Budget and throne speeches are out of touch with northern realities

This editorial appeared in the February 24, 2016 edition of the Interior News. You can dowload a pdf of the article here.

The recent throne and budget speeches demonstrate a stark lack of understanding of challenges faced by those living in rural, northern communities like we have in Stikine. We tend to drive a lot, use electricity to help heat our homes and face difficult access to health services like an MRI.

For this, we get a budget from the Christy Clark government that hikes ICBC insurance costs, continues a steep climb in BC Hydro rates (up 28 per cent under her leadership) and jacks up medical service premiums. And our rural resource economy is doing poorly under the BC Liberals, so to achieve a balanced budget they are forcing school districts to consider closing schools, like Lake Kathlyn elementary, while choosing to continue a tax cut for the wealthiest 2 per cent in the province worth $236 million a year. 

But beware of disagreeing with the Premier’s approach or you’ll be labelled a ‘rag tag’ in her words. More on that later. Remember the much ballyhooed Prosperity Fund announced by Premier Clark three years ago that was going to end B.C.’s debt and by now be full of LNG-based revenue ($100 billion!)? There are zero LNG revenues in this budget but the Premier didn’t want the embarrassment of the non-existent fund so she seeded it with $100 million, which just so happens to be the amount generated by a January increase in medical service premiums, and you’ll still have to drive to Terrace or Prince George to get that MRI. 

Here are some different choices: use MSP increases to fund health care, not a fantasy fund. And instead of providing the $236 million tax cut that the wealthiest in BC didn’t even ask for, use it to support hydro rate relief for low-income households. Or a program helping homeowners with energysaving renovations to cut power consumption. Or use that revenue so the $95 million in this budget the BC Liberals scooped out of ICBC can be returned to customers in insurance savings (ICBC rates have increased 30 per cent under Christy Clark’s government). 

Some words I agree with in the throne speech: The need for “respectful, civil dialogue” as the springboard for “solutions” and “reconciliation” in this province. Yet the Premier just labelled Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who disagree with her about the proposed siting of an LNG plant on Lelu Island at the mouth of Skeena River as “rag tag.” How’s that for reconciliation? Personal attacks and making life less affordable for most people is no way to run a province.

– Doug Donaldson is the MLA for Stikine, Opposition spokesperson for Children and Family Development, and deputy spokesperson for mining.