Paying for government services we're not getting

B.C. government surplus

Growing up, my grandfather taught me the value of a dollar.

He used to tell me, “Pay up as you go up, so that when you get up, you are up.”

He always wanted value for what he spent and was careful with those dollars. As an uneducated rancher and farmer, he and my grandmother were millionaires when they passed. How? Because they were wise with their money.

This last month has produced some surprising financial results for B.C. The finance minister announced B.C. posted a surplus of $1.3 billion for the fiscal period of 2021-2022, and it is forecasting a surplus of $706 million this year.

Sounds like great news, right? Until you look at the details.

Last year’s surplus could have come from the additional taxes paid by corporations for their employees, called the Employers’ Health Tax, or from the soaring housing market in Provincial Property Transfer Tax, which posted a surplus of $1.3 billion on one line item.

The government showed the surplus was from higher taxes, including carbon taxes, higher fuel taxes, higher corporate taxes and higher personal taxes.

Simply put, the government’s higher revenue was from you and the other taxpayers of B.C.

So how is the government spending money? Let’s have a look.

Right now, healthcare has never been worse. More than 20% of British Columbians don’t have a primary family doctor and can’t get access to healthcare. Our hospitals are overloaded, and B.C. was one of the few jurisdictions that didn’t add any ICU capacity with the federal dollars that were given to us during COVID for the purpose of capacity expansion.

Any additional spending in healthcare? No. Are our tax dollars going towards improving the ambulance service? No. People are dying as they wait for an ambulance to arrive.

How about mental health supports? No.

I have heard from parents who can’t find support for their kids, adults who don’t know how to get help for the issues in their lives, and those who are on the verge of crisis and are not able to get help or support.

Where are those (promised) complex care beds? So far, they have been promised twice, but with no location, physical structure or dollars allocated. It sounds like help is still a long way off for the hundreds on our streets and in subsidized housing.

How about a new Rutland Middle School or a new high school in Glenmore? Nope.

But there was enough money for a new hidden bonus for BCGEU employees. The new agreement will cost B.C. taxpayers $2.6 billion. This is in addition to the additional 140,000 government employees who cost B.C. taxpayers more than $11 billion per year.

That is a staggering dollar figure.

Meanwhile, the government still has people waiting for their $110 ICBC rebate, promised to them in March, as well as a promised rental rebate for the last two elections.

The government may pat itself on the back for the economic rebound post-COVID, but the Stats Canada jobs report tells a much different story. Private sector jobs are tanking while government jobs are growing.

British Columbians are paying more taxes than ever before, not getting the services they need, and instead, are getting a huge government staff with massive salaries but no measurable outcomes.

Big government and a small private sector is a horrific combination. It will mean a decrease in B.C.’s GDP because government jobs don’t produce anything yet cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Taxpayers deserve better. British Columbians deserve more.

If B.C. is going to post a surplus, it should be because the economy is growing in the private sector and not because taxpayers are paying more, especially if they are getting less for those dollars.

My question this week is:

Do you feel that you are getting value from the tax dollars that you are paying?

I love hearing from you!. Please email me at [email protected] or call me at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Seniors in B.C. need more help

Providing for our elders

It’s time to talk about seniors.

I have the most amazing parents and in-laws, who are in their 70s and 80s respectively. (Don’t worry, mom, I won’t tell them your actual age).

Our conversations often circle around to some of the issues they are experiencing.

My summer was spent hearing from many seniors who are feeling forgotten in the current B.C. government’s budget, programs and focus.

Here are some of the issues they are dealing with:

Housing: Seniors are incredibly vulnerable when it comes to housing. They often will rent, and if evicted, find it incredibly difficult to find other accommodation.

Additionally, the accessibility requirements for housing change as we age, making it more difficult to find appropriate housing. Even if housing is found, the cost is often far outside of the fixed income of a senior.

As the cost of housing in both ownership and rental has increased, seniors are in a particularly difficult position and (some are) close to homelessness.

Inflation: While inflation has been difficult on society as a whole, seniors are often on fixed incomes and are harder hit by inflationary pressures.

Imagine working your whole life, saving faithfully, investing and having a pension, only to see that money become less valuable in your later years.

This is a time where one cannot go out and get another job, or make ends meet another way. I have spoken to seniors who are having to chose between food or rent to make ends meet.

Healthcare: Seniors are losing their doctors, having to wait longer for surgeries and are not able to access home care when required.

Despite having worked and paid as a taxpayer into the system, the system is failing them.

They don’t have time to wait for their surgeries and their bodies fail faster and take longer to recover if not treated.

This is not the way to care for our seniors, those who cared for us and built our province into what it is today.

As a society, we need to look at how best to care for our aging population. They are our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties and our neighbours. They deserve dignity and respect.

The pandemic showed us just how vulnerable this segment of population is. I watched as family members were separated, leading to their senior parents’ decline. I watched as senior couples struggled to use technology to maintain their health or use government agencies. I also watched the wave of loneliness and separation crash over this generation, not able to see their grandkids or children.

Their savings becoming less valuable, their health failing more and their needs not being addressed. This must change. It’s time to get serious about our seniors.

We need to see more long-term care facilities with single residency rooms, greater pension amounts with more financial supports for seniors’ emergencie, a focus on seniors’ community centres for support and healthy living – keeping seniors healthier longer and when their health is weakening, make sure home supports, community care and primary care is available for them.

It’s time to show our seniors how much they mean to us and keep them as a healthy part of our community longer.

My question for you this week is this:

What gaps do you see in how seniors are cared for in our society, and how would you change it?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Need for schools in Okanagan is 'dire,' says MLA

Where do we put students?

Last week, I started feeling the back-to-school energy.

As a mom of three kids and two step kids, my last week of August and first week of September has always been about school supplies, fall clothes and the first-day outfit for them.

They are older now, and only three are still in university, but you can still feel the excitement and nerves as you watch the kids in the mall, or the negotiation of school supplies in Walmart. It is a thrilling time.

One of the things I like best about being an MLA is education is part of the provincial mandate. I have a passion for teaching, having been raised by a teacher and being sister of a school principal and educator.

I grew up knowing the importance of, and feeling the weight of, what teachers empathically bring home from their students.

It has been a difficult few years for our educators, our school leaders and our students. COVID was hard—changing guidelines, vicious debates, PPE, changes in learning delivery modes from in-person to video and then back to in-person again, all the while trying to keep everyone safe.

But while the restrictions of COVID are lifting, now we have inflationary pressures that are pressing on our schools’ budgets. Many of our school boards and executives had to make difficult spending cuts to make sure they balanced their budgets going into the new school year.

Last week the provincial government announced a funding top-up for the Central Okanagan School District and many others across B.C. That was a welcome relief to districts trying to figure out how to provide bus service, heat schools, pay for portables and provide a great education experience for our children, all with inflation soaring.

But is it enough?

Our population has skyrocketed, with younger families moving to the Okanagan for our incredible lifestyle, jobs and amenities.

According to Central Okanagan School District superintendent Kevin Kaardal, our schools are at 106% of capacity, despite opening two additional elementary schools.

Simply put, we need more schools.

The government decides who gets new schools and how many and it promised it would decrease the use of portables for schools.It even went so far as to promise there wouldn’t be any more for the city of Surrey. In our school district, we have more portables per capita than Surrey.

Having portables puts additional financial pressure on the district’s operating funds and leads to further reduction in money that should be going to learning and the education of our kids.

The situation in the Okanagan is dire and we need to have more schools started immediately. This isn’t about the quality of the education, it’s about being able to provide school spaces for the children in our communities.

My question for you this week is:

Should government tie education funding to inflation yearly?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Those fleeing domestic abuse need help, not opposition

Helping those in need

I am divorced.

That is not a secret and, in fact, many will know I changed my name back to my maiden name once my divorce was finalized and my kids graduated from high school.

Going through a divorce can be incredibly difficult and scary, especially if you don’t have money to pay for a lawyer.

While I was fully employed when I went through my divorce, there were many times I was overwhelmed with gratitude and an understanding of how difficult it would have been if I wasn’t.

That is why I will use my voice and my strength to stand up for those who are in that difficult situation.

I serve on the Select Standing Committee for Finance and have heard from many agencies about how poorly funded single mothers are to seek representation in court. The stories are horrific, as many mothers are running for their lives, never mind fighting through a difficult system without resources.

So last week, I sent out a news release about the court case between the B.C. government and the Single Mothers’ Alliance (SMA).

The government has challenged the legal standing of the SMA in its attempts through the justice system to secure funding and resources for single mothers and their children fleeing domestic abuse.

These single moms are looking for help from the government when it comes to legal aid to help navigate family law court in the wake of fleeing domestic abuse.

In February 2022, in his then capacity as attorney general, David Eby directed lawyers to try and crush the ability of organizations to sue the government on behalf of people with very little money and power.

We know women suffer disproportionately from inadequate access to family legal services, with 70 per cent of family legal aid applications made by women and 55 per cent of all family legal aid applications refused.

It’s long overdue to increase funding and access to legal aid for family law cases and do everything we can to help those women get the support they need to separate from an abusive partner and secure custody and safety for their children.

As attorney general, Eby also commissioned and received a report that reviewed how to improve the province’s legal aid system. That report has been ignored by the government for three and a half years.

British Columbians deserve a government that has their back, not one that hinders the efforts of mothers vying for their safety. It’s unthinkable.

My party is calling on the government to back down in its fight against single mothers and increase funding, access and eligibility thresholds for legal aid for family law cases.

As a mother and my part’s critic for Gender, Equity and Inclusion, I will continue to use my voice to advocate for those who need support in order to make it through the legal system and find safety for themselves and their children.

My question to you this week is:

What do you see the role of government being in protecting single mothers and their children?

I love hearing from you. Please reach out via email at [email protected] or call 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More MLA Minute articles

About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC Liberal MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for the Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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