New BC Finance Minister Carol James has announced a provincial budget update, with some measures aimed at tackling the housing, affordability, and fentanyl crisis.
Speaking to the legislature, James said addressing these “complex” problems won’t happen overnight.
“But just because some the issues we face are tough, just because they’re going to take time to resolved, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take first steps to address them,” she said.
That said, here’s what the budget update has to offer on housing:
- $208 million over four years for the construction of over 1,700 new units of affordable rental housing across BC
- $291 million over two years to support the construction of 2,000 modular rental housing units for people that are homeless
- More than $170 million over three years to provide 24/7 staffing and support services in those modular units
- $7 million over three years in new funding for the Residential Tenancy Branch to:
- ensure renters are treated fairly
- reduce wait times for dispute resolution
- establish a new compliance unit
- The property transfer tax threshold is increasing for first-time homebuyers. From February 22, 2017, they’ll be exempt from paying property transfer tax on the first $500,000 of the fair market value of their new home, instead of just the first $475,000.
- As of January 10, 2017, the Home Owner Grants phase out threshold will be increased to $1.6 million, from $1.2 million. The grant given to homeowners will be reduced by $5 for every $1,000 of assessed value above that threshold.
Note that a pledge made during the election to launch a $400/year renters’ rebate has not been budgeted and will not be coming into force as yet.
The budget update also features spending to try to put more money in the pocket of British Columbians.
Speaking to the legislature, James said too many families are struggling to get by.
“Families build up debt and are stuck living paycheque to paycheque,” she said. “Our government’s first priority is making life more affordable for people.”
That said, here’s what the budget updates offers in terms of extra assistance:
Income and disability assistance
- $100/month increase in income and disability assistance effective October 2017, on top of the extra $50/month promised in the February budget
- $200/month increase to the earnings exemption for income assistance recipients, who will be able to earn $600/month on top of assistance, to help people connect to employment
- $200/month increase to the earnings exemption for those receiving disability assistance, who will be able to earn $12k,000/year on top of assistance
- the creation of a poverty reduction strategy, since BC is the only province without one
- a basic income pilot, guaranteeing a minimum guaranteed income to participants
- the creation of a Fair Wages Commission to guide to increase of the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2021.
- $20 million new childcare investments supporting more than 4,000 new child care spaces
Note that a pledge to launch $10/day child care made during the election has not been budgeted and will not come into force as yet.
- the elimination of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges effective September 1
- $3,000 non refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters and search and rescue volunteers
- maximum annual amounts of low income climate action tax credit increased to $135/adult and $40/child from April 1, 2018
The news here is a plan to half MSP premiums for all British Columbians in 2018, rather than just those who apply and meet a threshold as determined by the BC Liberals.
As well, the new government has committed to ending MSP premiums totally within four years, and setting up a taskforce to do so.
However, with a fentanyl crisis to address, there’s plenty more to take in regarding mental health care and addictions.
“Already this year, opioid-related overdoses have taken the lives of too many people,” said James.
While many on the front lines were helping tackle this problem, “we’re going to help with this fight,” she said.
That said, here’s what the budget update had to offer for health care:
- From January 1, 2018 premiums will be reduced by 50% for everyone. There is no need to apply.
- The threshold for exemption from paying MSP at all is increasing by $2,000 to $26,000 for individuals and $35,000 for couples with two children.
- The province plans to eliminate MSP premiums completely within four years.
- An MSP taskforce will be established to guide the elimination of MSP premiums and replacement of revenue
- $322 million for prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery efforts
- creation of a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to develop a “seamless, coordinated mental health and addictions system.”