February 21 saw the BC Liberals deliver their budget for 2012/13 with projections continuing onto 2014/15. The Minister of Finance, Kevin Falcon, said that it was going to be a restrained budget. Premier Christy Clark posted on Twitter that there would be no tax increases. But when the minister’s speech ended and I began to plow through the budget documents, I found more of a restraint on creativity and vision to deal with our current struggles than any truth to what BC Liberals promised.
First, there were tax increases. Medical Service Plan premiums will be increased by four per cent starting January 1, 2013. MSP premiums are by definition a flat tax, and you will be paying more. Compared to 2001, families will be paying 85 per cent more for MSP with this new increase. And by 2014/15, the BC Liberals project that the province will receive more revenue from MSP than they do from corporate income taxes.
Another area that shows discrepancy between action and words is the fire sale of public assets. By asking questions in the House, the NDP learned that this proposed sale, which is to generate $708 million, has no corresponding business plan, nor a comprehensive list of identified disposable lands. In short, our assets are being put on the block without due diligence.
Yet the most staggering example of this budget’s lack of vision is post-secondary education. This is an issue about which I am particularly concerned, not just as the opposition critic on the file, but as someone who knows that government has to plan for the future.
Here is what our future is looking like:
Within five years, 80 per cent of jobs will require some level of post-secondary education, and we are anticipating one million job openings by 2020. The fastest growing labour demand is in the trades, and projections indicate that 160,000 trades jobs will go unfilled by 2017. There will be jobs without people and people without jobs.
According to most economists, this is the single biggest problem facing our economy. Productivity will slow down and investment in BC becomes undesirable — not to mention the projected poverty and strain on the government purse.
To remedy this problem, economists say, “invest in post-sec.” Don Drummond, author of the Ontario report to slash public services, said this about post-secondary education: “Grow government funding for the post-secondary education sector by 1.5 per cent per year until 2017/18.” The BC NDP has also put forward a plan to get the ball rolling. We’ve called on the government to add $100 million into financial needs-based grants and have identified a way to pay for it via reinstating a limited tax on big banks.
Instead, the BC Liberal’s budget shows a cut to post-secondary education. No new money to Student Aid to improve affordability, and $100 million less to capital plans. BC will struggle to increase seats, retain programs and get students into classrooms at a time when we need to strengthen education and prepare for our future.
Failure to acknowledge our economic needs for post-secondary education clearly shows the Liberals’ lack of vision when it comes to budgeting public money for the public good. Having visited campuses in every corner of this province, I know our future demanded a better response on February 21. So I will continue to work for that response and get the vision and creativity needed at the helm of BC’s finances.
To see more on this issue, you can watch my speech in the Legislature at michellemungall.com.
Michelle Mungall is the Nelson-Creston MLA. Her column is featured in the Nelson once a month