British Columbia tabled Budget 2023 Tuesday, introducing new spending measures and tax credits to renters, families, and everyone in between. It also forecasts a $4.2 billion deficit for the upcoming fiscal year commencing April 1.
"People are facing real challenges," said Finance Minister Katrine Conroy.
She tabled an increase to the B.C. Family Benefit between $75 and $750 a year, including a new supplement of up to $500 a year for single-parent families.
The finance minister also increased the maximum Climate Action Tax Credit for adults from $193.50 to $447.
Additionally, the province announced $586 million in services for people with substance use issues — mostly towards treatment and recovery beds.
"I know some people are feeling vulnerable right now," said Conroy. "This budget provides new targeted support to those facing increased costs."
The Opposition BC Liberals say they see the "same old NDP rhetoric" in the B.C. NDP's budget, but not much else.
Falcon said British Columbians should ask themselves if they are better off now than they were six years ago when the NDP under John Horgan was first elected.
He aimed at the government's response to health care, housing affordability, crime, mental health and addictions and what he said is a need for more significant capital projects in the budget.
Falcon did, however, praise the NDP's inclusion of free prescription contraception for B.C. residents.
Conroy also committed $214 million to fund more for K-12 school food programs, $119 million for free prescription contraception, and $264 million more for foster families — all over the next three years.
In a government release, the province said they would relay the details of their new housing plan this spring, including lifting strata restrictions, creating a rental protection fund and additional money for student housing.
Conroy announced a $400 renters' tax credit for household incomes under $80,000 annually while bolstering the monthly shelter rate for income and disability clients by $125/month.
Falcon commented that his province has the most expensive rents in Canada and the highest housing prices in North America.
Cities here comprise the top five costliest real estate markets to rent nationwide. In metro Vancouver, leasing a two-bedroom unit costs residents a whopping $2,002.
The BC Liberal added that that figure only amounts to the average monthly rent increase that most renters face, calling the subsidy a "massive disappointment."
Falcon also condemned the lack of significant capital projects across the province, especially in rural centres.
B.C.’s yearly capital spending on one-time infrastructure projects — such as the $16-billion Site C dam and $2.2 billion for the new St. Paul's Hospital — will increase from a record $8 billion this year to $12 billion in 2023/24 and $13 billion the following two years.
To fund the new spending, the NDP ran a $4.2 billion deficit for 2023/24. They projected additional deficits of $3.7 billion in 2024/25 and $3 billion in 2025/26. Economists attribute deficit spending to lower revenues, growth, and higher interest rates over the next few years.
As a result, the province's total debt is forecast to go from $93 billion to $134 billion by 2026.
"The province can't control global forces, but we can make choices that protect British Columbians," said Conroy, whose budget forecasted a revenue decline from $83 billion in 2022/2023 to $78 billion in 2023/2024.
"When times are tough, you need a government in your corner."
Some of those funding announcements were immediate spending from the current fiscal year, and as a result, the projected surplus for 2022/2023 has decreased from $5.7 billion to $3.6 billion.
Falcon then criticized the budget for lacking hope moving forward.
"I see nothing in here that can give anyone any hope that things are going to change over the next couple of years, or at least during the term of this fiscal plan," he said.
Conroy defended the approach by saying that the province's taxpayer-supported debt "remains relatively low" and that it was essential to continue investing in critical services.
"I wouldn't say we don't care about deficits, but I will say we've proven during the pandemic that … we can support people, but we still have a strong economy," she said.