Political leaders, advocates react to 2019 B.C. budget
The new provincial budget unveiled Tuesday is promising everything from more affordable housing options to better financial support for parents and a resolution to ICBC's financial woes, but the plan was met with mixed reaction from political leaders and advocacy groups.
Here's a rundown of what some key figures had to say following Finance Minister Carole James's speech.
Affordable housing plan met with criticism
Housing affordability remains one of the biggest challenges the NDP government is facing.
Last year, it brought in higher taxes to help cool the market and bring prices down.
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- Replay: 2019-20 budget announced
But those across the aisle say those measures do little good for the province's economy.
"This is a government that seems to think they can just continue to increase spending while also projecting a 25-per-cent drop in housing starts," Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said. "That's not going to lead to an awful lot of employment in the construction industry and it's certainly not going to help affordability."
The soft market also has developers nervous.
"There's not enough homes being built," said Cameron Muir of the BC Real Estate Association. "We're going to head into another phase of rapidly rising prices where affordability gets out of reach."
January housing sales were down 39 per cent from the year before.
The government had expected to rake in some $2.2 billion in property transfer taxes. Now, that figure has been slashed to $1.9 billion and is forecast to stay flat for the next three years.
And Ministry officials predict the market is turning around, with sales expected to pick up three per cent this year with moderate price increases—not exactly the best news for a government promising to improve affordability.
"This is a budget that's designed to take people for a ride, to say 'It's going to be OK,'" Wilkinson said.
But James was quick to fire back.
"We're continuing to monitor all of the measures that we're taking," she told CTV News. "Remember that we have a 30-point plan when it comes to affordable housing, so we're looking at everything—supply and demand, the taxes that are in place."
The minister added that her government is prepared to make changes to its affordable housing approach based on if and how the real estate market changes.
"Certainly, if the market adjusts and we start seeing affordability and we start seeing an increase in vacancy rates, we'll be taking a look at our plan," she said.
Greens commend investment in environment
Another $41 million will be added to the budget to encourage homeowners to move to clear energy on their property, offering up to $2,000 to replace fossil fuel heating with electric pumps and up to $1,000 to upgrade and better insulate doors and windows.
The announcement was met with approval from Green Leader Andrew Weaver, whose party signed an agreement with the NDP that allowed it for form government back in 2017.
“By funding core B.C. Green initiatives, including CleanBC, professional reliance reform, and increasing affordability for students, government demonstrates the value of our voice in a minority government," he said in a statement.
“I have been pushing government to prioritize the wellbeing of British Columbians, their economy and their environment since I was elected almost six years ago. CleanBC is not just an investment for today, but for our future as well."
But Weaver said his party would have liked to see even more money invested in environmental stewardship.
“Funding for habitat and species protections is underwhelming," he said. "Our province’s wildlife is facing increasing threats, and to ignore the plight of endangered species like steelhead is more than shortsighted; it is dangerous to the economy, environment and our province’s cultural identity."
Taxpayers federation slams new child benefit
One of the biggest announcements Tuesday was the new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit, a refundable tax credit designed to provide financial assistance to low- and middle-class families.
The B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, however, criticized the plan's criteria for eligibility.
"It's strange how they're actually defining middle class. Some of those combined incomes for a family of four look pretty low, especially when we're considering how much it costs to live here in B.C.," Kris Sims told CTV. "If you say two teachers, isn't that middle class? Not according to these numbers."
The maximum benefits offered - $1,600 a year for parents’ first child, $1,000 for their second, and $800 for each additional child - will only be for families whose net income is $25,000 or less.
The benefits are scaled down for families earning more, so that parents whose net income is $47,500-$80,000 will take home $700 a year for their first child. And single-child families earning about $97,500 and two-child families making $114,500 won’t receiving anything under the benefit.