Les Leyne: Spend more, raise taxes, says BCGEU


Les Leyne mugshot genericLots of people show up at consultation meetings on the next year’s provincial budget with spending ideas. Most of them stay vague or mute on the business of finding the money needed to fund all the concepts.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union not only covered both angles this week, it fearlessly told the government exactly where to get the money needed for its list of things that need doing.

Raise taxes. Not only raise taxes, but eliminate the revenue neutrality of the carbon tax, the one thing that secured that controversial tax’s relatively smooth adoption eight years ago. It’s not the kind of thing the B.C. Liberals would contemplate in any budget, much less a pre-election one. But it’s a revealing perspective from one of the biggest and most politically active unions.

Stephanie Smith, president of the 70,000-strong organization, appeared before the legislature finance committee with a clear outline of it wants to see happen.

She said the government’s standard theme is that B.C. leads the country in economic growth and job creation “and that their low taxes and fiscal sustainability policies have made our province the envy of the nation.

“For those at the top of the economic ladder that may very well be true, but for the other 80 per cent, that’s not always the case.”

Quoting the provincial motto — Splendour without diminishment — she said: “Many British Columbians have indeed been diminished by the very policies of low taxes and fiscal sustainability that the B.C. government claims is so beneficial to our citizens.”

Smith cited the evidence in poverty and welfare rates that people are getting left behind.

“It’s time to chart a different course.”

She urged a $15 minimum wage indexed to inflation, an increase to all social-assistance rates. Also on the agenda is an influx of new money and staff in assorted program-delivery areas.

She advocated a recommitment on climate change, by way of reinstating annual increases to the carbon tax to a level of $50 a tonne from the current $30 by 2020. Smith also said the carbon tax should be made less regressive and no longer revenue-neutral. The first part would be accomplished by hiking the low-income climate-action tax credit, to protect people who would no longer see tax cuts covering off the cost of the carbon tax. That tax generates $1.4 billion a year, which is currently offset by cuts in other taxes.

The other moves advocated would involve increasing income taxes for high earners and restoring the corporate income tax to 13.5 per cent (now 11 per cent) along with ending oil and gas subsidies.

The BCGEU estimates the carbon tax would raise $2.2 billion annually if it were raised and coverage broadened. “Considering the required investments in low-carbon adaptation, the development of renewables and stronger environmental policy generally, the tax should no longer be revenue neutral.”

B.C.’s old-news carbon tax is a brand-new sensitive issue nationally, with the federal Liberals’ move. The idea of tried-and-tested revenue neutrality is being considered as a way of enticing reluctant provinces on board. So B.C. Liberals are unlikely to change the ballgame at this point by even talking about ending neutrality, let alone doing it.

Just So You Know: The next presenter was Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, with additional information on the chronically problematic Medical Services Plan premiums. The government last month backed off on yet another increase to premiums that was to take effect next year. The long effort to keep revenue rolling in without affecting low-income earners has brought B.C. to the point where next year, two million people won’t pay MSP and 40 per cent of families won’t be paying, or will get it reduced.

Bateman said research has shown 850,000 MSP accounts are one month overdue and $340 million in unpaid premiums has been written off over the past five years.

So even many of the people who are technically paying premiums aren’t really paying them. All the more reason for a total rethink.


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