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Northern BC MLAs skeptical of upcoming provincial budget

"They are basically budgeting for the demise of our province."

Peace River North MLA Dan Davies and Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier appeared as a delegation during the Peace River Regional District's Feb. 8 board meeting, before the legislature resumes later this month. 

Fort St. John Coun. Tony Zabinsky asked the two MLAs how they feel about the increasing cost of living faced by local residents and citizens across BC, and steps to address it. 

"We're seeing more downloading coming on from the province, right? In regards to that. And again, we all pay for it, whether we pay it directly or indirectly, we get it," he said. 

Bernier said he shares those concerns, but noted there's differences between Northern and Southern BC. 

"They're talking about having to figure how to come up with $500,000 dollars for a down payment to get into a condo, that's their idea of affordability," he noted.

"Up here, it's dealing with the high taxes, the downloading that's coming from government, the resource revenue loss. I'm looking forward to seeing the budget, and I don't mean that to sound cynical, but the last budget that the NDP put out saw a decrease of a billion dollars in revenue coming to the province from resource extraction," he added, noting oil and gas, forestry, and mining are specifically targeted. 

"They are basically budgeting for the demise of our province," Bernier said. "And this is probably not the right venue to get too hyper-partisan, it's not probably respectful that way." 

He added that the Peace Region survives and thrives because of the resource sector, including agriculture, noting his fear is that rural British Columbia will be shut down in favour of urbanization. 

Davies said his party has criticisms of the Clean BC program announced by the province, referring to it as 'Cost BC'. 

"Literally, it is going to cost British Columbia," he said. 

"You're going to be looking at $11,000 dollars lost income per family on average, and it targets, as Mike is saying, the resource sector. That is what it mainly targets," Davies added. "And for the government to meet their goals, they have to be curtailing oil and gas, forestry, you name it, mining." 

BC United is also calling for the removal of the carbon tax on home heating, added Davies, noting he feels heat pumps aren't a reliable alternative outside of the Lower Mainland.

"This is something that BC can do. David Eby could do it today, if he wanted," said Davies. "And talk about making an impact, especially us up here in rural BC, is having, you know, the carbon tax that we pay on home heating." 

Davies added that he's also spoken to several local small businesses in Northeast BC, who've told him that they are on the verge of shutting down due to struggling with affordability. 

"They cannot afford to operate anymore. And it's not one thing, but it's death by a thousand things that have happened over the last few years," he noted. "Whether we're talking the additional holidays, the you know, huge exponential increases in the minimum wager over the last few years. You know, the sick days, the taxation on small business." 

"Anybody who even has their finger in small business is going to understand that. It is pretty hard to be a small business owner, sorry, a business owner, not even just a small business owner," added Davies. "And that trickle-down effect impacts people working and the whole affordability cost." 

The pair have also met also with the new CEO of Northern Health, Ciro Panessa, noted Bernier. Panessa was named CEO this past June. 

"I'm not sure if you've had the privilege yet as a board," said Bernier. "But we've had some really good dialogue there, because of course healthcare is a huge issue all throughout the entire Peace."

"So, we were pleased with some of the commentary we heard from them, but also reminded them that, you know, that Northern Health can sit there and say that they're doing all these great things, but if we're not seeing it or not talking about it, then it's actually not happening, so we need to do better at that," he added. 

The throne speech is scheduled for Feb. 20, which Davies says is a late start. A day of session is scheduled for Feb. 21, followed by delivery of the provincial budget on Feb. 22, and then another 12 days in session.  

"One of our big concerns that we've raised is that it doesn't give any time to debate the throne speech," said Davies. "In fact, when you lay it out there, by the time the lieutenant governor reads the throne speech, you get the official opposition, one person in, then you've got the Green Party, you've got the Conservative Party, that's pretty much it." 

"So there is no debate, or very little debate that's going to be done on the throne speech," he added, noting the spring session has also been cut two weeks short. 

Bernier noted that there is no fall session, as the province in an election year, making it the only scheduled session of the year. 

"This will be the only session of the year. There will not be an opportunity for a fall session, unless there's an emergency summer one, if something happens in the province," Bernier said. 

"For the elected officials around here, I think, you know, this will be the only opportunity if there's issues that government can help with, that we can help with locally, while we're in session, this will be our chance," he added. 

PRRD Chair Brad Sperling said their biggest challenge is a lack of consultation from the province over legislation, asking Bernier and Davies to push back on their behalf. 

"The way they are operating right now, this government or I'm sorry, even in the past, there was a lot of lack of consultation. It puts us in between our residents and the province, and that's not local government's job," he said. "We're there to do the best we can for our residents."