B.C. Budget reactions: BCGEU, BCNU, BCTF, others

BCGEU

The BCGEU applauded Budget 2021’s support for the critical public services needed to get BC through the pandemic. But the union representing is highlighting that more needs to be done to support workers as we move towards recovery.
 
“Our members’ top priority for Budget 2021 was to see government unequivocally supporting public services as a path out of the pandemic and we got what we were looking for,” said Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU. “The big news is childcare—especially with the federal government’s commitment announced yesterday—and we’re also happy to see ongoing and some impressive new investments in seniors care, mental health and addictions, BC Parks, and poverty reduction. Overall, this budget shows that the government is committed to supporting British Columbians and leveraging the lessons of the pandemic.”
 
The BCGEU consulted with members across the province to inform their submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. That submission urged government to deliver a budget that protected the province’s most vulnerable, preserved existing public services, and presented a bold plan to provide the services and supports British Columbians will need to get through the pandemic and build a just recovery.
 
“There is a lot to celebrate in this budget, particularly compared to what is happening in other provinces,” said Smith. “Frankly, what’s missing is are critical supports for the frontline workers that have gotten our province this far—like paid sick leave and mental health supports. Those are gaps that need to be filled for our province to come out of this pandemic.”
 

BC NURSES’ UNION

The BC Nurses’ Union said that while it is pleased to see Budget 2021 contain $65.7 million in new funding over the next three years for health care programs and training for nurses, President Christine Sorensen said she is worried it won’t be enough to meet the health care demands this province will continue to require, now 13 months into a global pandemic.

“Budget 2021 is being tabled while the province navigates a challenging third wave of COVID-19, and more people than ever are sick in hospital,” said Sorensen. “We expected to see more attention paid to the incredible strain that’s occurring right now on the health care system, and those working within it. Again, we see plans for new and upgraded health care facilities, but no mention of how they plan to staff them in the short and long term.”

The province’s budget identifies significant investments for a pandemic recovery plan, including vaccine deployment, increased PPE, maintaining the single site order in long-term care and assisted living facilities and more.

The union said it is pleased to see the largest investment in BC history for mental health and addiction services, treatment, prevention and emergency response, to address the devastating opioid crisis. Funding has also been included to help maintain a number of implemented health strategies like the Hospital-at-Home program.

However, Sorensen said the province’s goal to ‘build a bridge to recovery’ is one that will only be met if there are enough trained nurses and health care workers ready to take on an uncertain future.

“We recognize the speed at which things are changing, and the uncertainty that lies ahead, especially around variants of concern impacting recovery, and the province’s vaccine timeline,” she said. “Part of preparing for what’s to come is ensuring there is a robust workforce that is healthy, supported and ready to meet the health care needs of British Columbians.”

BC TEACHERS’ FEDERATION

BC Teachers’ Federation President Teri Mooring acknowledged some promising investments in K–12 public education announced on Tuesday, along with enhancements to provincial childcare funding to support families with young children. However, she said that an absence of targeted funding for neither COVID-19 related safety measures nor inflationary costs leaves her and teachers throughout the province concerned that districts may be forced to follow through on cutbacks to specialized programs and staffing. It’s important that the public education system be resilient and supportive of children and families, it’s not at all clear there is enough in the budget to provide the additional supports necessary during and after the pandemic.

“We’re encouraged to see the BC government’s budget funding our negotiated collective agreement, with the dollars following the growth trajectory we’re expecting, both in terms of enrolment and staffing requirements,” said Mooring.

“The most significant outstanding question is whether the total operational funding will be enough to cover the deficits so many districts are facing. Today’s budget announcement failed to answer that for us, which means that the future of many jobs and programs remain precarious until we see further details of district funding.”

At this time, the BC government has not earmarked specific funding for enhanced health and safety protocols in schools in the next school year. “Though the government has committed to assessing pandemic-related needs in schools as planning for the fall continues, we really would have hoped to see dedicated funding in this budget to ensure there is adequate PPE, ventilation, enhanced cleaning, and physical distancing in classrooms come September,” said Mooring. “This is something we’ve spent a year advocating for, and I know many of our teachers had hoped the government would announce dedicated funding for safer schools and classrooms.”

Outside of K–12 education funding, Mooring said she was pleased to learn of the government’s plans to further expand its commitment to affordable childcare, as well as making public transportation free for children under 12, funding mental health initiatives, and increasing income assistance rates. At the same time, Mooring expressed disappointment in the absence of any expressed commitment to paid sick leave for all workers in the province.

The BCTF said it will be releasing a detailed analysis of the provincial budget in the coming days.

BCNPHA and CHF BC

Community housing sector advocates in B.C. acknowledged the government’s commitment to stay the course on its investment in affordable housing. At the same time, with a resurgent housing market nearing a boiling point, it’s clear that new, more significant investments will be needed in the near future to meet the need for homes everyone can afford.

“With Budget 2021, this government remains committed to staying the course on its historic housing investments,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of BC Non-Profit Housing Association. “And yet, the course has changed, and new investments will be required in coming years if we’re to tackle the homelessness and housing insecurity affecting the health of so many British Columbians.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has further eroded housing affordability as growing job losses continue to threaten the ability of low-income individuals and families across the province to live securely in their homes. While many short-term provincial COVID supports have been crucial for weathering the storm – including a rent freeze, the purchase and conversion of commercial properties to house people experiencing homelessness, and a temporary rent supplement program – longer-term affordability needs bold action from the province, above and beyond what has already been committed in previous budgets.

“This government has led the country in making unprecedented and sustained investments in affordable housing and in supporting the community housing sector,” said Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC. “And yet our housing crisis remains so severe that even more will be required if we are to achieve our goal of a safe, secure, affordable home for everyone.”

In pressing the government to do more, housing advocates acknowledge that a $265-million investment to provide supports for people experiencing homelessness, and an additional $500 million in mental health and treatment supports, will improve housing affordability. At the same time, increasing construction and labour costs threaten the ability of the community housing sector to deliver permanent affordable housing on the scale that is needed.

As an example of the additional investments required, the community housing sector will be working with the government in the coming months on a strategy to fund the acquisition of existing purpose-built rental homes to keep them affordable and to provide security of tenure for existing tenants. Housing advocates agree that funding and implementation of that strategy can’t wait for the next budget cycle without making the existing crisis much worse.

BC SCHOOL TRUSTEES ASSOCIATION

Boards of education said they are pleased that K-12 education continues to be a priority for government but are concerned that funds announced today will only partially cover increased operating costs in school districts.

“We’re pleased that education remains the second-highest budget item in the provincial budget and the government remains committed to covering enrollment growth,” said Stephanie Higginson, President of the BC School Trustees Association. “Unfortunately, the funding announced today does not cover inflationary cost increases faced by school districts, nor are there any commitments to cover increased cost pressures related to the pandemic.”

A large portion of the increased funds are directly linked to wage increases negotiated in the last round of provincial bargaining, along with enrollment growth across the province and there are no committed funds to sustain health and safety measures put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. While operating funds essentially remain static, boards of education were happy to see increased funds for youth mental health and wellness programs funded through the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.  They welcome more integrated care teams and Foundry services and look forward to working with the government to see this critical service in place this September. The COVID-19 response plan for the last school year was supported through a provincial grant of $42.47 million and a federal grant of $216.84 million. Boards of education were anticipating additional pandemic recovery funds however there are no committed COVID-19 funds in this budget, making planning for the next school year difficult. 

“Ultimately, districts will have to look closely at their budgets and we may see some hard conversations occurring in preparation for next school year,” said Higginson. “While the education budget did not get the bump we were hoping for, we note that other provincial initiatives, such as quality childcare, poverty reduction initiatives and youth mental health initiatives will provide critical services in areas that will support improved student outcomes in school.”

The increase in capital funding demonstrates a strong commitment to ensuring student and staff safety in upgraded and new school facilities.  Boards of education are pleased to see increases to capital programs that help fund overdue maintenance and upgrade costs to aging school infrastructure. They are also happy to see continued investment in new schools to cover enrolment growth, demonstrating a continued commitment to ending the dependence on portables for growing school districts.

“We welcome the increase to the capital budget over the next three years and look forward to partnering with government to work on creating the safe, high-quality learning environments that students and staff deserve. Boards of education will continue to advocate for access to the $3.25 billion dollar pandemic contingency fund to sustain health and safety measures necessary during the COVID-19 recovery stage,” said Higginson. 

BCCPA

The announcement of new permanent funding to address critical labour shortages in the seniors care sector and enhance resident and worker safety is welcome news for care providers and those B.C. families with a loved one in care, says BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA), the province’s leading voice for the seniors’ living and care sector. BC Budget 2021 commits over $1 billion toward initiatives specifically aimed at improving conditions for long-term care and assisted living operators, such as improving access to PPE and recruiting new staff.

“The COVID-19 health emergency exposed systemic gaps in the delivery of care for seniors — having new permanent funding to address our sector’s labour shortages is an important step toward providing the best care possible,” says Terry Lake, CEO of BCCPA and EngAge BC. “BC Budget 2021 acknowledges that we must grow the seniors care workforce, not only for today’s needs but to meet a surge in demand due to B.C.’s aging demographic.”

BC Budget 2021 commits $585 million in permanent funding over three years for the recently established Health Career Access Program (HCAP) to train and hire up to 3,000 people to be health care support workers, with a goal to build capacity in long-term care and assisted living residences. BCCPA has long advocated for new pathways to begin fulfilling, “pandemic proof” careers in seniors care.

The Budget indicates a plan to build new and replace older health authority owned long-term care homes, but not care homes operated by private and non-profit providers. The planned 1,500 beds being promised will fall short of the 30,000 net new beds that will be needed by the next decade.

“We know that the government is committed to renewing the funding model for our sector, and provide the resources needed to make sure B.C. seniors get the care they need. BC Budget 2021 does not explicitly indicate how these changes to the care system will be funded going forward,” says Lake.

Additional funding commitments in BC Budget 2021 include:

  • $900 million for testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, and the vaccination program;
  • $68 million “to help seniors with daily living by increasing the number of care aides and other community care providers.”

BC Budget 2021 also provides funding for new “micro-credentialing programs” to support skills development for high-demand healthcare-related occupations. Those seeking careers in the growing fields of home support and independent living are potential beneficiaries of this funding.

“Overall, BC Budget 2021 provides a promising path toward dealing with one of the sector’s greatest challenges — enhancing the workforce and supporting those who care for our elderly loved ones,” adds Lake. “We look forward to continuing our ‘Team B.C.’ collaboration with the province to ensure British Columbians get the right care when and where they need it.”

CBABC

The Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch, applauded the significant financial commitments made in BC Budget 2021 to support the evolution of a modernized justice system and meaningful change for Indigenous peoples.  

“We are pleased that today’s budget announcement directs critical funding to the modernization of our justice system, including virtualization of our courts and electronic filing solutions, along with investment in providing reliable, high-speed broadband services to rural, remote and Indigenous communities. These investments will have a direct impact on increasing access to justice for all British Columbians,” said Jennifer J.L. Brun, CBABC President.  

“Although BC Budget 2021 includes funding for family dispute resolution, legal clinics, and parent legal centres, we are disappointed that legal aid funding for contested family law matters is not addressed. This leaves some of BC’s most vulnerable families unable to access legal representation during these very difficult times,” Brun added.   

“Further, we are concerned that the budget does not include funding to ensure involuntary detainees under the Mental Health Act have access to independent legal representation. This is a glaring omission, particularly in light of Government’s focus on mental health services during the pandemic.” 

Meaningful change for Indigenous peoples is one of four main themes in CBABC’s recent advocacy report, Agenda for Justice 2021, and figures prominently in BC Budget 2021. 

“We commend the Government’s commitment to implementing DRIPA through engaging Indigenous peoples on legislation, policy and programs,” said Brun. “We look forward to collaborating with Government and other stakeholders on these significant and meaningful initiatives.”

METRO VANCOUVER

Metro Vancouver said it embraces the provincial budget, which bolsters financial supports for the people and businesses that have suffered the most during the COVID-19 pandemic, and looks to create opportunities to support a strong recovery for all British Columbians.

“The past year has threatened public health, strained local government services and restricted economic activity,” said Sav Dhaliwal, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Board of Directors. “The pandemic has exacerbated profound vulnerabilities in our system that must be addressed, by supporting families who are struggling, growing our economy, protecting the environment and fighting climate change.”

The priorities of Metro Vancouver and the Government of B.C. have never been more aligned. There is a tremendous opportunity in the near future for partnership and cost sharing on critical projects that can help the region and the province meet important goals.

“The future resiliency and prosperity of our urban communities will depend upon the continued partnership between all orders of government — investing together to protect our health and quality of life,” said Dhaliwal.

The health of our communities depends on all levels of government continuing to invest in affordable housing and measures to reduce homelessness. Metro Vancouver, the province’s second-largest affordable housing provider, plans to spend $190 million over the next 10 years to renew and expand 1,350 units.

The B.C. Government’s commitment to add thousands of low- and middle-income rental homes throughout the province is welcomed, and Metro Vancouver looks forward to the region’s residents benefitting from those new units.

A recent survey shows the vast majority of Metro Vancouver residents agree that infrastructure investment is an effective way to stimulate the economy, and that senior governments should provide additional funding for local infrastructure projects.

“Investing in key infrastructure must be part of our collective, long-term economic recovery strategy,” said Dhaliwal.

Metro Vancouver anticipates investments of more than $6 billion in projects over the next five years to build, maintain and upgrade the infrastructure that underlies the prosperity, resilience and livability of the region.

One such project is the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, which will be built to replace an existing primary-level treatment plant in Richmond. This dynamic and transformative project will protect the health and well-being of people, wildlife and ecosystems, create jobs, enhance seismic and climate resiliency, maximize energy and resource recovery, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore important salmon habitat.

“We have an opportunity to play to our region’s unique strengths, remove systemic barriers to investment, focus on creating family-supporting jobs and investing in retraining for the new digital economy to ensure our region is a key player in the 21st century global economy,” said Dhaliwal.

Earlier this year, Metro Vancouver launched its Regional Economic Prosperity Service to advance equitable opportunity and more broadly shared prosperity for all residents of the Metro Vancouver region. In alignment with this service, Metro Vancouver commends the provincial government for its commitment to investing both in the jobs of the future, through the attraction of new anchor companies and with investments into the new mobility, agri-tech and education sectors, and in our people, through training and re-training initiatives, such as micro-credentialing, work-based learning opportunities, expanded Indigenous skills training initiatives, and short-term programs to upskill unemployed and underemployed workers for new jobs.

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