FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Both Peace region MLAs say the NDP’s budget doesn’t align the money with the issues the province is trying to tackle.
Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier said he thought the budget would have been a chance for the provincial government to follow through after their announcements over the recent months, such as David Eby’s ten-year cancer care plan and the province’s commitment to invest in disaster recovery.
“I was thinking with a new premier and with all of the announcements they’ve been making over the last couple of months that the budget would’ve been something to brag about [and] to try to meet all of those promises,” Bernier said.
“It’s a bit of a bizarre budget because there’s some announcements in it, but really not the money to follow through with a lot of the issues they’ve talked about.”
Peace River North MLA Dan Davies had similar thoughts, saying the provincial budget was “underwhelming.”
“When I look at this is the NDP government’s seventh budget that they’ve introduced, over the last six and in this budget, is really a huge rehash of many of the previous budgets, including some of the big infrastructure spending,” Davies said.
“Of the 21 projects, there’s only four new ones.”
Bernier and Davies also pointed out the $11 billion deficit forecasted for the upcoming three years when speaking about the specifics of the budget. A number that Bernier said he was astonished by.
“They’re saying that the revenues in British Columbia are going up, but their spending’s going up more than what they’re making. So again, it just shows that this government just does not know how to manage the finances of the province,” Bernier said.
Minister of Finance, Katrine Conroy, said pulling back and cutting was not what British Columbians wanted in the face of uncertainty.
“Some believe we should respond to uncertainty by pulling back. By making cuts that reduce services. Or by making people pay out of pocket for tolls and private health care. That’s not what British Columbians want,” Conroy said.
One major area of note for both Davies and Bernier was the bigger concern of a forecasted decline in revenue from forestry, oil and gas, and mining.
“That really worries me. When we look at the North Peace, we’re very reliant on the resource sector,” Davies said.
“So when I see that there’s nothing there to support the resource sector and there’s no money coming back to us, well, where does that leave the people of Peace River?”
The provincial government recently announced a second round of RBCRI to help support rural communities impacted by the forestry industry.
According to Bernier, it’s not the lack of spending on the resource sector in this budget that has him the most worried — it’s the lack of revenue from it.
“This is not about just necessarily the spending, they’re not worrying about the revenue side of things,” Bernier said.
“So, if you use the analogy, the government has maxed out the credit, but they’re not worried about paying it back at all.”
Another area noted by both was the government’s major investments in healthcare. The budget indicates the province plans to invest $6.4 billion into health and mental health services over the next three years.
A considerable number, but Davies said there are no concrete plans to back it up.
“We’re throwing more money. We’re throwing more, but we’re getting worse results,” Davies said.
“We need more nurses, we need more doctors, and not to just throw money out the door and have no plan for it.”
According to the provincial budget, of the $6.4 billion over three years proposed on healthcare, $1.1 billion is meant to help recruit and retain healthcare professionals.
One of the positives noted by Bernier was the announcement that B.C. would become the first province to offer free prescription contraception in Canada on April 1st.
“It’s been promised for many years. We’ve been pushing for it, and it’s finally here. So that’s, I think, definitely a positive in there,” Bernier said.
With the proposed budget out, Bernier said they can now start debating it and getting into the details.
“Luckily, I’ve been around long enough to understand how this works, but over the next couple of weeks, we’ll probably have more as we dive into the different nuances of what it actually means when we see the numbers,” Bernier explained.
The 2023 B.C. provincial budget material can be accessed on the Government of BC’s website.
With files from the Canadian Press
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