COLUMN: A budget that works for the Kootenays

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B.C.’s Minister of Finance Carole James delivered our government’s first full provincial budget on Feb. 20. As I listened, I thought of all the Kootenay people whom I met at their doors, at community events, on the street or chatted with on the phone during the election. I thought of the stroller brigade who rallied for universal child care and all the advocates who have been pleading with past governments to prioritize early learning and child care since the 1960s. I thought of our local businesses, our seniors and my friends at Yaqan Nukiy. This budget was about them, and I am so proud to be a part of it.

Budget 2018 works for the Kootenay region and the entire province. It makes historic investments in child care and housing that will be felt for generations to come. One billion dollars into child care will go to reducing costs to $0 for families earning less than $45,000 per year, reducing costs for 86,000 families by $1,250 per month, creating 22,000 licensed child-care spaces, and recruiting more ECE workers.

Another $2 billion is going into housing over the next three years so that we can build new rental units, support women and children fleeing violence, and create 5,000 new student housing units. Fourteen million dollars of this is going to the Columbia Basin Trust to match their housing fund, bringing that total to $28 million. We’re also starting a Housing Hub where government’s non-profit, faith-based, for-profit and other government partners will work together to ensure that we succeed in our ambitious goals for housing.

This budget also announced the final end to MSP premiums. We cut premiums in half Jan. 1 this year and will fully eliminate them by 2020. If you are a single adult, you’re saving $900 a year while a couple saves as much as $1,800 a year. But that doesn’t mean we’re cutting health care. Rather, this budget is up by $1.5 billion, covering the need for improved residential care and increasing team-based care so that more people can get a regular family doctor.

We’ve known for a long time that our schools need maintenance, particularly here in the Kootenays. That’s why you will find $2 billion invested into maintenance, renovation or replacing our K-12 schools. And the teachers essential to any classroom? We’re planning for that too, with increased funding and recruitment. For those students and communities wanting to learn their Indigenous languages, such as Yaqan Nukiy School near Creston, you will find $50 million to revitalize and prevent the extinction of B.C.’s Indigenous languages.

For all you artists and our arts economy, you will see the BC Arts Council budget increase by $15 million over three years. We’re also ensuring other B.C. industries can succeed and provide family-supporting jobs. Employees’ access to child care and housing are the top two concerns listed by many industries, and we’re addressing those along with a tax system that rewards industries for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and their ecological footprints.

One significant industry in our region is agriculture, and we love to buy local in the Kootenays. This budget is supporting Grow BC, Buy BC, Feed BC with a $29 million injection.

For all of you interested in building a career in the trades, get ready to learn in an amazing facility close to home. Selkirk College is in the budget with $22 million to renovate the Silver King trades campus.

But budgets are not just about spending. They are about revenue as well. We’ve thoughtfully identified revenue sources and taxes that make things more fair and reflect best practices in other jurisdictions.

This approach has resulted in a balanced budget. That’s right, no deficits — even with the $1.3 billion ICBC mess we were left with by the previous government. So don’t let anyone ever tell you that putting people first and balancing the books can’t be done. We did it. And I am proud to be a part of it.