Reactions to 2023-24 provincial budget outside and inside the provincial legislature range from mixed, to cautiously optimistic, to disappointed.
Ken Peacock, senior vice-president and chief economist of Business Council of British Columbia, acknowledged that the province needed to make additional investments in health care among other areas.
But he is concerned about the amount of public money being spent.
Record capital spending of $37.5 billion adds to inflation, just as the Bank of Canada tries lower inflation through higher interest rates, Peacock said, adding that also threatens to crowd out private investment. He also wondered who will build these projects given labour shortages. Finally, he expressed concern about the financial direction of the province.
Eventually, the bills will come due, he said.
Jill Atkey, chief executive officer for the BC Not For Profit Housing Association, said the budget helps improve the rental housing supply, offering what she later called “hope on the horizon.”
But Atkey also cautioned against expectations, saying it will take time for new rental housing to arrive and warning a renters’ credit of up to $400 per year will not help with immediate day-to-day affordability.
But it is part of a larger package, she said.
Another subject of much debate was the future of the carbon tax. Starting April 1, the tax will increase by $15-per-tonne of carbon dioxide each year until it reaches $170 in 2030.
It currently sits at $50-per-tonne. The increase means that the tax’s share on a litre of gasoline will rise to 37.4 cents by 2030 from just over 11 cents today.
Mark Zacharias, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said his organization supports the move, which aligns British Columbia with a federal mandate. Zacharias said British Columbians can get more than that back through various incentives and credits.
“The carbon tax is meant to change behaviour,” he added.
Next year will also see the introduction of an output-based pricing system for large emitters as per federal mandate. Zacharias said that is another welcomed development, adding it will generate additional revenues for the province.
Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell said the budget hits most of the marks. He welcomed the additional funding for recertification of nurses trained abroad, and additional money for improvements to forest service roads and BC Parks.
He also welcomed more than $1.1 billion over three years to build more climate-resilient communities.
“Every rural B.C. community needs to be paying attention,” he said.
But Blackwell also reminded the government of its still-outstanding promise to build a full cancer care centre in Kamloops.
BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon praised the government’s inclusion of free contraception in the budget but called the rest of it a “massive disappointment” that lacks vision.
He echoed Ronald Reagan, when he rhetorically asked whether British Columbians are better off six years after the New Democrats assumed power.
“Does anyone feel like anything has gotten better?” he asked.
Falcon acknowledged that previous governments including the B.C. Liberals have ignored renters, but he called the proposed credit “measly”, “meaningless”, and for most renters far too late.
“I just feel like it’s a slap in the face because it’s not going to benefit most of the people in Metro Vancouver,” he said.
BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau said the budget acknowledged the challenges facing British Columbia, but called it a missed opportunity that failed to address systemic issues.
“Premier Eby seems to be sprinkling money around to a lot of existing programs and spending big on affordability cheques, but we’re not going to solve the underlying issues that are driving big problems,” Furstenau said.
Like Falcon, she praised the inclusion of free contraception, as well as other measures, including the carbon tax increase. But she lamented its failure to invest more in transit and generally take more risks.
“At the end of David Eby’s premiership, what will be different? This is not a legacy budget.”