Protests grow over HST and provincial funding cuts
Interest groups across B.C. are up in arms over the harmonized sales tax and provincial funding cuts, and many voiced their opposition Tuesday in Victoria as the legislature resumed business.
The Campbell government faces massive popular opposition to the HST from small business, consumers and the New Democrats -- including a NO-HST Facebook group that now counts more than 100,000 members.
NDP leader Carole James has said her party plans to enter the 39th session of parliament with fists flying, launching an attack on the Liberals over the HST as well as the budget deficit.
On Aug. 20, Finance Minister Colin Hansen announced the $495-million budget he forecast will be much higher -- and that the government will run a deficit until 2013.
With natural gas revenues down, the forestry industry struggling and corporate and personal tax revenues plummeting by $1 billion in the last three months alone, Hansen says a deficit is in the cards.
"We'll have four years of deficit that we're anticipating," Hansen said.
"Some of the discretionary stuff that we have been able to do in the past we're simply not going to be able to do in the next difficult years," Hansen said.
Many interest groups have reacted angrily to the anticipated cuts in funding.
Owners of leaky condos recently found out they'll no longer get interest-free loans for repairs. The province says the revenue stream used to finance those loans has dried up.
The Fraser Health Authority, which provides health care to 1.5 million people, announced recently that it is chopping everything it doesn't call core patient services. Hundreds of seniors have rallied against the cuts.
It doesn't stop there.
Public libraries are taking a hit.
Last week, the provincial government announced that funding to libraries will be $13.7 million in 2009-2010, about 22 percent less than what was anticipated.
Barry O'Neill, B.C. president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, issued a statement Monday night decrying the funding cuts.
"Our public libraries are a huge asset to the province, so the government should be investing more in them, not less," O'Neill said.
This month, the provincial government also announced that it is scrapping Tourism B.C., the Crown corporation in charge of promoting tourism in the province.
Tourism B.C. will be folded into the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts in an effort to lower administrative costs and harmonize marketing initiatives across B.C., officials have said.
The changes will come into effect in April 2010.
The New Democrats have said the move will hurt efforts to bring in tourists from around the world.
With files from CTV British Columbia's Renu Bakshi and The Canadian Press