B.C. budget lookahead: Housing, health care, and affordability

From housing to health care, inflation and affordability, the B.C. government has a lot to consider ahead of Premier David Eby’s first budget. Liza Yuzda looks at some of the possible priorities set to be unveiled on Feb. 28.

There are many problems that need to be addressed in B.C., and ahead of the next budget set to be unveiled in Victoria Tuesday, there’s no shortage of industries eyeing some of that cash.

There are a few areas that are likely to be mentioned in the budget, which is the first under Premier David Eby who just marked 100 days in office.

Mental health and addictions, affordability, the economy, housing, and health care are among those key priority areas.

Aman Grewal, president of the BC Nurses’ Union, says, like many industries, they are facing a major staffing shortfall. She says nurses are burnt out and overworked, adding the sector needs funding to address a number of concerns.

“Eighty-two per cent of our emergency room nurses are saying that they are working short-staffed every shift and … we’ve got violence in the workplace, recruitment, and retention, return of nurses back into the system — there are so many different entities of this staffing shortage that we need all of them to be looked at,” she explained.

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Grewal is also hoping the mental health of nurses is a focus for the government.

“Nurses right now get $900 for their psychological health and safety for counselling — that is only a couple of appointments and they’re having to wait a significantly long time to be able to access that counselling. If you have had a traumatic psychological injury and now you’re off work and you need to deal with that but you’re having to wait four to five months to be able to get an appointment — you need to be seen as soon as possible.”

The business community also hopes it will be remembered in the budget.

“It is the private sector that drives the economy,” said Surrey Board of Trade President and CEO Anita Huberman.

“We need to make it more competitive for businesses to be able to survive in this province. In addition to that, we know that we also need infrastructure supports within Surrey, and health care is one of those pieces, transportation, education, and even a commitment to the arts and culture industry.”

Huberman says Surrey specifically should be a focus, adding the city is growing by between 1,200 to 1,400 people every month.

“At least make the taxes [for businesses] less administrative, burdensome, such as the Employer Health Tax, the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) — it is those taxes that cost businesses money, especially with the amount of paperwork required to be able to submit those taxes,” added Huberman, who thinks there’s a way to look at tax reform in B.C. to help ease burdens.

Right now, the B.C. government has a $5.7 billion surplus, but much of that money has already been spoken for.

In less than a week, the province has committed $500 million to help BC Ferries, there’s another tax credit on the way this spring for families, and $440 million is being spent over three years to help fund cancer research and treatment.

So, if much of the money has been spent — there may not be much to go around.

“I was hearing from a political scientist at UBC who’s focused on climate change, and what they do not want to see is more money going to LNG,” says CityNews Legislative Reporter Liza Yuzda. “Overall, what people are going to be watching for is to see what the premier and his government are going to do for the key issues of housing and health care.”

CityNews will have full coverage and reaction to Tuesday’s budget both online and on-air.

-With files from Greg Bowman

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