A new joint middle/secondary school for Burke Mountain isn’t on the immediate horizon, according to the NDP budget tabled this week, and that’s not the only problem with the government spending plan, says BC’s opposition leader.
Andrew Wilkinson was in Coquitlam Friday to meet with Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Joan Isaacs who was recently appointed assistant deputy speaker.
In an interview with The Tri-City News, Wilkinson who is helming the BC Liberals in one of the more tumultuous periods in B.C. politics, laid out his concerns about the 2018/2019 budget.
The lack of cash for the long-awaited Burke Mountain school in the three-year fiscal plan was one of his complaints, along with frustrations that there isn’t a plan to address a sharp decline in home construction.
“Hindsight is perfect,” Wilkinson said, “What we need to do now and what we should have done in the last five years is get on with increasing the supply of housing that’s affordable to drive down the costs.”
Complimenting Coquitlam on its efficient permit and planning process and the surge in housing near transit, Wilkinson said he fears a projected drop in housing starts from about 50,000 in 2018 to 30,500 in the medium term will kill jobs and inflate further the cost of housing.
“This is dropping by 40%, which means thousands of people in construction are going to be unemployed,” Wilkinson said.
On Burke Mountain, which has seen sustained construction in recent years, and a growing demand for schools, the lack of money for a $73 million, 1,000-seat school is a concern.
“If it’s not in here, it’s not happening in the next three years,” Wilkinson said, pointing to the list of capital plan projects over $50 million laid out in “Making Life better, Budget 2019,” an NDP-government produced booklet dense with figures and estimates he brought as a discussion tool.
Among other concerns Wilkinson raised was the NDP’s revenue generation plan which would raise taxation revenue from $32.6 billion this year to $37 billion by 2021, with hikes to carbon taxes among other things.
Wilkinson said people are facing higher taxes and higher costs for car insurance at a time when the economy could be stalling.
“The idea is your income has to keep going up. If you’re going to have increased taxes to pay, I don’t know anybody whose income is going up but this is going up.”
The NDP government, meanwhile, lists a number of funding improvements that will help students, who won't have to pay interest on BC student loans, people with disabilities who will see a boost to their income assistance, continued spending on modular and other social housing and childcare initiatives, among other things.
But for Wilkinson, thrift is key, as he touched on the recent spending scandal in the legislature, which resulted in two senior officials placed on leave for allegedly misspending taxpayer’s money on trips, liquor, a wood splitter, clothes and trinkets.
Saying he had heard “rumors” when the Liberals were in power, it wasn’t until Speaker Darryl Plecas produced two reports that he learned of the details.
Since then, Wilkinson said, the BC Liberals have posted a 20-point plan that would restrict trips, require more open meetings, standardize reporting, implement compulsory retirement at age 75 for senior legislative officials, and restrict the purchase of liquor to BC products for ceremonial events.
“Yesterday we had a prime example of the three parties cooperating to get some sensible approach going with this whole controversy about legislative expenses, three party house leaders came together and said it’s time to get a retired judge to do the fact finding and coming up with regulations to deal with this whole thing,” Wilkinson said.
As for other financial concerns at ICBC and BC Hydro, Wilkinson said Attorney General David Eby should do more than “tinker” with the government-owned insurance company and look to other jurisdictions for cheaper models.
ICBC’s issues are not the BC Liberals' fault, he said, but resulted from a 30% increase in claims starting in 2017.
As for BC Hydro, Wilkinson said the Crown corporation is not in as bad a shape as was being projected because some of the financial constraints are the result of large capital projects, such as Site C, which are necessary.
Stay tuned for more from The Tri-City News when NDP Minister of Finance speaks at the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce on March 1 to discuss the highlights of the latest provincial budget.