MLA Katrine Conroy is having difficulty digesting the provincial budget presented by the Liberal government Tuesday, as she said it does nothing for residents living in rural areas.
Though the province only introduced a “status-quo” budget until a new premier introduces a substantial budget in May, Conroy is not impressed with what she sees.
“It’s hard to find something to be pleased about,” she said from Victoria on Wednesday. “I’m trying to find some good news for people that live in our region, but I just don’t see that.”
The NDP MLA, who is the new seniors’ and long-term care critic, can’t help but take personally a budget that she feels further limits seniors.
“The 2011 budget brought in this week includes a six per cent increase to Medical Services Plan monthly premiums and this will be a real hardship for seniors,” she said. “There is also the added cost of increased fees for long-term care and the imposition of the HST and all of this makes it more difficult for seniors to make ends meet.”
She was disappointed that the budget doesn’t attempt to deal with the fact that for the past seven years, B.C. continues to have the highest rate for child poverty in the country, coupled with the lowest minimum wage in the country.
Conroy doesn’t see the logic in cutting $34 million in student-aid funding, adding that this will actually work against the province.
“This cut and lack of increased funding to post-secondary institutions makes no sense when we are in an economic slowdown,” she said. “We should be investing in training to ensure we help prepare the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow.”
She said a further stab at Kootenay West residents is a loss in funding for parks and conservation officers.
“We already have too few conservation officers in the Kootenays and we need increased funding for parks in B.C.,” she said, noting that the decision to pull money comes on the 100th anniversary of B.C. Parks.
While she has spent time lobbying government for reforestation, she was disappointed to learn that $21 million was cut from funding forest stewardships and tree planting.
Conroy acknowledged that the budget focuses on new spending on health care and social services but said there is not enough being ponied up to have a real impact.
“They put more money in health care and education, but it’s not enough to fulfil what we need,” she said.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen’s message that the B.C. government has improved in the last 10 years was astonishing, said Conroy, considering the large deficit the government still holds.
She said the new premier who is chosen by Liberal party members on Feb. 26 will have a lot of wiggle room with a budget that sets aside a $600-million contingency fund – the largest in B.C. history.
While most of the money is uncommitted, some has already been allocated, including $31 million set aside for the HST referendum on Sept. 24. But no specific plan has been developed should the HST be defeated in the coming referendum, she noted.
“This budget is a real disappointment,” said Conroy. “Instead of taking seriously the needs of the people of British Columbia, the B.C. Liberals continue to make choices that neglect our public lands and leave children and seniors behind.”