Opinion editorial: Budget 2016 shows Christy Clark is disconnected from B.C. families

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Premier Christy Clark’s 2016 budget is no different. It is completely disconnected from the lives of hard-working British Columbians, and proves that the premier isn’t there for B.C. families.

Those who believed this government when it promised a budget that would help them will be disappointed — and it won’t be the first time.

Clark promised to put families first, but her government has gone back to families time and time again for more fees and more taxes while it cuts the supports they depend on.

She promised a debt-free B.C. in 2013, and since then, our province’s total debt has gone up by $9 billion.

And remember the premier’s fantasy fund of LNG revenue? With no LNG revenue in sight, she set up the fund anyway, with nearly $100 million of your money that she raised by increasing your medical services tax. Worse still, a quarter of that fund will be earmarked for what the government calls “core government priorities in the future” — what I call a slush fund.

Now, the government claims that its budget will help families make life affordable — but it does just the opposite.

This government promised big changes to this province’s most unfair tax, the Medical Services Plan fees. This tax went up four per cent in January, and will go up again next January. But rather than lifting the tax burden, this government is shifting it — from parents with children to couples without children, who will see their taxes go up.

And although the premier didn’t wait for LNG revenue to set up her political fantasy fund, the few families that will benefit from her MSP tinkering will have to wait until next January to see any benefit at all. Meanwhile, everyone will pay more.

Clark’s approach to the housing crisis facing families in the Lower Mainland was similarly disappointing. The premier has stood by while the market spun out of control. Now, after promising relief, she has brought in measures that only help people who are already able to afford home ownership.

If you can afford to buy a newly built home, you will get a tax break from this government. But the government missed the point, which is that most people can’t.

This premier also promised to make class size and composition in B.C.’s schools her “number-one priority” — then cut supports to children with special needs, increased class sizes, and took money out of both the K-12 and post-secondary systems at a time when investing in opportunity is more critical than ever. Budget 2016, which does nothing to improve the state of classrooms, shows that she believes the status quo of growing classes, dwindling supports and closing schools is good enough.

For children in government care, Budget 2016 finally admits this government has created nothing but chaos for them, and failed in one of the most critical roles government has. I am pleased to finally see more resources given to this important area, but I am dismayed at the years lost to this government’s foot-dragging — years we could have spent improving the lives of vulnerable children.

So if Budget 2016 isn’t there for British Columbians, and it doesn’t support the services they depend on, then who is it for? The premier’s friends. It’s for the top two per cent of income earners in the province, who will continue to enjoy a tax break that will cost British Columbians $1 billion over four years.

For years, this government has picked the pockets of British Columbians through hikes to ICBC rates, BC Hydro rates, park fees, ferry fares, and the medical services tax. In addition to the hike in MSP this year, British Columbians can also expect more increases to ICBC rates, and hydro costs will continue to rise.

This budget’s small measures do nothing to correct the economic impact of this government on B.C. pocketbooks, and they are cold comfort to those who have already fallen behind.

British Columbians can’t keep holding up the economy as the government pursues its elusive LNG dreams. To move B.C. forward, we need growth that lifts everyone, in all corners of our province.

B.C. has all the assets needed for a world-class economy that benefits everyone. With a government that puts people first, we can get there.

Carole James is the New Democrat spokesperson on finance.