B.C. election budget boosts family benefits as deficit soars to $7.9 B

VICTORIA — British Columbia families and small business operators are expected to benefit from an election−year budget that boosts spending while forecasting a ballooning deficit of more than $7.9 billion and economic growth of less than one per cent.

The budget also includes a home flipping tax to deter real estate speculators, as well as a commitment to provide one cycle of free invitro fertilization to anyone who wants to start a family, Finance Minister Katrine Conroy said Thursday.

B.C. is an economic leader in Canada but a slowing economy and increasing housing and grocery costs mean people needed help, she said.

"At the end of the day, people have a lot on their minds right now and they’re feeling stretched," Conroy said in her budget speech to the Legislature.

She said the New Democrat government would not resort to making cuts.

"This would only weaken the services we all rely on and drive up costs with added fees and fares," Conroy said. "It would leave people at risk to those who take unfair advantage by putting profits ahead of people."

The budget includes a one−year boost to the B.C. Family Benefit, giving eligible low− and middle−income families an extra $445 over a year on average, as well as a one−time electricity credit that will save households an average $100, she said.

The electricity credits will appear on customer bills starting in April and run to March 2025, Conroy said.

She said the budget includes an increase to the payroll threshold for B.C.’s Employer Health Tax, meaning an estimated 90 per cent of businesses will now be exempt.

Small businesses across the province had been lobbying the government to raise the threshold to $1 million from $500,000, and that will be implemented.

"Our number−one ask was to see an increase in the Employer Health Tax threshold," said Bridgette Anderson, Vancouver Board of Trade executive director.

"But we are concerned about the debt and deficit increasing substantially. The deficit is concerning and the debt is looking at a 65 per cent increase."

Conroy said the home flipping tax, to be introduced this spring, will fund the construction of housing for middle−income earners.

"To those who just want to make a quick buck by flipping homes, things are about to get more difficult," she said. "If a home is sold within two years of purchase, the profit will be taxed."

Conroy also said everyone in B.C. who wants to have a child should have the opportunity to do so.

The budget includes a program to fund one cycle of free invitro fertilization to anyone who wants to start a family.

"No one should be denied the opportunity to have a child because of how much money they make, who they love and whether they have a partner," she said at a news conference prior to tabling the budget. "I know this will be welcome news to people who want to start a family."

Conroy choked up as she talked about her own family when announcing the IVF program. "Darn menopause, sorry," she said, to laughter in the legislature.

Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec already have similar programs, she said.

The budget forecasts slowing economic growth of 0.8 per cent this year, followed by growth of 2.3 per cent in 2025.

B.C.’s debt is forecast to increase to $123 billion this year, up from $103.7 billion.

B.C. voters are set to go the polls in October.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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