BC Teachers’ Federation
BC Chamber of Commerce
David Suzuki Foundation
BC Teachers’ Federation
BC teachers said on Tuesday they are disappointed to see the provincial government’s 2023–24 budget lacks the targeted funding needed to address the acute teacher shortage in a meaningful way.
While public educators are pleased to see provincial support for recently negotiated wage increases, increasing enrolment, school food programs, new schools, and seismic upgrades, teachers need urgent relief from the pressures of understaffing.
“We’re very happy to see that health continues to be a priority. The recent COVID-19 pandemic highlighted what many of us knew—that health care is essential. We’re pleased to see investments to recruit new doctors and nurses. However, we’re disappointed that the same attention hasn’t been given to public education,” BC Teachers’ Federation President Clint Johnston said.
BC’s future doctors and nurses—careers that are a focus of recruitment and retention efforts in this budget—are currently being taught in our K–12 system. This foundational education needs more investment to ensure every student has a certified teacher and to protect the system against erosion.
In a survey of members by the BCTF, 73% of teachers working in person in BC schools reported their workload had increased since before the pandemic. More than one-third said they were now more likely to leave the profession in the next few years.
While teachers are happy to see Budget 2023 includes $480 million over three years to close skills and labour gaps through the Future Ready Plan, Johnston says they are concerned that the $6.5-million portion flowing through the Ministry of Education isn’t enough to support needed staffing levels.
“Teachers are making magic in classrooms every day, but behind the scenes they are burning out.”
BCTF members made historic gains when they ratified a new collective agreement in December that provides for salary raises, better extended health benefits, and increased professional development funding and preparation time. Teachers are pleased the government is honouring its commitment to fully fund the agreement so school districts aren’t left to find the money elsewhere.
Expansion of school food programs will also support families feeling the pressure of rising grocery costs and provide students with the healthy meals they need to flourish in schools. Significant capital investments mean more new schools and seismic upgrades, and the BCTF also hopes it targets upgrades to ventilation systems given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and increasing climate threats like wildfire smoke.
Highlights of the BC Budget:
- $3.4 billion in capital funding to build new schools to respond to enrolment growth, and maintain and seismically upgrade schools
- $1.96 billion to fund public school wage lifts related to the 2022 Shared Recovery Mandate
- $214 million in new funding for school food programs to help families with rising food costs
- $161 million in funding under the Classroom Enhancement Fund.
Missing from the BC Budget:
- Enough dedicated funding for recruitment of new teachers and retention of experienced ones
- Special education funding that aligns with identified needs, including targeted funding for early identification and designation of students with disabilities and other unique learning needs and per-student funding amounts for high-prevalence designations.
BC Chamber of Commerce
The BC Chamber of Commerce said on Tuesday that the 2023 budget prioritizes spending for important social and community initiatives but comes at the expense of addressing increasing costs facing BC’s businesses and the province’s competitiveness.
“While today’s budget focused on affordability and reducing the cost of living, it provided little support to businesses who are struggling with the cost of doing business,” said Fiona Famulak, President and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce. “In order to have healthy communities, we need to ensure we have healthy businesses. Today’s budget did not take meaningful steps towards addressing the concerns that we have raised.”
Government has allocated $8.7 billion more in operating funding and will run deficits totalling $11 billion over the course of the fiscal plan. Capital spending on critical infrastructure, such as schools, transit, roads and hospitals, will reach a record $37.5 billion while the provincial debt is forecast to be $99.5 billion at the end of 2025/26.
“Of particular concern to small- and medium-sized businesses is the increase to the carbon tax of $15 per tonne per year through 2030 with little to offset the costs they will incur,” said Famulak. “This is going to impact our supply chains and raise costs of producing goods in British Columbia.”
“The BC Chamber of Commerce is optimistic the new Future Ready Plan will provide small- and medium-sized businesses with support to address critical labour force challenges,” said Famulak. “However, details remain unclear and we will be working on behalf of our members to understand how the government’s $480 million investment will be allocated.”
Some of the measures in today’s budget reflect priorities the BC Chamber of Commerce, and its provincial network, have been calling on government to introduce, including:
- $77 million towards increased investments to address delays in permitting approval in the natural resource sectors.
- Increased supports to address significant societal issues that have a direct impact on business, including housing, homelessness and mental health.
- $58 million directed towards speeding up foreign credential recognition for qualified professionals.
“This budget was an opportunity for government to help businesses navigate through and beyond a very difficult past few years. A step such as adjusting the Employer Health Tax threshold would have demonstrated that government is willing to address the challenges that many of our members face,” Famulak said. “Unfortunately, that opportunity was missed.”
The BCFED said on Tuesday that the provincial budget means working people will get some much-needed help to deal with rising costs, and continues to make investments in the public services British Columbians rely on.
“Finance Minister Conroy’s budget makes it clear this government continues to put people first: reducing costs for families, making significant investments in mental health services, and building needed housing and infrastructure,” said BCFED President Sussanne Skidmore.
“The investments the David Eby government is making to expand the services we all rely on are critical to the health of workers, their families and communities. These continued investments are undoing years of damage done by the BC Liberals – and they’re finally turning the tide to ensure our public services are there when British Columbians need them,” she added. “And they underline why it’s so important we never go back to the days of deep cuts and neglect.”
Skidmore highlighted several key measures in the budget:
* Free prescription birth control: “This bold, important step will make a big difference. Removing financial barriers to prescription contraception is a victory for everyone who believes in gender equity and reproductive health.”
* Increased funding for the Employment Standards Branch: “This $12-million funding increase represent a critical victory for some of our most vulnerable workers in BC. It’s far from the largest item in the budget, but it’ll have a big impact and help ensure all workers can exercise their rights when an employer steals from them or treats them unfairly. And it lays the foundation for a Branch with a more active enforcement mandate — one that works pro-actively to educate workers and employers alike to ensure abuses don’t happen in the first place.”
* Housing: “Working people need to be able to afford to live in the places where they work. We are glad to see the budget continuing to expand on the largest housing investments in BC history to build the housing people need where they need it.”
* Mental health services and the toxic drug crisis: “The past few years have been profoundly stressful for many workers. With demand spiraling, the budget’s new $876-million investment in mental health services couldn’t be more timely.
“The toxic drug crisis disproportionately impacts workers, and we applaud the significant measures announced including investments in prevention and early intervention strategies for youth, safer substance use and more treatment beds.”
* Improvements to income and disability assistance: “Those receiving income and disability assistance will finally see an increase to the shelter rate and supplements to address other rising costs. No one in BC should be left behind, and this is an important part of the ongoing work on BC’s poverty reduction strategy.”
Skidmore added that BC’s unions would be keeping a close eye on several key priorities over the coming year, including pay transparency legislation, the upcoming Future Ready Plan and foreign credential recognition strategy, steps to address precarious work and the continued expansion of affordable childcare.
Metro Vancouver on Tuesday welcomed the BC Government’s commitments in its 2023 budget to tackling the housing crisis and to building the infrastructure that people rely on.
“Recent weather events and natural disasters here and around the world have made it clear that we need to do more to future-proof our infrastructure,” said George V. Harvie, chair of Metro Vancouver’s Board of Directors. “Partnership on critical infrastructure investments will allow us to achieve our shared goals on both climate and economic resilience, for the benefit of our constituents for generations to come.”
The region’s residents rely on Metro Vancouver to provide essential services, without interruption. Upgrades to water and wastewater utility services are imperative to respond to growth and to ensure resilience to the effects of climate change and devastating natural disasters, such as rising sea levels, earthquakes, and more frequent storms and flooding.
Metro Vancouver plans to invest more than $7 billion over the next five years on critical infrastructure projects, including upgrades to the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. This project will ensure public and environmental health regulations are met, while restoring and enhancing salmon habitat, addressing seismic resiliency and sea level rise, increasing energy and resource recovery, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Province has shown its commitment to the work of local governments with the recent announcement of a $1-billion investment, alongside the budget, through the Growing Communities Fund. This funding will help support Metro Vancouver in delivering critical infrastructure that is essential in meeting the needs of a growing region, but there is always more work to be done.
“Our governments share many of the same priorities, and it is crucial that we work together to continue joint investments in building and maintaining resilient infrastructure and services, which support a strong economy, mitigate the effects of climate change, and maintain affordability for ratepayers,” said John McEwen, vice chair of Metro Vancouver’s Board of Directors. “In this time of economic uncertainty, we must steward public dollars with care. All orders of government need to collaborate to deliver projects efficiently and without delay, to avoid cost increases.”
Building more housing, improving affordability and addressing inequality are also critical in the current economic climate. As one of the largest affordable housing providers in the region, Metro Vancouver is committed to creating and operating great places to live for families, seniors, and people with disabilities.
The Province’s inclusion of an unprecedented $4.2 billion in operating and capital funding over three years for more homes aligns with Metro Vancouver’s plan to deliver more than 2,000 units over the next 10 years, which includes seven priority projects that will result in 800 units over the next five years.
Provincial investments in housing affordability can help Metro Vancouver to deepen affordability and expand the reach of these projects. Metro Vancouver looks forward to seeing the Province’s refreshed housing plan when it is released this spring.
David Suzuki Foundation
Although B.C.’s Budget 2023 delivered on commitments to increase carbon pricing, support active transportation and plan for more sustainable resource management, it was a missed opportunity to adequately address the mounting challenges from the climate and biodiversity crises affecting B.C., the David Suzuki Foundation said on Tuesday.
“Increased carbon pricing is central to the energy transition and clean economy, so we’re happy to see this commitment in the budget,” said the foundation’s senior climate policy adviser Tom Green. “We’re also encouraged to see that fairness and affordability were part of the equation with climate action tax credits increasing for the majority of British Columbians.”
“We were looking for greater investments in the clean economy, a source for well-paid and growing jobs,” Green added. “Analysis shows these investments need to reach two per cent of GDP to be effective. We’re not on track for that as B.C. transitions to a zero-emissions future.”
In large part because of the continued expansion of fossil gas production, B.C. has not yet seen a significant downturn in carbon emissions. The province has set a legislated target of a 16 per cent reduction from 2007 levels by 2025. Emissions went down just one per cent (below 2007 levels) in 2020, according to B.C.’s emissions inventory update in September 2022.
The budget included funding to help preserve and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities and connect people to nature, but the financial commitment to move away from old-growth logging, restore degraded ecosystems and recover at-risk species like caribou was missing or insufficient.
“While worker retraining and land-use planning received some support, this budget needed to support full implementation of the old-growth panel recommendations to put B.C. in a position to truly halt and reverse biodiversity loss,” said foundation Western Canada and nature programs director Jay Ritchlin. “Communities transitioning away from old-growth logging, mining, oil and gas need financial alternatives and restoring the damage already done takes large amounts of money.”
While the David Suzuki Foundation welcomes an earlier announcement from the B.C. government of $180 million for local governments and First Nations to better prepare for the risk of climate-related natural disasters, more is needed.
“Investing now in climate mitigation and adaptation at the same time as nature conservation and restoration is the most economically sound way B.C. can address the dual crises, while also preparing for the future,” Ritchlin said.
“Economic concerns sometimes persuade governments to temper environmental investments, but these are investments in our shared future, in future generations,” Ritchlin added. “If we don’t invest wisely now, the costs of inaction will be much, much higher.”
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC Office
Alexander Hemingway, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC Office, said the following in an op-ed:
BC’s first budget under Premier David Eby includes substantial funding increases in housing, health care, income supports and cost of living tax credits.
It also allocates a record level of investment towards capital infrastructure. This not only represents much-needed progress towards meeting some of the big challenges facing our province, but also prudently continues to invest in the public good rather than cave to fear-mongering about deficits in light of the economic slowdown.
The budget projects modest deficits over the next three years: $4.2 billion in 2023/24 and $3.8 billion and $3 billion in the subsequent two years. While these numbers sound big, they represent about one per cent of the provincial economy (or GDP) in 2023/24 and slightly less going forward.
Deficits are entirely appropriate with an economic slowdown underway. They are also far preferable to inadequate investment in critical public services and infrastructure, which leads to its own kind of deficits – social and environmental – as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has long argued (and as Premier Eby noted recently).
An eventual return to budget balance should come via increased revenue, not by neglecting public investment, which would be costly to BC’s social and economic well-being in the long run.
Even with the spending increases in Budget 2023, provincial operating spending as a share of GDP has declined substantially from where it stood 25 years ago (in part a consequence of severe social spending cuts under the previous BC Liberal government). Spending by this measure had largely levelled off since the BC NDP came to power, with the exception of a temporary jump during the pandemic. With Budget 2023, it has inched back up relative to those pre-pandemic levels. Even so, if spending in 2023/24 returned to the levels of two decades ago (as a share of GDP), we’d have about another $5 billion available to invest in priority areas this year alone.
A return to those levels of public investment could be funded in part by more robust taxes on high incomes, corporations and wealthy landowners, with dual benefits of revenue and reducing inequality.
Another positive shift in this budget is the reduced use of “fiscal padding” – the practice of building in large unallocated contingency funds that ultimately serve to hide available fiscal space and create a bias against badly needed public spending (though some of this remains).
British Columbia is facing big social and environmental challenges — sky high rents, health care under enormous strain, a toxic drugs crisis, climate disruption and the need to rebuild crucial but eroded public services (to name a few). BC has more than enough fiscal and economic capacity to meaningfully address these crises, and BC Budget 2023 rightly prioritizes badly needed investments over a return to austerity.
While this might not please corporate interest groups, it responds to what the rest of us need. A single budget won’t solve these problems overnight but it is an important shift in the right direction.
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