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BC Federation of Retired Union

BC FORUM News - from the April 2014 issue of The Advocate

Government turns blind eye to serious problems facing BC

At a time of record household debt, growing unemployment and underfunded public services, the Clark government has delivered its fifth consecutive belt tightening budget and shifted even more taxes to ordinary families.

“In the fifth year of a slow, jobless recovery, the government should be more focused on the serious problems facing BC,” says Iglika Ivanova, economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

No action on health care

Under the BC Liberals, health care funding per capita has plummeted from second to ninth in Canada. This budget continues the slide. There are no measures to improve needed home support services, to meet the government’s own staffing targets in residential care, nor to implement the Ombudsperson’s recommendations to improve care for seniors.

“This budget is a recipe for more hallway medicine,” says Bonnie Pearson, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees Union.

More public service cuts

Although BC already has the leanest public service in Canada, the Clark government will cut another 1,000 jobs.

“This budget continues to underfund public services, and does not repair any of the damage done by budget cuts and freezes over the last dozen years,” said Darryl Walker, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.

“Budget cuts have undermined the delivery of public services, and these cuts have a negative impact on the economy as a whole,” he said.

More unfair taxes

The government announced that it would increase fees and freeze income taxes, the sole tax based on an individual’s ability to pay, thereby guaranteeing that our tax system will become ever more unfair.

The CCPA notes that when all personal taxes are considered – income, sales, property, carbon and MSP premiums – those with the highest income already pay the lowest tax rate.

The Clark government will further shift the scales by increasing MSP premiums by 17 percent over three years, and increasing other fees such as BC Hydro rates, ICBC premiums and ferry fares.

Since the Liberals privatized MSP and closed offices, they have doubled premiums. We now pay as much in MSP premiums as big business pays in corporate income taxes.

Natural gas production – which Christy Clark claimed during the election will be the magic bullet that will solve all problems – is at a record high.

Yet the budget shows that revenues from this non-renewable fossil fuel are near a record low – projected at $362 million this year compared to a peak of close to $2 billion in 2006.

Where are the jobs?

Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour, said he is disappointed the government is projecting increasing unemployment, and cutting funding for education and training.

“What’s needed in BC is more good jobs, with better wages. That takes significant investment in education and training, and this budget fails to deliver,” said Sinclair.

The budget predicts unemployment will increase from the current 6.6 percent to 6.8 percent and remain at that level until at least 2018.

NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth said BC is dead last in private sector job growth.

Our province actually lost jobs in 2013. And 29 percent of the jobs created since the recession have been filled by temporary foreign workers.

The Clark government recently announced a 10 year skills training “action plan.” There is no funding for it in the budget.

Indeed, the budget says the number of spaces in advanced education will be cut by 5,000 over the next three years.

“Relative spending on education is budgeted to fall nearly 10 percent over the next three years. Employment program funding is also cut by 45 percent,” said Sinclair.

Unemployment remains worryingly high among young people, many of whom are carrying huge student debts as a result of ever rising tuition fees.

The CCPA calculates that there are 40,000 fewer young people working today than before the recession. Adding to the problem is the large number of young people with postsecondary education who have been forced into low skilled jobs where they cannot realize their potential to fulfill their dreams and fully contribute to the economy as a whole.

Poverty and inequality

As the BC Liberals have relentlessly shifted taxes from the wealthy to the rest of us, inequality has grown by leaps and bounds.

For ten years in a row, our rich province has had the highest poverty rate in the country. Homelessness has grown, especially among seniors.

Far too many kids go to school hungry. Yet the Clark government presented no poverty reduction plan, leaving BC as one of only two provinces that are failing to address this issue and the life-long barriers it creates for thousands of children.

Ivanova of the CCPA says tolerating high rates of poverty and homelessness is both unfair and unnecessary in a wealthy country like Canada.

“It’s also very expensive both for the BC government and for society as a whole,” she said.

“We spend between $8.1 billion and $9.2 billion annually in lost productivity, higher costs to the criminal justice system, lower school success, and higher health costs. That’s huge. It’s close to 5 percent of the total value of our economy,” said Ivanova.

Clark’s eyes firmly shut

In addition to going backwards on health care, public services, jobs, skills training, tax fairness, poverty and inequality, the Clark government has closed its eyes on many other pressing problems.

There is no action on climate change, nor investments in creating a greener economy.

Investments in the infrastructure needed to support a growing economy, including transit and municipal services, will be reduced over the next three years.

There is no new action on quality, affordable child care which now costs up to $20,000 a year – more than university tuition – and could free many parents to contribute to our economy.

There is also no action to support forests and resource dependent communities that have been ravaged by the pine beetle.


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