the budgets

The provincial and federal budgets were released last week, both carrying barrels of pandemic-related red ink. We asked a variety of civic leaders for their thoughts on the documents and what their impact might have on Kamloops and their sectors.

KAMLOOPS MAYOR KEN CHRISTIAN

Ken Christian
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian. - KTW

Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said two federal budget announcements piqued his interest: $10-per-day child care and doubling of the Canada Community-Building Fund (formerly the Gas Tax Fund) to municipalities.

Christian said child care is limited and expensive in Kamloops. He said with costs of up to $1,500 per month, it forces caregivers out of work and, without those people working, it does not generate as much wealth nor tax revenues.

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Christian said the city usually receives $3.6 million in infrastructure funding annually through gas taxes, but will instead receive $7.2 million in 2021, for one year only.

Christian said the city will be looking at the eligibility criteria, with roads projects and active transportation traditionally among infrastructure projects that have been funded in the past utilizing such dollars.

Meanwhile, the provincial budget included $500 million for mental health and addictions, which Christian called “huge.”

“It will have an impact on some of the programs we have been talking about a lot in council recently,” he said. “In terms of day space and storage and additional Car 40 and more wraparound services for those with mental illness in the community. What I was a little bit disappointed about there was that there hadn’t been any acknowledgement of the complex care piece that we had been asking for, but my understanding is that’s coming, so I guess I’ll be patient.”

Helen Blair
Kamloops Child Development Centre education director Helen Blair (right). - KTW file

HELEN BLAIR, EDUCATION DIRECTOR AT KAMLOOPS CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTRE

While B.C. has inched forward in its pursuit of $10-a-day day care, the federal government has committed to implementing the program within five years.

Helen Blair is the education director at the Kamloops Child Development Centre, a child care facility that is now in its third year of running a $10-a-day pilot program.

She said she is excited to see the program in both budgets, and hopes the federal and provincial government can work together to help provide affordable child care to everyone.

“I think the prototypes have really proven how important quality child care is ... I’m hoping it’s the future. I hope this is how it’s going to be for every parents,” she said.

Blair said the facility currently has a two-year waiting list across all age groups.

Dan Carroll
Kamloops Chamber of Commerce president Dan Carroll.

KAMLOOPS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PRESIDENT DAN CARROLL

Kamloops Chamber of Commerce board president Dan Carroll said both federal and provincial budgets aggressively tackle the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and he expects both will provide good supports for Kamloops businesses.

“Obviously, the governments are opening the taps and doing what needed to be done,” Carroll said.

He said extensions of business supports in the federal budget will be helpful, though some provisions will take time to realize.

“As long as that rolls out in a timely fashion, I think we’re looking forward to those supports as we move forward,” Carroll said.

One of the programs Carroll hopes will be of assistance to Kamloops businesses is the new Canada Recovery Hiring Program. That program is being introduced to offset costs of increasing worker hours or hiring additional staff as businesses reopen and the wage subsidy winds down.

From the provincial budget, Carroll noted there wasn’t a lot of new programming, but was pleased with initiatives such as the the PST rebate on machinery and equipment, wholesale liquor pricing, a PST exemption for e-bike purchases, training funds for unemployed workers in the tech and construction industries, added funds to the BC Housing Hub and 9,000 units of new affordable housing as positives.

As for criticisms, he said the B.C. budget lacks targeted action to make the housing market more affordable and was lacking changes to the employers health tax and streamlining of development cost charges.

While he appreciates the supports, Carroll noted that both budgets were in massive deficits and the chamber wants to see a vision for dealing with that debt burden.

“Business is always concerned when it comes to payback that it’s done in an equitable way,” Carroll said.

“We’ll be looking for mid-term goals from the government in terms of how they intend to deal with the deficit.”

Memorial Arena shelter
Alfred Achoba, CMHA Kamloops executive director, sets up a bed at Memorial Arena on May 15, 2020. - Dave Eagles/KTW

ALFRED ACHOBA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CANADIAN MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION IN KAMLOOPS

The 2021 B.C. budget promises $500 million in new spending over three years to help people struggling with mental-health and addictions issues.

Alfred Achoba, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Kamloops chapter, said the money is a huge investment.

“Over the last few years, there hasn’t been this much investment or commitment to mental health, so it’s great to see such a historic investment,” Achoba said.

Of that $500 million, $153 million is for opioid use disorder treatment, $133 million for treatment and recovery services, $98 million for mental health supports for children and youth, $53 million for early psychosis intervention, $45 million for overdose prevention, $15 million for the First Nations Health Authority and $7 million for eating disorder care and suicide prevention.

With word of the added funds, the local CMHA is looking at expanding services.

Achoba anticipates putting more resources towards combatting the opioid crisis by expanding recovery services to people with addiction issues and families who have gone through trauma of losing a loved one to an overdose.

Youth mental-health services have been lacking as that demographic hasn’t traditionally been in the CMHA’s purview, but the organization may now look into providing supports for that growing need in Kamloops, Achoba told KTW.

He also said the CMHA is looking at offering more culturally appropriate services for Indigenous clients.

As for the federal budget, what stood out for Achoba was the funding announced for Indigenous programs, immigrants and youth.

“Those are areas that I am excited to see how CMHA can play a part,” Achoba said.

He said he felt there was a lot of consultation with mental-health service providers this year ahead of the federal and B.C. budgets, noting there’s been a lack of funding in this line of work for years.

“I think this is where we’re seeing that real investment that is actually enhancing an addressing the disparities in our communities,” Achoba said.

Beverley DeSantis
Tourism Kamloops CEO Beverley DeSantis.

TOURISM KAMLOOPS CEO BEVERLEY DESANTIS

As travel is restricted in B.C., both the federal and provincial governments have announced tourism funding within their budgets.

Tourism Kamloops CEO Beverley DeSantis said the money is appreciated, given ongoing domestic and international travel restrictions.

“The tourism operators are really still hurting and will require additional funds to stave off insolvency, especially if this goes on beyond this summer,” DeSantis said.

The federal government announced $500 million for larger tourism operators, $200 million for festivals, community events and theatre and $2.4 million for indigenous tourism. Grants for small businesses and funds for airlines and airports were also announced, as well as extension of wage and rent subsidies to September.

“Hopefully, they’ll extend it to the end of the year because that wage subsidy and the emergency rent subsidy is really important to tourism operators who really have no, a lot of them, have no income for potentially a year and a half now,” DeSantis said.

Meanwhile, the province announced $195 million to continue the small and medium-sized business recovery program, $100 million for tourism recovery and major attractions, $83 million for BC Parks to expand trails and backcountry infrastructure, $20 million in community destination development to help with new infrastructure and $6 million in arts infrastructure grants.

DeSantis said the money is needed to keep businesses afloat and she is pleading with residents to abide by health restrictions and “help us save our summer.”

“Because without this summer, I don’t know what will happen to the majority of our businesses here in B.C., as far as tourism goes,” she said, noting flattening the curve could help tourism in the province and perhaps within Canada.

She does not expect travel to the United States or international destinations this year.

“We need to really slow this curve and get our vaccinations program to the fullest extent and get people travelling, even within our own country would certainly help,” DeSantis said.

“Or else the money just has to keep coming from government to support.”

© Kamloops This Week

 


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