VICTORIA, B.C – B.C.’s budget released Tuesday shows a heavy focus on pandemic recovery funding, with around $6 billion in new spending being announced.

The budget projects an $8.1 billion deficit over the last year, based on the third quarterly report.  This is down from the estimated $13.6 billion projected last year, says Finance Minister Selina Robinson during her presentation Tuesday.

The budget projects declining deficits over the next three years, with a $9.7 billion deficit in 2021-22, $5.5 billion in 2022-23 and $4.3 billion in 2023-24. However, the budget shows a $40 billion increase to the province’s debt over three years.

Around 50 per cent of the increase is from operating deficits, while the other half is from capital spending, including the increased cost of the Site C dam to $16 billion.

The new recovery funding includes $2.5 billion in ongoing support for small and medium-sized businesses and support for the healthcare system. There is also $3.25 billion in pandemic and recovery contingencies to further assist programs when needed.

The province has also committed to providing free transit for children under the age of 12, a $175 increase to income and disability assistance, a $50 a month increase to the seniors’ supplement, and a low-interest loan program for affordable housing builders worth $2 billion.

Robinson announced an investment in mental health and addictions, which she calls the largest in the province’s history. The budget shows $500 million being doled out to over three years to expand mental health and substance use services.

That includes $97 million to expand mental health supports for youth, $61 million to improve access and quality of mental health services and $14 million for the First Nations Health Authority to deliver mental health and addictions services.

In response to substance use and overdose response, $330 million will be used to provide treatment and recovery services, and 195 treatment and recovery beds will be added to communities through the province.