SKEENA NDP MLA Robin Austin says the glowing budget review presented by provincial finance minister Mike de Jong Feb. 16 doesn’t reflect the actual position of families in the area who are struggling to make ends meet.
“I would like to ask everyone in my constituency how their life has been affected by this, because at the end of the day ICBC rates are going up, Medical Services Plan (MSP) rates are going up, parking fees are going up, even to go into a provincial park for summer holidays is going up. Hydro costs have gone up 28 per cent in the last four years.”
De Jong’s budget of $47.5 billion, with almost half aimed at health care, forecasts a $264 million surplus, making it the fourth one in row that’s in the black.
Austin says the MSP premium relief given to single parents, while commendable, is overshadowed by the stiff increase to two-parent families who have seen their monthly premiums rise from $112 to $150 once family incomes rise above $30,000.
“At the end of the day, if you make $40,000 or you make $120,000, you pay the same,” said Austin, adding that he thinks fees should be better aligned with income.
As for the $100 million the provincial government has marked down under the Prosperity Fund, which was first touted as a piggy bank for anticipated LNG tax revenues, he said it was a nasty jibe for the government to put the exact amount taken in from MSP payments into this fund.
“That’s a real joke, to think it was supposed to be an LNG prosperity fund, hundreds of millions of dollars going into it, and what does she [Christy Clark] do? She takes $100 million out of today’s money, MSP premiums and puts it into a fund that is actually a fantasy fund.”
Another misstep in the budget was providing relief to new homeowners purchasing overpriced houses in the Lower Mainland, but not doing anything to ease rental prices.
“How is not having to pay the property transfer tax on a new home up to $700,000 going to make any relevance to anybody in Terrace or Kitimat? What would help is if they recognize that rents have gone up dramatically with the potential for LNG coming into the area,” said Austin.
What he does applaud is the injection over five years of $355 million into acquiring, building or, renovating affordable housing units across the province, and he says the City of Terrace and the District of Kitimat have the opportunity to take part as programs develop.