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BC Federation of Retired Union

BC FORUM News - From The Advocate, Spring 2019


Taking stock of the Horgan government

Whose side are they on? Who are they working for?

Those are the key questions to consider when we, as voters, decide whether a political party or government is worthy of our support.

We have now seen the NDP government of BC, supported by the three Green MLAs, deliver a significant budget update in 2017 followed by two full provincial budgets.

It is an appropriate time for us to take a look at what the government’s actions to date have meant for British Columbians, for the public services we rely on, and for our province as a whole.

For 16 years we had a government that consistently underfunded or cut health care, education, child protection, labour standards and other vital services to people.

With regressive actions like doubling MSP payments, tripling tuition fees, slapping tolls on public bridges and freezing the minimum wage for a decade, the BC Liberals made it harder for ordinary people to get ahead. At the same time, they handed the richest British Columbians billions in tax giveaways.

In this edition, our special report looks at whether the NDP is succeeding in setting a new direction where ordinary people come first.


Is this government working for us?

Governments are supposed to work for us. The whole point of government is to enable us to work together to address big issues we can’t fix on our own – including health care, education, transportation, housing speculation, climate change and a civil society.

Government is a co-operative enterprise. We all contribute through taxes. We participate in decisions by voting. And in return, we expect government to work for all of us.

For 16 years in our province that was not the case. The B.C. Liberals relentlessly took actions that further enriched the wealthy few at the expense of everyone else.

They handed out billions in tax giveaways to corporations and the richest of the rich. To pay for that, they underfunded services to people, even tearing down hospitals and shutting beds in many communities.

Year after year, they increased MSP premiums – a regressive tax on ordinary people – until it brought in more than taxes on corporate profits.

For the least fortunate in our society, they froze welfare, assistance to people with disabilities and the minimum wage for a decade. In a gift to unscrupulous employers, they undermined employment standards and shut down the human rights commission.

In these pages, we look at whether the NDP is doing any better. The final decision is, of course, entirely yours.


Working for people

British Columbia has the strongest economy in Canada – the highest projected real growth in GDP, the lowest unemployment, and the biggest wage gains. Wages increased by 4.1 percent last year, the largest wage growth in B.C. in a decade.

For the first time in 40 years, the government completely eliminated its operating debt in 2018. This means B.C. is in one of the strongest fiscal positions in the country, and no longer borrowing money to finance day-to-day operations.

While the economy is thriving, Finance Minister Carole James is not satisfied.

“A truly prosperous economy needs to work for everyone,” says James. “It needs to create opportunities for people now, while meeting the challenges of tomorrow.”

As she introduced the provincial budget for 2019, James said the government is working to make life better by improving health care, education and child care for families.

“Budget 2019 puts money back into the pockets of British Columbians and creates opportunities so that every person can reach their potential,” said James.

As examples of that, she highlighted the new child opportunity benefit, elimination of interest on student loans, the end of MSP premiums on Jan. 1, 2020, and the largest infrastructure investment in B.C. history.

“Budget 2019 moves forward with CleanBC, putting our province on the path to a low-carbon economy that creates opportunities while protecting our clean air, land and water,” she said.

“Budget 2019 works to ensure that everyone has the opportunities they need to succeed. The investments we’re making will help us build a strong, sustainable economy that works for people today, and for generations to come,” said James.


Tackling climate pollution

The government’s CleanBC plan is aimed at reducing climate pollution, while creating more jobs and economic opportunities for people, businesses and communities.

“The low-carbon economy we build together will bring opportunities and jobs throughout the province, so people can live and work with greater security in the communities they call home,” says Premier John Horgan.

“By moving to clean, renewable energy – like our abundant supply of B.C. electricity – we can power our growing economy and make life better and more affordable for British Columbians.”

The government’s priorities are to:

• Reduce climate pollution by shifting homes, vehicles, industry and business off burning fossil fuels and toward greater use of clean B.C. electricity and other renewable energies.

• Boost energy-efficient solutions, like zero-emission vehicles and home heat pumps, by making them more affordable and available for British Columbians.

• Make B.C. a destination for new investment and industry looking to meet the growing global demand for low-carbon products, services and pollution-reducing technologies.

The CleanBC plan was developed to achieve the province’s legislated climate targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by the year 2030, based on 2007 levels.

The plan describes and quantifies measures that will eliminate 18.9 megatonnes, about 75 percent of the 2030 target. Remaining reduction initiatives will be quantified over the next 18 to 24 months.

“With CleanBC, British Columbia is rising to the challenge of climate change,” Horgan said. “Every year, we’re seeing the unprecedented wildfires and floods that hurt so many people, communities and businesses. We need to begin changing how we live, work and commute to put B.C. on a cleaner, more sustainable path.”

“CleanBC is a B.C.-specific approach to making our communities strong and vibrant for decades to come as we rise to the challenge of global climate change,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “We can build a low-carbon economy that includes all sectors and all workers. Together, we can protect our children’s future, while making life more affordable today.”

As part of this strategy, government is developing a CleanBC labour readiness plan to address the labour and workplace opportunities that emerge through the implementation of CleanBC.


Incentives, rebates and credits for climate action

New funding for CleanBC initiatives to meet our climate commitments and protect our air, land and water totals $902 million over three years.

To make energy saving improvements more accessible and affordable for British Columbians, the government will support clean energy retrofits:

• $2,000 to replace a fossil fuel (oil, propane or natural gas) heating system with an electric air-source heat pump.

• Up to $1,000 to upgrade their windows and doors to be better insulated.

• Up to $700 toward a higher efficiency natural gas furnace.

The plan includes tens of millions of dollars to make zero-emission vehicles more affordable, saving motorists up to $6,000 on their purchase and about $1,500 a year in fuel costs.

CleanBC will also help fund new public fast-charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations, and training programs for automotive technicians and electricians in the clean energy vehicle sector.

The climate action tax credit has been increased by 14 percent, rising to a maximum of $400 for low and middle-income families of four.

An investment of $168 million over three years will help large industries reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a further $15 million this year will support remote communities as they switch to cleaner energy.


Strengthening our voice in democratic elections

The Horgan government has taken big money out of provincial politics. Premier John Horgan said the step was taken “to make sure government’s actions and decisions benefit everyone, not just those with deep pockets.”

“The days of limitless donations, a lack of transparency and foreign and corporate influence over our elections are history,” added Attorney General David Eby.

The government has strengthened people’s voices in elections by:

• Ending corporate and union donations.

• Limiting individual contributions to $1,200 a year, the second-lowest limit in Canada.

• Banning foreign and out of province donations.

• Capping contributions to thirdparty election advertisers.

• Requiring ongoing public reporting of all fundraisers attended by major party leaders, cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries, including those held in private residences.

• Reducing campaign spending limits for candidates and political parties by about 25 percent.

• Setting new fines and penalties for contraventions of election financing and advertising laws.

“These unprecedented changes will not only end the ‘wild west’ of campaign fundraising, they are an important step in modernizing our democracy,” Eby said.


Fixing the mess at BC Hydro

Energy minister Michelle Mungall has announced an immediate, indefinite suspension of BC Hydro’s standing offer program for private power and will expand oversight of the utility by the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC).

An independent review found that the previous government forced BC Hydro to purchase power from independent producers at four times the market rate – even though most of that power came during the spring freshet when it wasn’t needed. Perhaps coincidentally, the private producers had donated $3 million to the B.C. Liberals.

The long term contracts to deliver power when it isn’t needed will cost Hydro customers at least $16 billion over the next 20 years. The review estimated that 81 percent of these funds will go to corporations that are based outside B.C.

“The previous government made choices that put their own interests ahead of what’s best for the province and BC Hydro customers,” says Mungall.

“They ignored the professional advice, they ignored the auditor general, and they ignored the growing debt. Instead, (they) chose to make British Columbians pay the price for their choices, today and for decades to come,” she said.

“Step one in fixing this problem is to take the politics out of decisions around BC Hydro. The best way to keep BC Hydro on the right financial path while protecting the interests of customers is to enhance BCUC’s independent oversight of the crown corporation as we move forward,” said Mungall.


Improving public services and helping people to get ahead

MSP premiums – a regressive tax that cost us $2.7 billion a year – will be eliminated on Jan. 1, 2020, one year earlier than the BC NDP promised during the election campaign. For couples who had been paying $1,800 a year in 2017, the charge was cut in half last year. It’s a huge step towards fairness in our tax system.

The NDP has also:

• Invested $1 billion over three years in child care, freeing parents to contribute to our economy. Fees have been reduced by up to $350 a month at more than 52,000 child care spaces. The affordable child care benefit, available to families earning up to $111,000 saves them up to $15,000 per child each year. Funding has been provided to support the creation of 22,000 new licensed child care spaces.

• Increased the minimum wage by $1.30 an hour on June 1, 2018. Three more scheduled increases will raise it to at least $15.20 by 2021.

• Taken action to curb real estate speculation, especially by foreign buyers, and allocated $7 billion to build 114,000 affordable homes over 10 years. About 17,000 homes were built or started last year.

• Limited rent increases to the rate of inflation, strengthened protections for renters, and increased rental assistance to low-income working families by an average of $800 a year.

• Removed tolls from all bridges, saving commuters up to $1,500 a year, and pledged the new Pattullo bridge will be toll free.

• Eliminated interest from all B.C. student loans.

• As a first step in helping vulnerable people to build a better life, increased income and disability rates by a total of $150 a month – the first meaningful increases in 10 years.

• Restored transit passes to people with disabilities.

• To create opportunities to break the cycle of poverty, and make it easier for people to participate in their community, commited government to reduce B.C.’s overall poverty rate by 25 percent and child poverty rate by 50 percent in the next five years.

• Moved ahead with hospital construction, renovation, and expansion throughout the province.

• Added more than 800 hours of MRI operating time per week to help patients get results sooner.

• Announced many new team-based primary care centres, with more to come, to help people get the care they need when they need it.

• While continuing to push for a national Pharmacare program, improved Fair PharmaCare by making prescriptions more affordable for more than 240,000 families and expanding coverage to include more drugs.

• Increased funding to improve public education for our children and grandchildren. 5,500 new spaces are being created throughout B.C., helping to move students out of portables and into classrooms. In addition, more than 4,000 new teachers will be hired.

Boosting support for seniors

In addition to other measures taken to improve affordability and services for everyone, the NDP has taken steps that are of particular interest to retired workers and our families.

• Provided funding of more than half a billion dollars over three years to improve services to seniors, including home support and residential care.

• Restored free passenger travel, Monday to Friday, for seniors on BC Ferries.

• Eliminated PharmaCare deductibles for senior and other families with net incomes of $30,000 or less, and reduced deductibles for families with net incomes up to $45,000.

• Invested $75 million over three years to support caregivers by expanding respite care and adult day programs, reversing the cuts imposed by the previous government, and helping seniors to remain in their own homes .

• Increased benefits to seniors living independently by an average of $930 per year under the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program.

• Taken action to ensure that direct care to seniors will – for the first time – reach the target of 3.36 hours per resident per day by 2021. Hundreds of thousands of care hours have already been added.

• Rescinded the B.C. Liberals’ infamous Bills 29 and 94 which led to the firing of thousands of workers, caused mass privatization of health care services, and disrupted the continuity of care to seniors and patients.


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