What’s in BC Budget 2024 for schools, hospitals, and infrastructure?

While there are no new Metro Vancouver schools or hospitals specifically outlined in the BC NDP’s 2024 budget, the government says locals can expect updates in the coming weeks and months.

The fiscal plan laid out investments for the seismic replacement of one school in the Victoria area, but the other nine newly announced projects outlined in the capital investments section all related to new builds at UBC, BC Hydro, and a relocation of ICBC’s head offices.

Cedar Hill Middle School in the Greater Victoria School District will undergo a $54-million seismic replacement that will include low-carbon design features and an Indigenous space. The province says the new facility will be ready for students by 2025.

UBC will receive roughly $748 million for six projects across its Vancouver and Kelowna campuses, including $165 million for phase two of the Brock Commons student housing complex. 

The province will invest about $653 million into BC Hydro projects, the bulk of which will go towards the Prince George to Terrace capacitors project.

ICBC, meanwhile, will see a $164 million investment to relocate its head office, which is currently located in North Vancouver.

Despite not specifically laying out a plan for new schools and hospitals in the Lower Mainland, the BC NDP is stressing it has $43.3 billion over the next three years in taxpayer-supported capital spending.

“This includes completion of previously approved projects along with new investments to expand and sustain provincial infrastructure,” the budget reads.

Surrey can expect news ‘in the coming weeks’: finance minister

The budget is not likely to thrill teachers in the Lower Mainland, particularly in Surrey where the school district, city council, and teachers’ association alike have been calling for new schools to be built.

A capital funding request from the Surrey School District signed off on by city council had requested funding for ten new schools.

“Our classes are packed … We need new schools, bottom-line,” Surrey Teachers’ Association president Jatinder Bir told CityNews earlier this week.

As many as a third of high schools in the city will move to an extended day schedule starting September in a bid to combat overcrowding in the city’s educational facilities, with the school district’s superintendent suggesting the rest will follow in the years to come.

The city also has the highest number of portables in the province.

When asked why the budget had “so little sympathy for Surrey,” Finance Minister Katrine Conroy said progress was being made through the construction and use of modular classrooms in the city. She said that there may be more announcements coming from the education ministry soon on the topic of Surrey.

“There is a lot of things happening already in Surrey and it’s part of the overall education budget — it’s in there — and the minister of education will be making announcements in the coming weeks or months,” she said.

On a similar question about the long-promised school in Vancouver’s Olympic Village neighbourhood, Conroy said that there would also be announcements on the matter in the coming weeks.

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said Thursday she acknowledges and welcomes the funding for some Surrey projects, like the SkyTrain extension. However, she says those projects won’t be done for another few years.

“Unfortunately, the NDP government has, once again, failed to understand the current critical infrastructure needs of Surrey,” the mayor said.

“This new budget offers no immediate relief to the challenges Surrey faces in health care, schools, and transit. In the meantime, patients having to be housed in hallways and the stressful working conditions for Surrey Memorial Hospital doctors, nurses and staff will persist. Despite having a similar population to Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital will have to make do with less than half of the operating rooms available at Vancouver General Hospital.”

Meanwhile, Locke and other council members have also been vocal in recent months in calling for more health-care infrastructure, saying the quickly growing city is already in dire need of a new hospital.

Politicians in the city have said the province’s new housing targets — which effectively dictate that cities must build up density near urban transit centres — will attract a large number of newcomers that they do not have the infrastructure to support.

Health funding

Meanwhile, though Budget 2024 included provisions for IVF treatments for people and families looking to conceive, and $13 billion in infrastructure funding for previously announced projects, such as a new cancer care centre in Surrey and the redevelopment of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, there were no new hospitals or health-care facilities announced in the province.

Despite this, the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) is applauding a $354 million provision for an investment in long-term care for seniors.

HEU spokesperson Meena Brisard says funding in this sector is one of the best ways to alleviate pressure on hospitals.

“This government is moving in the right direction,” Brisard said. “They were given a healthcare system that was really struggling after the global pandemic, and we’re in a healthcare system that is really struggling with the aging population and mental health crisis.”

She says this investment will ensure seniors can access home health and community-based services.

Transit disappointments for Surrey mayor

As for transit, the province is providing continued funding for transit expansion projects that have already been embarked on, such as the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain, the Broadway Subway, and the George Massey Tunnel replacement project. BC Transit will also receive some $248 million over the next three years for infrastructure upgrades, zero-emissions buses, and increased capacity at some facilities like depots.

There was no mention, however, of such Metro Vancouver-focused projects as the Burnaby Mountain Gondola — which has been the subject of discussion for several years and which the TransLink Mayors’ Council has included in its wishlist for funding. 

The Mayors’ Council recently launched a campaign aimed at putting pressure on the provincial and federal governments to fund new transit projects to ease congestion within the Lower Mainland.

Locke says no new funding for new transit in Metro Vancouver “means there will be no relief for our overcrowded roads.”

“Buses in Surrey will continue to run beyond capacity. It also means that many areas in Surrey will remain without basic bus service. Access to public transit is an essential component to achieving affordability and meeting the demand of the new housing targets set by Premier Eby,” she continued.

“I have said it before, Surrey is doing its part to build more affordable housing, but there needs to be critical infrastructure in place to support the growth. Sadly, this provincial government continues to rely on the generosity of the good people of Surrey’s fundraising efforts to help fund major projects, while neglecting the immediate needs of Surrey.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify there are no new Metro Vancouver schools outlined in the budget, but that announcements are coming for certain communities in the coming weeks and months.

-With files from Hana Mae Nassar

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