The highest public participation in a decade helped shape the annual provincial budget consultation report. (B.C. government graphic)

Langley MLA part of budget consultation

Despite COVID-19, budget consultations saw highest public participation rate in a decade

MLAs from all political stripes have created a list of 124 recommendations as part of their work in the B.C. Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.

They have been assessing public input on the next provincial budget. The committee includes Langley East MLA Rich Coleman as part of the seven MLA group.

Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith chairs the committee that held consultations throughout June. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all public hearings were conducted by video and teleconference.

Despite the pandemic, public interest was high in this year’s consultations.

“This year, we saw the highest level of participation in nearly 10 years, with British Columbians describing how the COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in supports and services and impacted groups differently,” said D’Eith. “The committee recognizes that the next budget is an opportunity to address these gaps and inequities and to continue to make progress on reconciliation, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.”

The committee heard 281 presentations, received 1,362 written and video submissions and 3,625 responses to an online survey, which was based on questions in the Budget 2021 consultation paper released by the Minister of Finance on June 1, 2020.

“The committee would like to thank all British Columbians who brought forward their views on the challenges and opportunities facing the province as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on all of us,” D’Eith said.

The consultation report covers all key sectors of society.

“Another central theme that shaped the report is digital connectivity,” added Doug Clovechok, Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA and deput chair. “Committee members heard about the need to address significant gaps with access and affordability as the pandemic accelerated the shift to a digital environment.”

People can read the full report online.

Executive Summary:

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services (the “Committee”) is mandated by the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia to conduct an annual budget consultation. This year’s consultation was held in June with the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic very much front of mind. By the closing date of June 26, the Committee heard 281 presentations, received 1,362 written and video submissions, and received 3,625 responses to an online survey – the highest level of participation in

nearly 10 years. British Columbians shared how the pandemic affected their families, their work, and their communities, and the need for supports in the coming weeks, months, and years.

This report summarizes the results of the consultation, including input shared by British Columbians and the Committee’s 124 recommendations for Budget 2021. The report begins with a discussion on equity and inclusion in recognition of how this theme was highlighted across many sectors and policy areas, particularly with respect to the pandemic. Themes thereafter are presented alphabetically; the numbering of recommendations does not indicate priority.

Committee Members recognize that the upcoming budget presents a critical opportunity to address inequities and make significant progress on reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, and accessibility. They recommend sufficient resources to continue work on implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. They also recommend ensuring ministries adopt a diversity and inclusion lens and recognize systemic barriers to address the disproportionate

impacts of the pandemic, and providing programs and supports for equity-seeking groups who face systemic barriers, as well as strengthening public construction policies to require new public construction projects to meaningfully meet accessibility best practices and standards.

Inequities related to digital infrastructure are another key issue. As British Columbians shifted to an online environment, the pandemic exposed gaps and barriers related to broadband access and affordability of internet services, especially in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. The Committee acknowledges how essential digital connectivity is to individual, social, and economic resiliency, especially in the current environment, and recommends accelerating investments in extending and strengthening digital infrastructure, including addressing challenges related to affordability.

Committee Members also highlight the need to provide urgent recovery funding and multi-year stabilization to several sectors. They recommend health and social services not-for-profit and charitable organizations be provided with emergency support, as well as providing incentives to British Columbians to donate, in acknowledgement of the essential services they provide to British Columbians. For the tourism sector, the Committee emphasizes the importance of supports being accessible and flexible, and notes opportunities to invest in infrastructure, destination development, and marketing, as well as incent British Columbians to

be visitors in their own province. The Committee also recommends targeted, multi-year recovery, along with donation incentives, tax breaks and infrastructure investments, for the arts and culture sector which has experienced significant challenges.

With respect to broader COVID-19 related recovery, the Committee recommends continuing to work with the federal government on federal and provincial programs and measures to support British Columbians as well as transitioning emergency funding to provide targeted recovery and financial relief based on need.

Committee Members also recognize financial challenges related to the pandemic and vulnerabilities in the financing structure for local governments and recommend municipal finance reform. The importance of embedding economic reconciliation in recovery is also highlighted. They additionally identify opportunities to temporarily adjust the employer health tax with a view to supporting businesses during the pandemic.

The Committee recommends BC’s budgetary and taxation framework be prudent and responsive, support competitiveness, and proactively incorporate an equity lens, to address short- and long-term challenges.

Investments in a variety of public infrastructure projects is also supported. Other areas of interest related to fiscal and regulatory policy include co-operatives, prompt payment legislation, luxury tax thresholds, property tax structure, and provincial sales tax (PST) non-compliance. Committee Members also support extending the ability of restaurants, bars, and tourism operators to purchase liquor at wholesale prices.

As it relates to advanced education, the Committee recognizes financial pressures facing post-secondary institutions as a result of the pandemic and recommends exploring mechanisms to provide short-term financial flexibility. Committee Members also see opportunities to make increased investments in the sector to facilitate economic recovery, including by expanding seats, providing flexible reskilling and upskilling opportunities, providing supports for the online delivery of courses, addressing direct and indirect financial barriers to education, and providing additional funding and resources for community literacy and adult education. They additionally recommend supporting post-secondary institutions with advancing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Other recommendations relate to capital funding, an international student post-secondary education strategy, and the BC Graduate Scholarship.

In addition to recovery funding for the arts and culture sector, Committee Members make recommendations to increase funding for Creative BC and Amplify BC. Maintaining existing film and production tax credits and renewing the book publishing tax is also supported. As well, the Committee recommends exploring measures, such as hiring tax credits, to address inequities and barriers for underrepresented groups. Libraries are another area of interest with recommendations to provide sustainable and reliable increases in funding and to promote reconciliation programs in libraries.

Food security and production emerged as keys area for action with respect to agriculture. Committee Members recommend supporting local food production, processing and distribution hubs, as well as implementing policies that support agricultural productivity and regional production. The Committee also highlights the importance of investing in infrastructure and innovation and reviewing risk management supports to help farmers and ranchers manage and adapt to crises. Other recommendations relate to investments in processing facilities and capacity, a multi-year extension to the Tree Fruit Replant program, and investments in the protection of domestic animals, livestock, and wildlife.

The Committee also makes several recommendations with respect to other natural resources, including encouraging adaptation and innovation and exploring market and product diversification in the forestry sector. With respect to mining, Committee Members recommend examining enhancements to the mining exploration and the mining flow-through share tax credits. Increased funding for the British Columbia Geological Survey and Geoscience BC is also supported. Additional areas for investment with respect to economic development include supporting BC’s aerospace industry and regional airports, supporting growth and innovation in science and technology, improving recruitment, training and retraining of a skilled workforce, and supporting rural development with funding to community organizations.

As it relates to the environment, Committee Members note opportunities to invest in climate change adaptation and resilience to ensure a sustainable recovery. They support continued investments in CleanBC and clean energy solutions, including reducing vehicle emissions and adopting a climate lens for all infrastructure spending. The Committee also recommends expanding and enhancing energy retrofit programs and working towards electrification in collaboration with industry. Other areas of interest include: funding for fish and wildlife conservation, management, and data collection; invasive species education, prevention, monitoring, response, and enforcement; water sustainability; and biodiversity. Committee Members additionally recommend increased funding for BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC.

The importance of expanding and accelerating digital health infrastructure to improve access to health care is highlighted with Committee Members noting the increased use of and need for digital health solutions during the pandemic. Long-term care, and how the pandemic exposed significant gaps, is another point of focus. The Committee recommends sustaining investments in this regard, particularly with respect to staffing and care standards, as well as investing in home supports. Committee Members also favour continued investments in a continuum of mental health and addiction services, and team-based primary care models.

Other recommendations in health care relate to supports and services for British Columbians with chronic and complex diseases, dental care, health human resources, pharmacare, health research, reproductive health, maternal care, wellness, and surgical capacity. The Committee additionally highlights opportunities to improve decision-making and service provision for health care delivery in rural and remote communities.

With respect to housing, Committee Members recommend accelerating the building of a continuum of supportive and affordable housing across the province, as well as working with the federal government on housing for Indigenous peoples. The Committee also recommends working with local governments to streamline the development approval process to address delays and accelerate housing supply. Reviewing the property transfer tax thresholds to reflect current housing prices is another area of interest.

Ensuring the safety of students and staff in K-12 education, as well as ensuring families and students have access to technology for remote learning, is highlighted by Committee Members. They also recommend fully funding the new curriculum and providing a broad suite of programs to support all students. The Committee expresses support for developing new curriculums that recognize diversity and systemic racism, along with corresponding training and resources for staff and school administrators. Other areas for increased investment in K-12 education include funding for students with special needs and mental health supports.

Committee Members additionally recommend encouraging coordination and collaboration between school districts, community partners, parents, caregivers, and volunteers to support the development of school food programs.

The Committee makes several recommendations with respect to public safety and justice, including increasing investments in legal aid services, community restorative justice programs, and digital transformation of court services. Committee Members also recommend specific investments in Indigenous justice programs and services, including ensuring a distinction-based approach for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. They again emphasize the need to invest in prevention, mitigation, adaptation, response, and recovery for wildfire, flood, and climate-related natural disasters. The importance of creating a comprehensive, distinction-based

emergency response, as well as funding for prevention, intervention, and recovery programs for people facing gender-based violence is also highlighted. The Committee additionally makes recommendations related to child and youth advocacy centres, and programs and services for individual who engage in sex work. Other areas of interest include correctional services and ground disturbance.

Child care is a key focus in social services as the Committee recognizes its importance for economic recovery and enabling parents and caregivers, especially women, to return to work. Committee Members also recommend funding to reduce wait times and improve access to assessments, therapies, programs, and supports for children and youth with special needs and their families. Youth is another point of focus with the Committee recommending improvements in supports for youth aging out of care as well as wrap-around programs and services for vulnerable youth. Committee Members also support developing a comprehensive, outcome-focused social policy framework and continuing to fund and support the provincial poverty reduction strategy along with reviewing the framework for income and disability assistance to ensure equitability and appropriate consideration of individual circumstances. Other recommendations relate to increased funding to Community Living BC, and investment in a comprehensive program for assistive devices and medical equipment for people with disabilities.

With respect to transportation and transit, Committee Members recommend increasing and expanding HandyDART services as well as fully funding the provincial active transportation strategy, noting the increased use of active transportation during the pandemic. They also support strengthening funding models and addressing transit gaps in rural and remote communities, and accelerating the deployment of electric buses, as well as working with local governments and transit authorities to explore new pricing mechanisms to help make public transit more accessible for youth and low-income families.

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