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Opinion: About that B.C. budget (and Connie's Coast budget wishlist)

Close-up Of A Businessperson's Hand Covering Stacked Coins On Golden Weighing Scale

It amazes me that any government thinks running a deficit for three years is a good idea. But that is what our province is planning to do.

B.C.’s deficit is forecast to be $5.5 billion for the current fiscal year and plans are to continue to ‘run in the red’ until fiscal 2024-25 when it will go down to a paltry $3.2 billion. 

According to the Feb. 22 budget document, debt is expected to increase to $90.8 billion at the end of 2024-25, in order to finance the capital investments needed, as well as ensure continued support for people, businesses and communities while the government builds a strong economic recovery for B.C.

Of course these are “unprecedented” times. Recovery from the pandemic, as well as devastating wildfire and late year storm seasons in 2021 will impose huge costs on the province to rebuild the economy and damaged infrastructure. And rebuilding is crucial to create the activity for the economic rebound needed to pay back the money borrowed, while still supporting ever growing demands. All we can hope is that things go well in that regard. 

As minister of finance for my family, I would not propose a financial plan like this for my jurisdiction. I believe in pay as you go. Shor-term pain for long-term gain. I’ve cancelled vacation plans when faced with paying for a large, unexpected expenditure. Unworn gold jewelry has been sold to generate funds to make RRSP contributions (and for all this year’s procrastinators, the contribution deadline is March 1). Well into my sixth decade, I have yet to finance the purchase of a new vehicle. I often shop at thrift stores, my purse usually contains multiple coupons and I belong to loyalty programs to get benefits from any shopping that I do. 

Deficit financing is, to me, a last resort. My view of our current predicament is what happens if the recent run of misfortune and the costs that accompany it continues? As a society, when do we take responsibility to live within our current means? Do we keep mortgaging our future and saddling our progeny with costs that we were not willing to cover for ourselves? 

Those are questions I’m asking as I look at what might be in the BC’s Budget 2022 – Stronger Together document for the Coast.

That document highlights B.C.’s commitment to delivering 30,000 new childcare spaces for tots under the age of six within five years, and 10,000 more in the two years to follow. Can approval of Sechelt’s application to the Childcare BC New Spaces Fund program for close to the maximum of $3 million for a new 75-space centre be coming?

Will part of the $83 million for disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation in the province’s updated spending plan go towards work to mitigate the impacts of forestry activities on the Coast’s road and drainage infrastructure? Or make aquifer and watershed protection for Gibsons a reality? Are any of the projects lined up for the $1 billion in additional money for CleanBC coming to our area?

Will “accelerating investments to build more affordable and mixed-income housing projects faster,” mean that the Lions Housing Society will find the funding needed to move the long-planned expansion of Greenecourt to the completed stage? 

Does the province’s commitment to new investments in highways, bridges, rapid transit and other taxpayer-supported infrastructure mean that investments to improve Highway 101 and BC Ferries infrastructure are coming?

With a “new, cross-government approach to both prevent homelessness and respond quickly to assist people experiencing homelessness to become stably housed” will that mean that both housing and the support services needed to help Coast residents struggling with addictions or mental health issues are on the way? And will there be action to make housing attainable for the average working British Columbian?

I hope there’s a “yes” response to at least a couple of my questions. I’d hate to think we are entering into long-term debt (which, as you recall, I hate) as a society without at least a few of the burning issues on the Coast being addressed with the proceeds.