VICTORIA – British Columbia’s three-member Green party was a factor behind the absence of big-ticket election promises in the minority NDP government’s first budget update, Finance Minister Carole James says.
James said universal child care and a comprehensive housing strategy will anchor her next budget in February, but not before a period of consultation with the Greens, interest groups and organizations.
The NDP and Greens reached an agreement to combine their seat totals in the 87-seat legislature to defeat the Liberals in a non-confidence vote after B.C.’s spring election did not produce a clear winner. The agreement also sees the Greens support the NDP minority in confidence votes in the legislature.
The NDP’s election promises included a $10-a-day child care program for families struggling to find affordable, accessible, quality daycare. The party also pledged to offer renters annual rebate cheques of $400 to offset high rents in much of the province.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said the Greens support free daycare for families of children under age three and will suggest universal child care should not be stuck on the $10 number highlighted during the election campaign.
“Our position was why $10? Why not $15. Why not free?”
Weaver said his party also believes the $400 renter rebate could be spread more widely to help people in need.
“We share the same value that we need to give renters a break,” he said, suggesting that giving a rebate to all renters and creating the bureaucracy to deliver it may not be the best way to go.
Weaver said he was thrilled the promised child care and renter rebate programs were not detailed in the NDP’s first budget update on Monday.
However, social policy groups, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said they were concerned James did not deliver the child care plan in the budget update, which forecast a surplus of $246 million and economic growth of 2.9 per cent
“By February’s budget you’ll certainly have an indication of the plan,” James said. “Both of those need discussions before we come to February and a full year’s budget. The Greens are part of that discussion and part of that consultation.”
Weaver said the absence of details on rent rebates and $10-a-day child care in the budget update indicates “a softening of some of their promises.”
“We’re not forcing our platform on them,” Weaver said of upcoming talks on the issues with the NDP. “They’re not forcing their platform on us. It shows how a minority government can work.”
James’s budget update also promised to hire 3,500 teachers and build thousands of rental units and homes for the homeless.
And the government will increase B.C.’s $30-per-tonne carbon tax by an annual $5 per tonne on April 1, 2018.
The hike is intended to ensure the province’s carbon tax reaches the federal government’s goal of $50 a tonne a year before its 2022 deadline for a set carbon price agreement across Canada, James said.
She also said the carbon tax will no longer be required to be revenue neutral and the expected $1.2 billion in revenues this year will fund government programs rather than tax measures.