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BC NDP delivers election budget with rebates, billions in new infrastructure

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British Columbia’s majority NDP government delivered its 2024 budget on Thursday, forecasting a deficit in order to maintain services and promised infrastructure spending, while promising rebates and other goodies during an election year.

The provincial budget for 2023-24 is estimated at $89 billion, and includes the housing initiatives, including BC Builds, the government has been announcing and promoting in recent months.

One-time rebates for electricity and BC Family Benefits increases, in addition to implementation of a long-discussed renters’ rebate, could see a low-income family with an extra $1,060 in their bank accounts.

In addition couples struggling to conceive will have access to free in vitro fertilization treatment starting next spring as a working groups gets underway immediately to sort out implementation of the program.

Government priorities include a focus on the middle class, families, and housing, which they have clearly signalled in recent months with a slew of announcements and public statements.

A new flipping tax, expanded eligibility and payments through the BC Family benefit, dramatically expanded exemptions to the Employer Health Tax, and a one-time energy rebate feature prominently.

“Budget 2024 includes new targeted measures to help reduce costs for British Columbians,” reads the first page of the 158-page Budget and Fiscal Plan.

Expanded legal aid services and early resolution options to help divert family law matters from the courts are also included, with modest funding increases for correction centres, the BC Coroners Service, and RoadSafetyBC.

While the economic forecast for this year is grim with a slim .8 per cent increase in real GDP, the finance minister anticipates 2.3 per cent growth next year and pointed to lower than expected corporate and natural resources revenue, as having an impact.

Katrine Conroy’s fiscal plan outlines a deficit of $7.9 billion for the 2024-25 fiscal year, with a $7.7 billion deficit the following year, and a $6.8 billion deficit budget for 2026-27, with the goal of a balanced budget.

“We are on solid financial ground,” she insisted, pointing to B.C.’s debt-to-GDP ratio being better than most other provinces and the national average.

Taxpayer-supported debt is projected to be $71.9 billion by the end of the 2024 fiscal year, according to the ministry of finance, approximately $3.8 billion less than forecast in last year’s budget.

Ongoing geopolitical conflict, high interest rates, weak global economic activity, and “increased costs and demands for government services” including health care, social assistance, and climate-related disasters are highlighted as having potential impacts on the fiscal plan.

Over the three-year plan, service delivery agency spending will grow by $5 billion, to $56.2 billion in 2026-27: $512 million in school district spending due to increasing enrollment, $845 million for post-secondary institutions seeing “higher staffing requirements for a growing student base” and $1.1 billion in transportation, social services, and housing sectors.

The budget for the premier’s office is increasing, from $16 million this year to $17 million in each of the next two years. Ministries seeing their budgets reduced include agriculture and food, emergency management, energy and low carbon innovation, finance, forests, environment and climate change, and Indigenous relations. 

Full coverage of B.C. Budget 2024

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