On Tuesday, March 24, I rose to speak to Bill 10, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2015. The purpose of this bill is to implement the budget described in the government’s Budget Speech. Bill 10 contained amendments to the Carbon Tax Act, Income Tax Act, Motor Fuel Tax Act, Provincial Sales Tax Act, Small Business Venture Capital Act, and Tobacco Tax Act, together with a number of other general and consequential amendments. As noted in my speech at second reading (reproduced below), no one will agree with everything in the Bill and no one will disagree with everything in the Bill.
To give some context to my opening remarks, please note that George Heyman, MLA for Vancouver-Fairview, spoke immediately before me and ended with this statement:
Middle-class families, children and youth who are looking to their future, who are looking to jobs in a diverse, modern, growing B.C. economy — whether it’s in the tech sector, the creative sector or a cleaned-up resource sector — wait and continue to wait.
Apparently, it looks like they will have to wait a very, very long time, until at least 2017, before they see a government plan that builds an economy for the future.
A. Weaver: I do agree with the member, and I look forward, as either leader or someone in the Green Party forming that government, to offer British Columbians that vision that the member so eloquently put forward.
This Bill 10, Budget Measures Implementation Act, really contains no surprises. It outlines what the government has mentioned it would do as part of its budget speech. There’s some good and some bad, as there always is in all budget speeches. Of course, nobody in this House will agree with everything in here; no one in this House will disagree with everything in here.
Let me outline a few of the things that I think are worthy of highlighting, as I do believe they are important steps. For example, discharging liabilities from retroactive changes, in sections 1 and 2. Amending, through streamlining, the Carbon Tax Act. Coming over again to look at the B.C. mining flow-through expenditure, the flow-through of mining tax credits.
Now, on this particular case I would like to see some evidence that this actually is benefiting industry in British Columbia and not at the expense of small household investors. Without constraints added to the flow-through tax credit, there’s a danger that the capital can come in and that shares can be dumped on the market. Unsuspecting private investors buy up these shares at an above-market value and simply cannot sell them. So there is some concern about the flow-through mining tax credit, but overall, I think it does incentivize mining investment in British Columbia.
As the previous member pointed out, the digital post-production tax credit…. A very fine piece of legislation, I think, here as well as extending the training tax credits and changes to the Motor Fuel Tax Act.
This bill is…. It’s not so much troubling about what’s in it; it’s about what’s not in it. What we have in British Columbia is the second-highest income inequality in the country and the highest wealth inequality in the country. We’re the only province without a comprehensive poverty reduction plan. We have 500,000 people living in poverty, 160,000 of those being children.
This is a problem. As soon as you see a disparity between the wealthy and the poor growing with time and a decreasing middle class, you start to see the emergence of unstable societies. Human history is full of examples of where such unstable societies end up.
We look at some of the tax credits that are added in here, which make good headlines but, frankly, are boutique tax credits that are similar to what we’re seeing out of the federal Tories and that benefit very few. It benefits those who don’t need them.
A $12.65 per child for fitness equipment…. Now, the people who could benefit from $12.65 aren’t buying fitness equipment. They’re trying to put food on the table. And $12.65 in fitness equipment really is not doing much for anybody. It’s rewarding those who would actually be buying it anyway. By buying it anyway, they can afford to buy it anyway.
Coming to the B.C. education coaching tax credit. This is so egregious I don’t know where to start — $25.30. Picking on teachers who happen to volunteer to do some coaching or they’re an “eligible coach.”
What about all those teachers who buy art supplies out of their own pocket? What about all those teachers who buy school supplies out of their own pocket? These are not eligible deductions because they’re employees of the school board, yet they spend their own money on it. What about all those teachers who are volunteering and taking kids on field trips? What about all those other teachers who are struggling with class sizes and compositions that are so unbearable that the burnout rate is incredibly high?
Here we give $25.30 — that’s a case of beer after a soccer game — as a tax credit to coaches. To be honest, it’s insulting. It makes a good headline, “B.C. Government Rewarding Coaches,” and the subtext is: “by giving them $25.30 if they dedicate hundreds of hours to after-school coaching.” Hon. Speaker, $25.30 to somebody struggling to make ends meet is a big deal; $25.30 to a coach may buy that case of beer when they watch Sunday afternoon football.
There are other aspects in here that are troubling. As I outlined earlier, we have the highest wealth inequality in the country and the second-highest income inequality in the country. This does not bode well for a future society, one where the discrepancy between rich and poor grows.
There are real challenges for the middle class in British Columbia that we do not see in a budget measures act. These challenges are for small business owners struggling to make ends meet, struggling to pay bills, struggling to meet payroll, struggling to pay MSP for their families. There are those who are living and trying to afford a place to live in Vancouver or Victoria, where the rents are substantially higher than any income assistance they might get.
There are those who can afford to pay more in our society. Those in our society who can afford to pay more, when you talk to them, are willing to pay more, provided that they know where that money is being spent. This is a problem with this bill here. The government is actually finding little boutique credits to give away, but it does not outline a vision as to where it could actually better our society through the injection of funds that we so desperately need in issues like education, social services and others.
We have a very fine debt-to-GDP ratio. I will give the government that. But what we also have is a dramatically declining ratio of percentage of revenue to the government as a percentage of overall GDP. This government has made choices such that health care funding as a percentage of GDP has remained fixed, but education funding and social service funding as a percentage of GDP have dropped dramatically since this government came to power. Why is that the case? It’s because revenue has not kept pace.
Now we hear the mantra — you would expect to see this here — “We will help the middle class when B.C. is wealthy and prosperous” from hypothetical LNG that, as you know, will never materialize. But when it does, we will all be wealthy and prosperous. “We’ll wait until then.” Well, these people can’t wait until then. These people who are so desperately trying to make ends meet don’t find any tax break in here.
Well, I guess they have the increase, the $18,327 to $19,000, before anyone pays any provincial income tax. In fact, that’s a good thing, but one questions as to where this number comes from and what studies were actually done to determine that the 19 with three zeros after it was the appropriate number that should have been done.
With that said, I look forward to exploring the details of this further in committee stage. As I reiterate, in my view, the problem with this budget implementation act is not so much what’s in it, but what’s not in it. With that, I’ll sit, as I see the member for Surrey-Whalley has just arrived.