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Chamber director has concerns over B.C. budget

Scott Wheatley says he’s apprehensive about the projected $7.9 billion deficit
Scott Wheatley works in his office in Cloverdale in 2022. Wheatley, the executive director of the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce, said he has concerns about the NDP’s 2024 B.C. budget. (Photo: Malin Jordan)

Scott Wheatley says he has concerns about the NDP’s recent 2024 B.C. budget.

Wheatley, the executive director of the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce, said while there are some favourable things about the budget, tabled Feb. 22, he’s also deeply concerned.

“The Chamber welcomes the increase in the threshold for the Employers Health tax to $1,000,000 from $500,000,” Wheatley told the Cloverdale Reporter. “This should be a welcome relief to our local small- to medium-sized businesses.”

He added he has a lot of apprehension that the deficit is increasing to nearly $8 billion—an historic and record-breaking number.

“We are concerned, as we inch toward a period of economic challenges, that the deficit will increase to $7.911 billion,” he noted.

Wheatley urged the government to keep workers in mind as some of the bigger construction projects around the province wrap up.

“As B.C.’s major projects are winding down—LNG, Site C, pipeline twinning—the government needs to allocate resources to keep the thousands of high-paying trades people working to continue to build B.C. infrastructure.”

Wheatley also said the allocation of $198 million towards the “B.C. Builds” program was a good idea as housing is a “critical part” of B.C.’s future.

And he welcomed the B.C. Electricity Affordability Credit.

“Budget 2024 also provides a modest one-time (electricity credit) that will reduce electricity costs for commercial and industrial users that will be helpful for businesses of all sizes.”

SEE ALSO: B.C. runs record deficit of almost $8B, focuses on temporary relief

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke slammed the budget. She said the provincial government’s 2024 budget fell short of fulfilling any immediate needs in Surrey and that it “really lacks any good news for Surrey” and that it was “surprisingly disappointing” overall.

“It sure isn’t going to alleviate any of the problems we have right now, with health care,” she told Black Press Media. “There was a hope there would be some significant investment in schools in Surrey and there certainly isn’t.”

She also hoped there’d be “significant investment” in Surrey Memorial Hospital, but there wasn’t.

“The minister actually said that there would be another tower for SMH, it’s nowhere in the budget, nowhere that I saw in the budget,” she continued. “And then the other thing is the affordability issue, which is of a very big concern to me, was TransLink and TransLink mayors had asked for additional funding to support transit in B.C., or transit in Metro and there is nothing in TransLink that I can see.”

In a statement to media she acknowledged and welcomed funding allocated for the new Cloverdale hospital and the SkyTrain extension to Langley, but noted those projects will not be completed for at least another four years (six at least for the new hospital).

“Unfortunately, the NDP government has, once again, failed to understand the current critical infrastructure needs of Surrey,” Locke said. “This new budget offers no immediate relief to the challenges Surrey faces in health care, schools and transit.”

She noted while Surrey waits for funding for Surrey Memorial Hospital, patients will continue to be “housed in hallways” and doctors, nurses and staff will continue to work in “stressful” conditions.

“Despite having a similar population to Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital will have to make do with less than half of the operating rooms available at Vancouver General Hospital,” she added. “One new elementary school will not make a dent in reducing the hundreds of portables at our already overcrowded public schools. No new transit funding for the Metro region means there will be no relief for our overcrowded roads, and buses in Surrey will continue to run beyond capacity. It also means that many areas in Surrey will remain without basic bus service.”

She said access to public transit is an essential component to achieving affordability and meeting the demand of the new housing targets set by the premier.

“Surrey is doing its part to build more affordable housing, but there needs to be critical infrastructure in place to support the growth,” she continued. “Sadly, this provincial government continues to rely on the generosity of the good people of Surrey’s fundraising efforts to help fund major projects, while neglecting the immediate needs of Surrey.”

SEE ALSO: Surrey mayor slams B.C. budget

SEE ALSO: Opposition parties slam NDP’s 2024 provincial budget

Opposition parties also denounced the NDP’s pre-election budget.

Leader of the Official Opposition Kevin Falcon said Thursday’s budget was the worst “example of reckless spending” that he has ever seen in a government budget, accusing the government of “juicing” the numbers.

Falcon called it an “inflationary budget” that will first eat up any of the promised relief, then drive up costs.

“We get the most money being spent coupled with the worst results, we have ever seen,” he said, pointing to long waits at clinics, public safety issues and the opioid crisis.

BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the budget maintains the status quo without addressing the conditions that would allow British Columbians to flourish, such as a better health care and education system.

“I can propose a slogan for the BC-NDP re-election campaign: ‘Vote for Us. We promised to keep things exactly the same.’”

Conservative Party of BC John Rustad said the budget creates a financial burden for future generations without solving pressing problems.

“What I saw today is a budget that is quite frankly bankrupting the people of the future.”

—with files from Tom Zytark and Wolf Depner.

Malin Jordan

About the Author: Malin Jordan

Malin is the editor of the Cloverdale Reporter.
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