You will get no argument from me or anyone on this side of the House about the importance of balanced budgets. I rise to speak to the motion, although I will decline to join in the praise for the Minister of Finance, who, I believe, has made the classic mistake of focusing solely on the goal of a balanced budget instead of the very important questions to British Columbia about how we achieve that.
We’ve achieved that in a number of ways that have hurt British Columbians and hurt British Columbia. We have seen fees for Medical Services Plan premiums rise significantly for families across B.C. This affects very clearly what those families are able to do with their own money, what they are able to do to support their own children in their own growth. We’ve seen, year after year, this government balancing the budget by taking dividends from a Crown corporation, B.C. Hydro, while piling debt into deferral accounts. The end result of that is devastating for households and businesses both. We are seeing, over the next five years, a 28 percent increase in hydro rates. That’s on top of a 50 percent rise in the 12 years since 2001.
Ferries. We’ve heard much from the Minister of Transportation over session after session about how important it is to get B.C. Ferries’s house in order. Since ’03, we’ve seen a 45 percent increase in fares on the major routes, 85 percent on the minor routes. That’s had a devastating effect to local economies, whether it’s on Vancouver Island, whether it’s on the Gulf Islands, but it is a real and negative impact on economic growth in British Columbia, particularly in small communities, and it’s not acceptable.
What else has happened in this budget year? We have seen a $230 million tax cut for the richest 2 percent of British Columbians, money that could’ve and should’ve been spent in the context of a balanced budget on any number of services that not only benefit British Columbians; they benefit the economy. Even as we speak, and for the last couple of weeks, the Finance Committee has heard from group after group and individual after individual across this province speaking about the need for more money in the K-to-12 education system if we want the children of today to have an equal opportunity for a bright economic future.
We’ve heard the same thing about post-secondary education. When students graduate with over $30,000 in debt, if indeed they can afford to make the choice to continue in their studies, it puts them deep, deep into a hole. It makes them make bad decisions for their future, because they have no choice when faced with the option of: “Do I go to work now, or do I continue to amass debt?” That’s why we have a lower completion rate than we should have in post-secondary.
Whether it’s seniors care; housing; child care; cuts to adult basic education, which is so important to helping people who didn’t complete high school or immigrants taking their place in this economy; whether it’s stable funding for literacy…. Literacy, hon. Speaker, has a direct impact on the future expenditures of any government in British Columbia on social services and a negative impact on productivity and the economy, as well as ending up with many people losing their jobs because they don’t have the basic skills that come with literacy. Literacy groups in British Columbia have sought, year after year, stable funding, and they have not got it.
Let me simply close by pointing out what every British Columbian has observed over the last months and years: the continuing crisis in the Ministry of Children and Family Development. There are not the resources that people in the ministry need in order to keep track of what’s happening to children in British Columbia, and someone with no less background in finance than the former Finance Minister for the Liberal Party, Colin Hansen, stated just this morning on radio that he believed the Ministry of Children and Family Development was underfunded and needed more money.
Hon. Speaker, yes, we’ll balance the budget, but we’ll make better choices about how we do it, choices that this government should have been making over the last years.