Consumer round-up: B.C.'s budget hikes tobacco tax, provides free transit for kids
VANCOUVER -- British Columbia’s 2021 budget announcement includes breaks for consumers looking to buy e-bikes, free transit for kids under 12, and a rise in taxes on tobacco products.
While some of the expected announcements, like free birth control, didn’t materialize, there are still a few new items that will impact your pocketbook -- for better or for worse.
Free transit for kids
Starting in September, children 12-years-old and under in the province will ride transit for free. That includes both TransLink and BC Transit systems.
In her budget speech, Finance Minister Selina Robinson said this would save families in Metro Vancouver up to $672 a year per child, compared to a monthly TransLink pass.
Children under five already ride for free on TransLink routes. Fares for those from five to 18 cost $1.90 for a single zone with a Compass Card, $2.90 for two zones, and $3.90 for three zones.
For BC Transit users, the cost savings of the update will add up to $400 each year, the budget documents say.
No PST on e-bike sales
Budget 2021 also includes a break on PST for consumers purchasing e-bikes. The tax break is expected to save British Columbians an estimated $7 million per year, according to the budget documents.
It takes effect on Wednesday.
Rise in taxes on tobacco products
If you’re a smoker, you’ll be spending more on tobacco products beginning July 1. The tax increase includes cigarettes, heated tobacco products and loose tobacco.
It’s currently 29.5 cents per cigarette, and will go up to 32.5 cents per cigarette.
For loose tobacco, the increase is more significant. Currently 29.5 cents per gram, this summer the tax will go up to 65 cents per gram.
“This measure will create an added incentive to reduce tobacco consumption,” the budget documents say. “Smoking rates are higher among men and lower-income individuals. These populations will bear a greater proportion of the tax increase.”
The tax increase is expected to bring in $800 million each year in the 2022/23 and 2023/24 fiscal years, and $780 million this year.
No free birth control
For the past two years, advocates have been hoping B.C. budgets would include free prescription birth control for the province, but so far, it has not materialized.
Last year, health minister Adrian Dix said it was under review for the next budget. And recommendations from the 2021 Budget Committee included one to “Provide free prescription contraception for all people in British Columbia.”
The pill can cost about $240 a year, while IUDs, which last several years, can range from $75 to $380. Those can be prohibitively expensive for low-income earners, youths and people in marginalized communities, advocacy groups have argued.
The recommendation did not make it into the final budget, and there is no mention of birth control in the 2021 plan.
The B.C. government told CTV News that policy work is still underway and free birth control will be happening in the province. It’s set to be introduced under the PharmaCare model, and should be in place by next year.
With files from CTV’s Andrew Weichel