B.C unveiled its big-spending pandemic budget Tuesday, with more money for core services like health care, relatively little immediate new aid for hard-hit businesses, and a high deficit and debt load for the future.
Here are eight things you need to know about what was — and was not — included in this year’s budget.
No paid sick leave
Premier John Horgan has faced calls by labour and health leaders to create a sick pay program so workers without coverage (half of B.C. employees don’t have paid sick days) don’t have to choose between suffering financially and working sick while spreading COVID-19. Tuesday’s budget delivered no such program, with B.C. saying it hopes Ottawa takes the lead first.
Free public transit for kids under 12
It’s going to cost taxpayers $26 million, but kids won’t have to pay to ride the bus or SkyTrain. The free rides will start in September using the honour system, with kids aged 12 and under able to board any bus, SkyTrain or SeaBus without a fare card and ride for free. In future years, the government said a special youth fare card will be developed.
Major ‘anchor’ tourist attractions in B.C. will get millions in support
Included in B.C.’s budget is the announced $100 million to support tourism recovery, including support for “major anchor” attractions that help make British Columbia such a unique destination.
Large tourism operators like Butchart Gardens will be able to access a new $100-million tourism aid fund for major attractions, which were ineligible for previous recovery grants to small and medium-sized businesses because they had more than 142 employees.
Province commits millions towards mental health and addictions
With the ongoing pandemic prompting concerns about the long-term impact on people’s mental health and the province still in the grips of an overdose crisis that seen more than 6,000 people die since 2017, the Horgan government has committed $500-million in over the next three years towards mental health and addictions services.
This includes $330-million towards treatment and recovery services for those dealing with substance abuse issues, which includes more than $150-million allocated specifically towards opioid treatment.
Additionally, the provincial government is earmarking $105-million over three years towards mental health supports for children and youth, suicide prevention and eating disorder care.
No extra help for restaurants
Despite being hammered by a three-week indoor dining ban that is now extended to May 25, B.C.’s restaurant sector saw no new aid package in Tuesday’s budget. Instead, the government extended the existing fund that provides, on average, $5,000 grants for restaurants.
British Columbia 150 celebrations
The provincial government will mark British Columbia’s 150th anniversary since joining Confederation in 1871 by spending $30 million to “support initiatives” celebrating the occasion.
B.C. became the sixth province in Canada on July 20, 1871, receiving three senate seats and six House of Common seats, and eventually a long-promised railway.
Like many of the items in the budget, the government didn’t elaborate on what exactly the $30 million would be spent on.
More funding for BC Parks
With more people having to stay closer to home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the province has committed $83 million towards BC Parks over the next three years, with $10 million planned for the 2021/22 year.
The money is intended to improve existing parks, add new campsites, upgrade trails and backcountry infrastructure. It’ll also be used to purchase new land to expand parks and improve the Discover Camping reservation system.
B.C. will be deep in debt for years
The budget, which provides a forecast of what’s to come over the next three years, forecasts a deficit of $9.7 billion in 2021/22 and an almost doubling of B.C.’s taxpayer-supported debt from pre-pandemic levels to $92.7 billion by 2023/24.
How long will take it for B.C. to get back into the black? Well, the Horgan government predicts that it will take almost a decade for that to happen.