Semiahmoo Peninsula MLAs are expressing disappointment in the recently tabled provincial budget, saying that although spending has gone up, little is on the way to the White Rock and South Surrey area.
“Spending is going up at record rates, but it’s not coming here,” said Surrey South BC Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadieux.
Part of the disappointment, Cadieux said, stems from the fact BC Liberals were expecting to see a plan for economic recovery, which she said Tuesday’s budget has not delivered.
“This budget has completely abandoned the NDPs commitments to Surrey,” she said. “They’ve abandoned their commitment to eliminate portables. They didn’t meet that commitment and now they have eliminated it. It doesn’t appear anywhere in the document.”
Cadieux said the budget also falls short on funding for the Surrey SkyTrain to Langley, funding for a medical school in Surrey, and funding for a new Surrey hospital in Cloverdale.
“They don’t have money in the budget, except notionally, for the Surrey hospital that they’ve promised. They planned a completion for two different dates, which goes to show you how much planning has actually gone into it,” Cadieux said.
According to the budget, $1.66 billion has been earmarked for a second hospital in Surrey with a targeted completion date of 2028. The budget also says the hospital will open in 2027.
“Construction is planned to begin in summer 2023 and the new facility is planned to open for patients in summer 2027. The capital cost of the project is estimated at $1.66 billion and is fully funded by the Province,” the budget said.
Surrey-White Rock BC Liberal MLA Trevor Halford shared Cadieux’s disappointment, adding that British Columbians are getting “less for more.”
Prior to the budget, Halford, who is the BC Liberal opposition critic for mental health and addictions, had made calls for the government to allocate more resources to addiction and mental health services.
The NDP budget has earmarked a half-billion dollars to focus on mental health and addiction services over the next three years.
“One of the things that I really called for, and will continue to call for, is affordable access to counselling and psychiatric services,” Halford said. “None of that was addressed in the budget.”
“I know this government likes to pat itself on the back in terms of the investment, but don’t forget that investment is over three years. And this year is actually one of the lowest-funded years, which is pretty disappointing.”
B.C.’s current COVID-19-driven deficit is coming in at $8.1 billion, not the $13.6 billion that was projected, but the province has much more borrowing ahead to recover from the pandemic.
Finance Minister Selina Robinson laid out the NDP government’s three-year budget April 20, calling for a further $19 billion in borrowing to build up the health care system and carry on support programs for individuals and businesses. Income and property purchase taxes have pushed provincial revenues higher than forecast.
“The swift development of effective vaccines, together with stronger-than-expected economic activity in 2020 has improved the outlook,” Robinson told reporters in a virtual budget presentation from Victoria.
Overall spending is increased by $8.7 billion over the three years of the budget, including “permanent funding increases” for health care, education, justice and public safety services and opioid and substance abuse prevention. Deficits are forecast to be $9.7 billion in the fiscal year just beginning, declining to $5.5 billion in 2022-23 and $4.3 billion in 2023-24.
The province is allocating $7.6 billion over three years towards transportation and infrastructure, but the province is not committing to a dollar figure for the George Massey Tunnel replacement.
The money is part of an overall $26.4 billion total capital investment that included infrastructure, schools and housing, among others. The transportation funding is split up into $6 billion of direct provincial money and $1.6 billion leveraged through federal and private partnerships. It will help pay for highway rehabilitation and upgrades, the George Massey Tunnel replacement and completing the planning for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project.
Spending commitments also include another $100 million to continue B.C. Recovery Benefit payments of up to $1,000 per family and $500 for individuals, announced before last fall’s election. The program has paid out $1.2 billion without requirement to show pandemic income loss, and remains open for applications until June 30.
– with files from Tom Fletcher