Posts Tagged "spending"


Liberals promise billions in new spending in 2019 election platform

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OTTAWA – The Liberal party has released its costed 2019 platform, and it includes promises of billions in new spending for students, families, and the environment, continuing their so-called economic approach of “investing in Canadians,” while targeting corporations and the wealthiest Canadians to help pay for these proposals.

The platform titled “Forward a real plan for the middle class” spans 85 pages and includes chapters on the middle class and jobs, the environment, social and cultural programs, Indigenous commitments, parliamentary reforms, as well as pledges focused on international and domestic trade, justice, and security. Sprinkled throughout are photos of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his candidates.

The document is a mix of already-announced campaign promises, and new ideas that they’d yet to announce, alongside a costing analysis done by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) of 22 key pieces.

Central to what the Liberals are promising to deliver should they be re-elected on Oct. 21 is a boost to the Canada Child Benefit, relief for student debtors, new taxes on the rich, and new regulations for multinational tech giants.

In total, the Liberals estimate that the new commitments they’re making would cost $9.3 billion in 2020-21 and rise each year following, but would also bring in just over $5.2 billion in new revenue in 2020-21 also rising over time. This would leave Canadians with an additional $4.1 billion added on to the deficit in the first year, which the Liberals project would be at $27.4 billion in 2020-21, with no time frame for getting back to balance. Based on today’s platform, a re-elected Liberal government would run another four years of deficits, but the party points to the continued decrease of Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio as a more favorable figure.

“Our economy is driven by people. So we will keep investing in Canadians, and doing the things that make it better for the middle class,” said Liberal incumbent candidate and co-chair of the national platform committee Ralph Goodale during a press conference with reporters who received the platform under embargo in Ottawa. “Over the last four years we’ve seen what happens when you put people first,” he said.

In a statement sent ahead of the Liberal plan being publicly released, the Conservative Party—which has released the costing for certain pieces of its plan but not yet for the entire package—said that these Liberal promises are “not worth the wasted ink and paper it’s printed on.”

Relief for the middle class

The first chapter of the platform is focused on the middle class, and measures the Liberals say will make life more affordable for those within that income range.

Early days in this campaign the Liberals promised to increase their Canada Child Benefit program by 15 per cent for children under one; exempting parental and maternity leave employment insurance benefits from tax; and extending those benefits to adoptive parents.

According to the PBO, this suite of measures would cost $777 million in 2020-21, rising to just under $1.2 billion by 2023-24.

The Liberals have also promised to make the first $15,000 of income tax-free for Canadians earning $147,000 a year or less, which the Liberals say will help lift another 40,000 people out of poverty. Billed as helping more people keep what they earn, it’s projected to cost $2.9 billion in 2020-21.

A promise to increase Old Age Security by 10 per cent for seniors once they turn 75 would cost $1.6 billion in 2020-21, rising to $2.6 billion in 2023-24. The Liberals would also increase the CPP survivors benefit by 25 per cent.

And for families who qualify for the Canada Child Disability Benefit, it would double from $2,832 to $5,664 for each child, estimated to cost $391 million in 2020-21.

There are also new or expanded measures for first-time home buyers; initiatives and measures for entrepreneurs and small business owners; more accessible and affordable childcare; strengthening public health care; increasing EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks at a cost of $306 million in 2020-21; and implementing a new EI career insurance benefit.

The Liberals are also promising a variety of other middle-class targeted initiatives, but not all were costed by the PBO. One of the biggest commitments left un-costed was the Liberal’s plan to move towards a universal pharmacare system.

Throughout the platform the Liberals stack up their commitments to those by the Conservatives, noting the differences between what each party is offering.

Trudeau spoke about the costed platform at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus.

“Under a Conservative government, a person making $400,000 a year would benefit more than a person making $40,000 with their tax cuts,” said Trudeau on Sunday.

Help for student debt

As CTV News reported Saturday, the platform also includes measures aimed at students and Canadians who still have student debt. All these commitments are promised to come into effect in 2020-2021, and apply to new graduates and people already paying off student loans.

These measures include:

  • Allowing new parents to put their student loans on hold by giving them an interest-free break from paying off their loans until their youngest child turns five years old.
  • Extending the grace period on payments after graduation from six months to two years, and even after that time only will people have to make payments once they are earning at least $35,000 per year after graduation.
  • Increasing student grants under the Canada Students Loans and Grants program by $1,200, to reach $4,200 per year.

According to the PBO’s assessment of the post-secondary measures, it would cost $172 million in the first year, rising to just over $1 billion by 2023-24. The Liberals estimate up to 470,000 students could benefit.

In Ontario, Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford has reversed previous student assistance measures and it appears the Liberals are looking to make a direct appeal to those impacted by that and other provincial cuts.

“Conservative provincial governments are trying to balance the budget on the backs of families and students, all while the cost of tuition keeps going up,” said Trudeau.

“Cuts to education. To healthcare. To environmental protection. We can’t afford to double down on the Conservatives, not here in Mississauga, not across Ontario, not anywhere in Canada,” he said.

Corporate and tech crackdown, luxury tax

In an effort to help generate new revenue and crack down on corporate tax evasion, the Liberals would introduce new tax measures that’ll hit wealthy Canadians and are promising regulations for multinational tech companies.

The Liberals would impose a 10 per cent luxury goods sales tax applied at point of sale, for purchases of personal cars, boats, and aircraft that are valued at $100,000 or more. This, according to the PBO, will bring in $585 million in 2020-21, rising to $622 million in 2023-24.

And, changes would come to corporate taxation under a re-elected Liberal government. They would review current policies to ensure the wealthy aren’t benefitting unfairly, and target tax avoidance and corporate tax loopholes. The PBO has estimated that the corporate tax crackdown could bring in $459 million in the current 2019-20 fiscal year, and would raise $1.7 billion in 2020-21.

The Liberals had already said they’d impose a one per cent tax on properties owned in Canada, by non-Canadians and non-residents, to limit housing speculation. The PBO estimates this would bring in $217 million in revenue in 2020-21, rising to $256 million by 2023-24.

Another major aspect of this is a new effort the Liberals are billing as “making multinational tech giants pay their fair share.” What this entails is a new three per cent tax on the income of businesses in the digital economy sector. It would come into effect on April 1, 2020 and target advertising and digital companies like Google or Amazon, with worldwide revenues of at least $1 billion and Canadian revenues of more than $40 million.

The Liberals estimate this would bring in $540 million in 2020-21, rising to $730 million by 2023-32.

As well the Liberals are promising to impose new privacy measures on large digital companies like Facebook, because they hold massive troves of Canadians’ personal data. The Liberals would install a new set of online rights for people to be able to erase their data from platforms, know who has access to it and how it’s being used, standards for reporting and compensation when data breaches occur, and force companies to report to a national advertising registry. All of this they say, would be part of the job for a new Data Commissioner.

Some climate measures costed

The platform document lays out the Liberals promised next steps to tackle climate change, including the promise to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This broad commitment doesn’t have a price tag attached but would include five-year goals decided on with help from experts, and new supports for those who will be impacted by the transition.

The carbon tax regime would remain, but no new information on the price per tonne it would reach in coming years.

The environmental measures that the PBO costed include the promise of interest-free loans for environmental retrofits, and grants for zero-emission homes, which the PBO pegs at costing $300 million in 2020-21, up to $411 million by 2023-24.

As well, the promise to cut the tax rate for companies that produce zero emission technology like electric cars or batteries in half would cost $14 million in 2020-21, according to the Liberal platform.

And, the Liberals estimate that once fully completed—something they say is still three years away— the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would generate $500 million in revenue, which the Liberals would put back into clean energy projects and climate change solutions.

Gun control, victim supports

As part of the broad promise to make Canadian streets safer, the Liberals have already said they’d ban all military-style assault rifles, create a buy-back program for legally-purchased assault rifles and allow provinces and municipalities to beef up their bans or restrictions further if desired.

In the costed platform the Liberals are earmarking an additional $50 million a year to help cities crack down on gun and gang crime.

Other justice-related measures pledged that include costing are:

  • Hiring and retaining 425 Crown prosecutors and 225 judges, the cost of which will be split between the federal government and promises;
  • Hiring and retaining an additional 100 RCMP officers; and
  • Providing sexual assault and domestic violence survivors free legal representation for application hearings, another cost to be split with the provinces.

According to the PBO this trio of measures will cost $122 million in 2020-21

Relatedly the Liberals are also promising to make it mandatory that all judges in Canada take sexual assault law training, which was an initiative from former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose that was thwarted in the Senate. This chapter also has promises for drug treatments, elder abuse, and targeted at first responders.


The 2015 federal election was largely centred on accepting refugees and contrasting the parties’ immigration policies, this time around the proposals from the Liberals are limited.

They include a promise to eliminate the processing and right of citizenship fees for new applicants. The PBO says this will have a limited cost, estimated at $75 million in 2020-21, rising to $110 million by 2023-24.

The Liberals say they will “move forward with modest and responsible increases to immigration,” focusing on welcoming highly skilled immigrants. And a re-elected Liberal government would also continue talks with the United States about updating the Safe Third Country agreement, which some believe has resulted in the influx of irregular border crossings into Canada from the U.S.

Equality-focused commitments

  • The plan also includes many social policy and equality-centered commitments that don’t have dollar signs attached, such as:
  • Appointing another gender-balanced cabinet and improve federal diversity in appointments;
  • Protecting abortion rights and improving how women are treated in the health care sector more broadly;
  • Making it so people are “free from discrimination online, including bias and harassment”;
  • Re-stating the not-met commitment to completely end the current 3-month blood donation ban for men who have sex with men;
  • Amending the Criminal Code to ban the practice of conversion therapy that targets LGBTQ people;
  • Study extremism like racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy and attempt to combat radicalization; and
  • Establishing the Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government, along with other supports for similar international institutions.

Parliamentary reform

While there is zero mention of reviving the now long-broken promise of electoral reform, the Liberals are looking to make a handful of tweaks to the parliamentary system, should they be re-elected. These include:

  • More time for private members’ bills to be dealt with in the House of Commons;
  • New technology to connect constituents with their MPs, without specifics;
  • Eliminating whip and party lists to give the Speaker more freedom in picking who to let in on debates;
  • More resources for parliamentary committees;
  • Upholding the Independent Senate; and
  • Implementing the Anne McLellan-issued recommendations around role and structure of the minister of justice position.

$1.5M in spending for Vancouver recommended in 2019 social grant report

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A new report by Vancouver’s managing director of social policy and projects is recommending City Council authorize more than $1 million in child care enhancement and other grants this year.

Sixty-one new social grants totalling $1,422,864 are recommended by Mary Clare Zak in her report, which is set to be tabled at Vancouver City Council’s next meeting on July 9.

“Social grants are investments that contribute to a healthy city for all. They support non-profit community-based services that facilitate the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional well-being of people,” wrote Zak in the report.

The bulk of the funds would be split between 46 separate grants to support “licensed group child care, preschool, school-aged care and occasional child care programs serving high need families.” 

The total of the 46 grants is $976,140 according to the report.The next largest line item is a grant worth more than $300,000 to support the operation of the Collingwood Gymnasium and Annex in East Vancouver.

Seven social policy capital grants would be provided to improve the “safety, accessibility, and operational needs” of non-profit childcare and service organizations, and five grants worth nearly $50,000 would be given to support start-up costs for “new or expanded childcare operations, assist with financial restructuring to address financial crises, and support innovations in early learning and care.”

The grants would be funded by the 2019 Social Policy Grants operating budget for childcare.

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Ottawa renews annual spending on women and children’s health, rights and ups it to $1.4 billion a year

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a $1.4-billion annual commitment to support women’s global health at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Tuesday.


The federal government is pledging to spend $1.4 billion a year “advancing the health and rights” of women, teens and children around the world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on the first full day of Women Deliver 2019, an international conference on gender equity being held in Vancouver this week.

The aid package renews Canada commitment to women’s health abroad by pledging to extend the current $1.1 billion a year aid beyond 2020, when it was set to expire, and increase it.

Maryam Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality, called the 10-year commitment “unprecedented.”

She said the announcement means funding is promised under her government until 2030, and the $1.1 billion amount will increase gradually to $1.4 billion a year by 2023.

A 10-year maternal, newborn and child health policy that expires in 2020 had been brought in in 2010 under the previous Conservative government.

Monsef and her staff said most of the extra funding of $300,000 a year would be spent on the “neglected” area of sexual reproductive health rights, including abortion.

When Trudeau announced the funding commitment at the start of Tuesday’s plenary, he said such funding was needed more than ever.

He noted there are 200 million women around the world who have no access to contraceptives, and he and several other presenters at the conference spoke of “pushback” to gains for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

“The unfortunate truth is that we live in a world where rights are increasingly under threat,” Trudeau said in a brief announcement.

Speaking in French, he said only women should have the right to determine what is best for their bodies and that abortion “must be accessible, safe and legal.”

“We can’t talk about sexual and reproductive rights in isolation from the rest of women’s health because, just as there are 200 million women who don’t have access to contraception, hundreds more die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth,” he said.

The Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) called the federal promise of funding an “historic day.”

“The investment will not only ensure that Canada’s long, proud tradition as a leader in women and children’s health continues, it comes with a purposeful approach that addresses critical gaps in the health needs of women and adolescents,” the organization said in a news release.

It said it renews funding for reproductive, maternal, newborn and children’s health and nutrition and adds aid for the “most neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

Its acting executive director, Julia Anderson, said in the release that the funding comes at a critical time “when rollbacks on women’s health rights are being acutely felt around the globe.”

Soon after his election in 2016, U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-governmental organizations that deliver any counselling or abortion services, no matter what nation pays for that service, from receiving U.S. government support.

A number of U.S. states have recently or are considering abortion bans.

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B.C. Budget 2019: Health care spending tops $21 billion a year

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Proposed new St. Paul’s Hospital.


While health expenditures have risen every year for decades, Finance Minister Carole James said Tuesday the NDP government is determined to make up for “years of cuts” and “underfunding” by the previous Liberal government.

The B.C. Ministry of Health will spend about $21 billion in the 2019/20 fiscal year, $21.5 billion in 2020/21 and $22.1 billion in 2021/22. The 2018/2019 budget was $19.8 billion. Those figures don’t include the $10 million allocated to the Ministry of Mental Health and Additions in each of the next three fiscal periods.

It’s expected that federal transfer payments averaging about $5.5 billion in each of the next three years will help fund the spending which includes billions on new and upgraded hospitals over the next few years, including St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and Royal Columbian in New Westminster. The government expects to spend $4.4 billion over three years on major hospital construction and upgrades, equipment and health information systems.

St. Paul’s hospital is projected to be completed by 2026 and will ultimately cost $1.9 billion.

Several hospital construction and upgrade projects are behind schedule, according to budget documents. Among them is work at Surrey Memorial Hospital, Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and B.C. Children’s and Women’s Hospital.


James said the government has allocated $74 million over three years for a better-coordinated child and youth mental health system in which families can “ask once to get help fast.” The new approach will help “ease the worries of countless parents” who don’t know where to turn, she said.

It is described in budget documents as a program to fund prevention and early intervention for children and young adults trying to cope with mental health and addictions problems. Specialized teams of educators, counsellors, mental health experts, substance use experts and others will provide services in one-stop shop facilities, online programs and others.


James said the government would spend another $30 million on the fentanyl overdose crisis, bringing the total spent since 2017 to $608 million. Across the province, there is a need for more paramedics in rural and remote areas as they have been on the front line of the crisis.

Budget documents say funding is going towards 21 overdose prevention sites and nine supervised consumption sites. Between July 2017 and June 2018, people used drugs 475,000 times at these sites. In that period, 3,000 individuals overdosed at the sites, but all were revived by staff. Another 1,700 drug users were successfully resuscitated around the province over the past year for a total of 4,700 overdose deaths averted.

Still, about 1,500 individuals died from overdoses on streets, residencies or other places across the province in 2018.


James said the government is “hiring” 200 new family doctors, 200 nurse practitioners and 50 pharmacists, to provide “faster, better” care in “every corner of the province” at urgent care and primary health clinics. Five urgent care clinics have opened so far, including one in downtown Vancouver, and another five will open at undisclosed locations by the summer. James couldn’t say what the budget is for such clinics and staffing and Ministry of Health staff have not provided the figure either.

James seized the opportunity to slam the Liberals for their “doctor for everyone” campaign that flopped because there simply aren’t enough doctors to fulfil such a promise. The NDP scheme to hire 200 new primary care physicians is equally ambitious but James said the Liberal plan to find more family doctors “obviously didn’t work, so we’re taking a team approach.”

She was referring to the government’s oft-touted “primary care strategy” which envisions doctors, nurses and other health care providers working in teams at clinics, all under one roof. It remains more of an aspirational concept, as no specifics emerged Tuesday.


Pharmacare deductibles for 240,000 people with incomes under $45,000 have been eliminated, at a cost of $105 million over three years. The government is also spending $42 million to expand coverage for certain drugs so “people can access the medications they need,” including those for three common conditions — diabetes, asthma and hypertension.

The government is fulfilling its promise to eliminate Medical Services Plan premiums formerly charged to individuals and now paid by employers through a health tax. James said the MSP premium cut that began last year will be eliminated by the end of this year. At $2.7 billion, it is “one of the biggest middle-class tax cuts in B.C. history.”

By doing away with premiums, families will save as much as $1,800 a year. But employers are expected to make up the lost revenue through the payroll tax.


The government also announced an $89-million grant program for life sciences organizations to help them attract and retain researchers “and to support research, entrepreneurship and commercialization” of discoveries. The government expects the provincial share will help attract over $200 million in further funding from other sources.

The B.C. Care Providers Association applauded the $5 million earmarked for training workers, including health care assistants and specialty nurses. CEO Daniel Fontaine said care providers to seniors are especially feeling the effect of staff shortages in the North, the Interior and on Vancouver Island.

“When there are staff shortages, seniors that receive care at home or in a long-term care home or assisted living setting will not receive the services they need,” he said.

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Twitter: @MedicineMatters


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B.C. Budget 2019: Government offers only modest new spending

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VICTORIA — B.C.’s NDP government delivered a stand-pat budget Tuesday that offered little new spending on its priority housing and child care agendas, but did unveil modest funds for student loans and clean energy incentives.

Finance Minister Carole James tabled a $58-billion 2019/20 spending plan for the fiscal year starting April 1, with a $274 million surplus. There are no new tax increases beyond those already announced last year on high income earners, corporations, luxury homes and the carbon tax.

However, there is new small-scale spending, such as $31 million this year to eliminate interest rates on student loans — a move government estimates will save an average undergrad student with $11,200 in loans roughly $2,300 in interest.

“We were very pleased to see that coming in the budget,” said Noah Berson, chairperson of the Alliance of B.C. Students.

It applies to all existing student loans as well, effective immediately.

“The past government racked up surpluses simply for the case of surpluses while not investing in people,” said James. “We are looking for a balanced approach … while also making sure we invest in people who help build that strong economy.”

The budget offered only $9 million in new spending for child care in the coming year, which is on top of $1 billion announced in the last budget spread over three years.

The hold-the-line spending meant the current hybrid system of subsidies and 53 pilot locations for $10-a-day child care won’t be significantly expanded in the coming year, according to ministry officials. Nor was there any signal when full $10-a-day child care — a key NDP election promise from 2017 — may become a reality.

James said there’s still $366 million in child care funding occurring this year from her previous announcements, even if it was not re-announced in this budget.

“Lets remember the child care plan is phased in over time,” she said. “Over the next year you’ll see the minister and ministry doing evaluation of the prototype of $10-a-day and looking at how we expand those.”

Child care advocate Sharon Gregson said she still believes the government is on track by increasing funding incrementally every year despite not making a big deal of re-announcing it. She said she expects the pilot locations and subsidies to increase this year, even if government doesn’t.

“They’ve got room within this funding envelope to do that,” said Gregson. “Now we want to make sure they are spending the money the right way.”

Housing affordability also held to its $7-billion spending plan over 10 years, with a $9 million increase in the budget for “incremental housing initiatives” and more homeless modular housing.

There was no sign of the $400 annual renters rebate promised by the NDP in the 2017 election, which is opposed by the NDP’s power-sharing partners, the B.C. Greens.

“It is something we’re working on with our Green colleagues,” said James. Government is creating a provincially backed rent bank for those who fall behind on their rent and need help to avoid eviction.

James announced a new “Child Opportunity Benefit” as a key new budget promise that would provide up to $1,600 a year for a child, through monthly deposits to families on an income-tested scale.

“We really want to make sure we have the opportunity for every child to thrive and provide more help to families in raising those children,” she said.

“So I’m very proud that budget 2019 introduces the child opportunity benefit. This really is a historic investment, and puts dollars in the pocket of middle class families.”

But the program does not actually start until October 2020 — meaning it is not even part of the coming fiscal year.


Therefore, there’s no money set aside to fund the program in the coming year, and no cheques in the mail for almost 20 months. James said that’s because it takes a year’s notice for B.C. to get the Canada Revenue Agency to agree to help with the administration of the program.

James reiterated the elimination of Medical Services Plan premiums this year — which are replaced with an Employer Health Tax — combined with future credits like the child benefit could be considered in one of the largest middle-class tax breaks in provincial history.

The government’s ambitious plan to promote clean electricity use to hit its pollution-reduction targets, called CleanBC, received $902 million over three years in the budget.

The money will fund already-existing climate action tax credit cheques, as well extend for a year the current $6,000 point-of-sale rebate on electric vehicles, $2,000 to replace a fossil fuel burning furnace with an electric heat pump and $1,000 to upgrade windows and doors to be better insulated.

Some programs, such as electric vehicles subsidies, have been so popular in the past that they’ve run out of money and had to be topped up by government during the year, said James.

The government had set up expectations of a fully funded poverty reduction plan to be unveiled this year.

However, there was almost no mention of such a plan in the budget.

Instead, the budget outlined a $50 monthly increase to disability and income assistance levels — which advocates have already said are so low they need a major spike in order to provide a livable foundation for the poor.

“We know more needs to be done to make income and disability assistance more accessible,” said James.

“You’ll hear more about this as the poverty plan comes forward in the spring with more specifics.”

That disappointed advocates like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which said the $50 monthly increase was insufficient.

“I think we could have done more,” said senior economist Iglika Ivanova. “I think we definitely have the fiscal capacity.”

She said she can see the outlines of a poverty reduction plan on the horizon, but that the new child benefit tax program won’t help as much as government claimed.

“No children and families on welfare will be lifted out of poverty by this child benefit,” she said. “It is not big enough.”

Other small-scale new spending initiatives in the budget include $74 million over three years for new mental health and addictions programs for children, and redirecting $297 million in gaming revenue to share with First Nations over three years.

James said there’s flexibility built into the budget for unanticipated spending, both in a $500 million forecast allowance as well as a $750 million contingency fund. There’s also $553 million set aside for bargaining mandates.

James said the provincial economy remains the healthiest in Canada, with forecasts of the Gross Domestic Product increased to 2.4 per cent in part due to the new Canada-United States-Mexico trade agreement.

“It’s a budget strong on the social side and quite weak on the economic development side,” said Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the B.C. Business Council. “It’s complacent. It says the relatively strong economy we’ve been operation on will continue. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.”

Finlayson said James deserves credit for holding back on large spending initiatives and pressure within her party to spend big.

“The fiscal and economic projections I think are credible,” said Finlayson.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade gave the budget a “B-“ rating, calling it “a steady as we go budget” built on last year’s tax increases.

A cooling housing market is estimated to cut into property transfer tax revenue, lowing it from $2.2 billion to $1.9 billion. B.C. Housing starts are expected to drop almost 33 per cent by 2023, compared to the final year of the previous Liberal government.

However, the government does not necessarily think lower construction and sales will translate into lower prices for housing.

“The average home sale price in B.C. is expected to increase moderately over the forecast horizon,” read the budget.

James said she’s still pleased with what she sees.

“We’re finally starting to see some moderation,” she said of housing. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

But she said the government wants more “moderation” in prices

“I don’t think we’re at that stage to say housing is affordable particularly in our metro centres,” she said.

Paul Kershaw, of Generation Squeeze, said the housing measures “were resting on last year’s laurels” but the government deserved credit for at least trying to influence the market.

Kershaw said he wished government would act on incentivizing municipalities to approve more density in communities that would allow for more purpose-built rental housing.

The government has already introduced a speculation tax as well as surcharges on homes valued at more than $3 million, as part of a 30-point plan James said needs more time.

The budget predicts a stunning turnaround at the Insurance Corp. of B.C., which Attorney General David Eby has called a “dumpster fire” financially and is on track to lose $1.18 billion this year. ICBC’s finances should reverse to only a $50 million loss in the coming year, after government institutes a new $5,500 cap on pain and suffering claims for minor injuries as well as other legal reforms, according to the budget. By 2020/21 ICBC is predicted to be back in the black.

“All of us and I as finance minister feel some frustration that these change didn’t occur early and we’re faced with this kind of fiscal challenge in our budget,” James said of ICBC.

Health care spending, the single largest item in the annual budget, is budgeted to rise almost $1 billion to $20.8 billion, or roughly 36 per cent of all government spending. Some of that is for expanded cancer services and improved access to drugs, though much appears to be the simple growth in the cost of delivering health care services.

Elementary and secondary school funding is budgeted to grow $197 million. The government says it has hired more than 4,000 teachers and restored $423 million in extra funding annually to the system after the Supreme Court of Canada decision on class size and composition.

An increase in capital spending for transportation, health, schools and other infrastructure will also grow the total provincial debt from $67.9 billion to more than $82 billion in 2021/22, an increase of almost 21 per cent.

Almost four cents of every dollar of revenue is set to be used to pay for interest on debt. James said the debt-to-GDP ratio on taxpayer-supported debt — a key metric credit agencies use when awarding B.C. a AAA credit rating — remains affordable at an estimated 15 per cent.

“British Columbia is thriving,” said James. “We have a balanced budget across the fiscal track. We’re the only province with a AAA credit rating …

but we will never have a truly prosperous province unless everyone in British Columbia can share in that prosperity.”

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Daphne Bramham: B.C. opioid deaths up despite spending millions

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2018 was British Columbia’s deadliest year for illicit drug overdose deaths despite the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into mitigating the continuing public health crisis.

An average of four British Columbians died each day, a rate that has resulted in a drop in the predicted life expectancy for everyone living here.

British Columbia — and Vancouver, in particular — is the centre of the national crisis even though it has long been the testing ground for harm-reduction strategies that have included free needles, supervised injection sites and opioid replacement therapies including methadone, Suboxone and, more recently, pharmaceutical grade heroin.

B.C. has led Canada in getting free naloxone — the antidote for opioid overdoses — into the hands of emergency responders and users. It has set up free drug-testing sites.

Earlier this year, the City of Vancouver funded an expansion of a pilot project to provide pharmaceutical-grade heroin to users on the Downtown Eastside. Soon, addicts may be able to get their daily dose from vending machines.

Yet, the number of the dead hasn’t decreased, it’s only plateaued.

Also unchanged are the characteristics of the majority who died. Men aged 30 to 59 made up 80 per cent of the dead. Of those who died, 86 per cent were at home alone. Four out of every five had contact with the health care system within a year of their deaths, with 45 per cent reporting having pain. Of those dead men, 44 per cent were employed in the trades, transport or service industries.

But Vancouver is unique. It has the highest rate of overdose deaths and those deaths are concentrated in the Downtown Eastside in the low-barrier shelters, supportive housing units and SRO rooming houses that exist cheek-by-jowl with supervised injection sites, naloxone stations and testing sites.

Heading into the fourth year of a public health emergency, politicians need to set a new course.

The course that Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s chief medical health officer, plans to recommend is even more harm reduction. She said it will include “de facto decriminalization,” more pharmaceutical grade heroin, more drug testing sites, more Suboxone, more naloxone, more supervised injection sites.

On Thursday, Henry did admit that her plan will require that she “evaluate it effectively so that there are not unintended consequences.”

Chief among those unintended consequences is that if British Columbia goes it alone, it would be at risk of becoming even more of a magnet for users from across Canada, even from other countries. What drug user, let alone addict, could resist the allure of free, pharmaceutical grade drugs?

There is also a financial risk to going it alone. Last year, British Columbians’ bill for methadone and Suboxone was $90 million. The number of people on the opioid replacement therapy had risen to 22,012 people from 11,377 in 2009 and is predicted to double again by 2020-21.

British Columbians are already paying for more than 300 people who get injectable hydromorphone (pharmaceutical heroin) daily at a cost of approximately $25,000 a person every year and in January, 50 Vancouverites were enrolled in a pilot program where they get it in the cheaper pill form, which they then crush and inject under supervision.

Police speak to a man and woman on East Hastings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Thursday, Feb 7, 2019. More people fatally overdosed in British Columbia last year compared with 2017 despite efforts to combat the province’s public health emergency, the coroner says.



While a provincial strategy is needed, the crisis isn’t unique to B.C. From 2016 until June 2018, more than 9,000 Canadians have died of overdoses largely from fentanyl-laced drugs.

The opioid crisis isn’t just a big city problem. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, hospitalization rates were 2.5 times higher in small communities of 50,000 to 100,000 compared with Canada’s largest cities.

Across Canada, hospitalization for opioid-related poisoning has risen 27 per cent in the past five years to an average of 17 a day.

While there is no good data on damage suffered by survivors of near-fatal overdoses, it’s estimated that 90 per cent of drug-overdose patients in intensive care have some sort of brain trauma. The trauma ranges from temporary memory loss to complete loss of brain function.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe, left, looks on as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference about the release of the latest provincial statistics by the BC Coroners Service at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 7, 2019.



A comprehensive national plan is required. But it must focus not only on keeping people alive, but on helping them to get healthy.

Decriminalization — as opposed to legalization — might be part of the answer. Certainly, evidence from Portugal, which was the first in the world to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all drugs, indicates that it can be effective.

But Portugal’s success has come only because decriminalization is accompanied by strict enforcement of the amounts that individuals can possess as well as a dissuasion system that provides both a carrot and a stick to get users into treatment.

The opioid crisis is complicated. It’s been fuelled by over-prescription of highly effective pain reducing synthetic opiates, whose manufacturer convinced physicians that it wasn’t addictive.

Those synthetics then made their way to the street and while some users are unaware that their illicit drugs are laced with fentanyl, others go looking for its intense and often fatal high.

So far, staunching the flow of those drugs on to the street has proven to be little more effective than the harm reduction measures aimed at keeping users safe.

For this crisis to abate, there needs to concerted efforts on all fronts by all governments. It won’t be cheap, but then neither is the alternative.

[email protected]

Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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