British Columbia’s top income earners will face higher taxes under Finance Minister Carole James’s budget, which maintains an operational surplus just as the pace of the province’s economic growth begins to slow.
The province is forecasting economic growth of roughly 2 per cent in each of three consecutive years, starting in the year just ended, and is embarking on a record-breaking capital spending plan that will add billions to the provincial debt.
Business leaders warn that B.C.’s economic growth is already anemic, and key indicators are softening including retails sales, job growth and exports.
But Ms. James said Tuesday the top 1 per cent of income earners can afford to pay more to help those who are struggling. As well as the income-tax hike, postsecondary student grants and child benefits are being clawed back from higher-income families and redistributed to those of lesser means.
“We are building a better future grounded by an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” said Ms. James as she introduced her third consecutive balanced operating budget, which forecasts a slim surplus of $227-million after $60-billion in spending commitments.
The new top marginal tax rate rises to 20.5 per cent from 16.8 per cent, for those with a personal net income of more than $220,000. The change will generate an additional $216-million in revenue annually. The NDP raised the rate from 14.8 per cent in 2017.
Ms. James said for most income brackets, the province’s personal income tax rates are still competitive across the country.
“Today we’re asking the people at the top, the highest 1 per cent of individual income earners, to pay a little more and help B.C. provide families and communities with better services and stronger infrastructure.”
The minority government, led by the NDP with the support of the Greens, is not set to face an election until the fall of 2021. But if the government should fall before then, the New Democrats have laid out a stay-the-course spending plan.
While Ms. James spoke, rival demonstrations targeted her government. Logging trucks surrounded the legislature for a rally attended by hundreds calling for more government support for hard-hit forestry communities.
Those supporting protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline project targeted the home of Premier John Horgan. Police arrested three people for mischief after they banged on the door of his residence, stating they were going to make a citizen’s arrest.
The pipeline route has sparked national protests in solidarity with hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The pipeline is part of the $40-billion LNG Canada project, bringing B.C. gas to Kitimat, where it will be processed as liquefied natural gas for export.
Ms. James trumpeted the project in her speech, saying it will create 10,000 construction jobs and 950 permanent jobs.
Ms. James described the investments in infrastructure as both historic and sustainable, with $22.9-billion in spending over the next three years.
The government expects more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs to be created through the publicly funded construction of housing, schools, hospitals and transportation links, with an emphasis on clean, green projects that aim to reduce the province’s carbon footprint.
British Columbia remains one of the strongest provinces in the country for labour markets and economic growth, but growth has slowed, particularly for trade-exposed industries such as mining and forestry.
The Business Council of B.C. had urged the government to offer relief in this budget on the province’s rising carbon tax for energy-intensive industries that must compete with other jurisdictions where the tax rate is lower. Ms. James told reporters she is still working on tax relief.
“This budget will do little to encourage companies and entrepreneurs to invest and create jobs in B.C.,” said business council president Greg D’Avignon.
“We’re very disappointed,” Michael Goehring, president of the Mining Association of B.C., said in an interview. His sector pays a higher rate of the carbon tax than any other mines in Canada.
“The mining industry is at a crossroads in B.C.,” he said, “and we were hoping to see a solution in this budget.”
Laird Cronk, president of the BC Federation of Labour, applauded the fiscal plan. “I think it’s a balanced approach. You’ve got folks who can clearly afford to pay a little more, helping out with investing in infrastructure for the people of the province.”
Ms. James said the budget continues a shift in priorities promised by the NDP in the previous provincial election. “Budgets are about choices, we chose to invest in people,” she told reporters during the budget presentation.
That includes what she called “a transformational shift” in benefits for families with children.
The BC Child Opportunity Benefit begins this year. It replaces an existing benefit that provided tax-free payments to families with a net income of $100,000 or less, for each child under the age of 6. The new program offers higher benefits for more children – up to $1,600 annually for children up to the age of 17 – but the income threshold is lower, available to families earning $80,000 or less.
The government has also overhauled the system for postsecondary student grants.
Currently, student grants are provided based on completion of postsecondary programs, but is not means-tested. About 21,000 students are able to reclaim a portion of their fees. Roughly one-quarter of those students are attending programs at private institutions.
Under the new B.C. Access Grant, eligibility will be determined by financial need, private postsecondary programs will not be covered, but more publicly funded postsecondary programs will qualify. An estimated 40,000 students are expected to access the grants, which will now be paid up front.
One tax measure takes aim at unhealthy drinks: The provincial sales tax will now apply to sweetened carbonated beverages. Ms. James said the 7-per-cent tax on pop is a well-being initiative that has been recommended by public health advocates.
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