The BC NDP budget announced this week contains important gains for working families and will make life more affordable for everyone living in the province. Poverty reduction and climate action are two new areas of investment, with continued social spending on child care, housing and public infrastructure, as well as health care and the opioid crisis.
Key for working families is a the BC Child Opportunity Benefit for children under 18, which replaces the existing early childhood tax benefit for children under six years old. The new income-tested benefit will be introduced in October 2020 and pay up to $1,600 per year for one child. Economists expect the Child Opportunity Benefit to reduce the child poverty rate once fully phased in.
Housing continued to be a major focus for the BC NDP, with an expansion of the successful modular housing program to fund 200 additional units beyond the 2000 announced in the 2018 budget. There is also $10 million to establish a provincial rent bank. “While the investment in new housing was at a record level in last year’s BC Budget, the crisis is so severe that more action is still needed,” said Iglika Ivanova, senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
BC Budget 2019 introduced a range of investments to help vulnerable populations impacted by poverty. According to the CCCPA “poverty costs BC between $8.1 and $9.2 billion annually.”  Poverty increases risks of diabetes, obesity, and heart and respiratory disease and increases healthcare and criminal justice system costs while lowering school success and productivity. Increased financial support will go to children in foster care, children with special needs, social and disability assistance, employment training, adult basic education and transit. Additional funding will go to the Employment Standards Branch to update employment standards, which could include money for enforcing workplace rights for non-unionized workers.
The budget also includes $679 million for the CleanBC climate plan, well ahead of other provinces on climate action, but behind in terms of the urgent need to shift to a carbon neutral economy. There are new revenue-sharing agreements with BC First Nations for $297 million as well as a 33 percent increase in capital investment. “As the real estate market cools down and our economy becomes less reliant on real estate, these major new capital investments represent a significant jobs plan—jobs to build and staff new hospitals, community health centres, child care facilities, seniors residences and infrastructure the province needs like new bridges, highways, transit lines and new retrofit programs under the Clean BC climate plan,” Ivanova explained.
Health care funding of $1.3 billion over the next three years includes the addition of new drugs to the PharmaCare program and new money for mental health and addiction services as well as opioid emergency response. “Working people and families struggled due to inadequate social spending under the previous government,” President Kim Novak said. “The measures in this budget that address the housing and child care crises, as well as create good jobs, a strong public health system and a clean economy are long overdue and welcome.”
President Novak added that the elimination of student loan interest as well as MSP will also boost quality of life for UFCW 1518 members. “Since the BC NDP took office in 2017, life for working people and their families has become more affordable. When combined with the power of a collective agreement supporting them at work, life has become better for our members.”