By Carole James
As I reflect on this last year of change, it’s timely to look back and consider the path ahead. I was honoured to be re-elected in May as the MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill. It is a privilege, and I am so very grateful for the longstanding support from our community.
I am humbled by the opportunity to serve as Minister of Finance, and as Deputy Premier, and to be part of a government focused on taking action to make life better for people.
We’ve started that work by investing in education for our children, skills training for working people, and capital spending to build up our province and the services that people count on. We’re supporting the new economy to create jobs and opportunity for people.
Some of the initiatives we’ve already announced are particularly welcome in our community. They include investments in construction of new units of affordable housing and an increase of $100 per month for those living on income and disability assistance.
In October we introduced legislation to close a major loophole in fixed-term leases and improve the rights of renters. The new legislation will mean landlords can no longer use the loophole to bypass annual rent control, meaning renters will now be protected against massive rent hikes at the end of a lease.
We’ve also added $6.8 million in new funding for the Residential Tenancy Branch to reduce wait times for tenancy disputes and to establish a new compliance unit to take action against landlords and tenants who are repeat or serious offenders. A new online application will make it easier and faster for tenants and landlords to apply for dispute resolution.
We’re providing $681 million to B.C.’s kindergarten-to-Grade 12 education system over three years, including $521 million to improve classroom supports for children. To help increase opportunities, we’re making tuition free for former children in care. And we’ve also made Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning programs tuition-free.
Government is allocating $322 million to provide an immediate and evidence-based response to the fentanyl emergency. We’ve announced a new investment of $189 million over three years through a federal-B.C. agreement that helps seniors with improved home and residential care. We’re providing $15 million over three years for the Healthy Kids Program, which provides hearing assistance benefits and improved rates for dental services.
Effective January 1, 2018, Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums have been cut by 50 percent. This reduction will save individuals up to $450 per year, and families up to $900 per year. We’ve also raised the income threshold below which households are fully exempt from MSP premiums, and senior couples with a net income up to $35,000 will pay no premiums in 2018. Single parents with two children and a net income up to $32,000 will pay no premiums.
Governing is about choices, and we have also faced difficult choices as we work to address the challenges in our province and improve the lives of the people in our communities. As we said we would, we sent the Site C project to an independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
The Commission’s review validated many of our concerns about this project pushed by the previous government. We were faced with completing Site C at an estimated cost of $10.7 billion, or cancelling the project and absorbing $4 billion in construction and remediation costs.
Our government listened, deliberated, and debated. After thoroughly reviewing all the information in front of us, listening to experts with views on all sides of this project, and weighing the impact for all British Columbians, we made the tough decision to complete the project. Cancelling it would have severely impacted our ability to deliver programs and services that people count on.
By proceeding with Site C, the cost will be paid off over time because it is backed by an asset that generates electricity. The previous government committed billions of dollars to Site C without appropriate planning and oversight. Our job now is to do everything possible to turn Site C into a positive contributor to our energy future. I know many in our community are disappointed by this decision, and I appreciate their passion and their concern.
On the local level, it has been my privilege to work alongside local residents and organizations to build our community in Victoria-Beacon Hill. Through 2017, my office hosted community events and assisted hundreds of residents to replace their identification and to access provincial programs.
It’s inspiring and humbling to serve with our compassionate active community where citizens care deeply about addressing inequality, protecting our planet, and providing opportunity for all. Together, we are making a difference.
1084 Fort Street, Victoria, BC V8V 3K4
Phone: 250 952-4211