Anytime government can brag about a budget surplus, you know it will.
Last week, B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson made headlines doing just that. She announced B.C.’s budget forecast showed a surplus of $5.7 billion – exceeding the $706 million forecast from last September.
“Many British Columbians are feeling squeezed, feeling squeezed to put food on the table and cover costs. Our strong fiscal position means we can continue to put people first,” said Robinson, explaining $2 billion of the additional revenue had been earmarked for cost-of-living measures announced since the summer. Those include $1 billion for the Climate Action Tax Credit and BC Affordability Credit increases, $395 million for car insurance rebates and $320 million for a one-time electricity bill credit.
No doubt people will welcome any financial relief that might be provided.
But here’s the catch to that surplus announcement. According to Robinson, much of the added surplus comes from higher personal and corporate income tax revenues – $3.7 billion.
Sales taxes and natural gas royalties were also higher.
Not surprisingly, the BC Liberals/Official Opposition responded by highlighting the optics of the announcement – the B.C. government celebrating a tax-fuelled surplus at a time when people are struggling with rising costs of living and assorted crises (health care, housing, etc) that continue to put people at risk.
“The second-quarter fiscal update numbers confirm that key supports were held back so Eby could run in his tainted leadership race,” alleged BC Liberal finance critic Peter Milobar. “Every day people are now paying the price for his delays, despite the province having the money to provide relief. As these numbers make clear, the NDP has no excuse to avoid making much-needed investments in areas like health care, affordability, and mental health and addictions.”
Actions, or inaction of past governments on the issues mentioned aside, optically speaking the surplus announcement, in the context of the economic landscape we currently find ourselves in, doesn’t feel like something to celebrate. Instead, it looks more like a realization of the often repeated criticism directed at the B.C. NDP regarding the party’s proclivity towards taxation.
As we’ve seen since publishing our story about Salmon Arm resident Chris Lethbridge, and his experience with ICBC regarding the B.C. government’s new policy for collecting provincial sales tax on the sale of used vehicles, people are indeed feeling squeezed, in part by the government.
In fairness, the province has made important investments that have “put people first,” including the $6.7 million towards affordable housing projects in Salmon Arm. Hopefully, we’ll see more of this. But as for this latest surplus announcement, please forgive us if we’re feeling too taxed to celebrate.
–With files from Canadian Press
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