Kamloops & District Chamber of Commerce News

Meeting Summary- BC Post Budget Virtual Townhall with the Honorable Selina Robinson, MLA Minister of Finance

The Kamloops & District Chamber of Commerce was pleased to host Minister Robinson, BC’s Minister of Finance, for a townhall discussion regarding Budget 2022.

Minister Robinson started off the meeting with a high level review of the conditions our economy experienced over the last few months.  She stated that recovery remains uneven across sectors, with the emergence of Delta COVID variant, the November floods and landslides, weaker than anticipated growth among our trading partners, a volatile housing market, and 2 continuing health crises (with our poisoned drug supply as well as COVID).

She indicated this budgets commitments to  health care, childcare, capital infrastructure, reconciliation, affordable housing, fighting climate change, climate preparedness, a stronger economy, more skilled workers, and connecting BC. The budget is also focused on meaningful reconciliation, including a partnership with the First Nations Health Authority, Aboriginal Head Start Program, the appointment of a Declaration Act Secretariat, and supporting a strong, healthy environment. The provincial government is also focused on accelerating growth in BC’s housing supply, presenting $1.3 billion in ongoing investments for the development of affordable homes, and is committed to building infrastructure,with a $27.4 billion investment over 3 years.

In terms of supporting BC Business, the government is offering $25 million to support the tourism sector, $30 million to support non-profits, $67 million for skills training and job training initiatives, and is providing investments through the economic plan to help meet the need for skilled labour.

As far as promoting a stronger environment, the government is proposing $1.5 billion dollars in response to flooding and rebuilding, $243 million to help BC Wildfire emergency management, $83 million for climate preparedness and adaptation, and $210 million for community preparedness, wildfire prevention, and indigenous-led emergency management.

Kamloops was also specifically mentioned in a few budget items. On the housing front, the government is supporting 1297 new homes in development, including 149 affordable rental homes for seniors, and 39 supportive homes in development at the Tranquille Road “Katherine’s Place”.  The government is also providing $34.8 million to assist with the rebuilding of Parkcrest Elementary school, and $32.7 million for an expansion to Valleyview Secondary, which will support 525 students. In the healthcare sector, a new patient tower at Royal Inland Hospital is being built, and preliminary planning is occurring for a new Kamloops Cancer Care centre.

The Kamloops & District Chamber of Commerce asked the following questions to Minister Robinson regarding the budget:

“What is the government’s overarching plan to ensure accountability in the delivery of the budget, and how are the local Chambers of Commerce involved?”

Business communities were consulted on the budget and issues that are important to them, including the areas of access to labour, investing in post-secondary, responding to a growing desire to pivot career choices based on a changing economy, and building in flexibility to adapt planning to changing economic needs. Accountability in terms of the budget will in large part, rely on the continuation of these open dialogues with the business community.

“Budget 2022 has a lot of commitments to additional funding to targeted areas,- how will you endeavour to get the budget back to balance?

The government is working on reducing the deficit over time, while keeping in mind that right now it is crucial that the government invest in keeping people safe, healthy, and supported, as people drive the economy. In addition, the budget has been built with a significant pandemic and recovery contingency that will return to the bottom line if not used, and a significant forecast allowance. These contingencies allow for the changing global landscape we find ourselves in where flexibility and adaptability are needed.

“How does the budget for 2022 deal with issues facing timely access to healthcare?”

Timely access to healthcare is linked to a historical neglect of the healthcare system that hasn’t kept up with a growing province. In addition, the federal government’s financial commitment to healthcare has been waning, and is currently sharing only about 22% of costs with the provincial government. The provincial government will be asking the federal government for a 35% cost share as these numbers have not kept up with inflation. Despite that, around 7 hospitals are currently being built around the province, and the provincial government is looking into delivering primary healthcare differently, such as the ”team-based” approach, where a patient might be seen by a Nurse Practitioner if their healthcare needs don’t strictly require a Doctor, leaving doctors free to concentrate on the people that do need the doctor.

In addition to the above question, a concern was raised about the availability of operations required by those new facilities, and whether there is enough funding and labour to operate them.

“Is the government looking into funding for alternative justice systems to address the criminalization of homelessness, an issue only compounded by COVID?”

The government has rolled out alternative justice programs, but are waiting to see the outcomes of those areas to ensure they are being delivered appropriately before making larger investments. Complex care is built into the budget, with projects being announced now to partially address the criminalization of poverty, and they have invested in Youth aging out of the foster care system, providing supports until an individual reaches 27 to try and prevent homelessness in youth populations.

There were multiple concerns raised about the current 2022 budget Tax listed on combustible systems and how it will impact local businesses. Though the Minister was unable to address all questions live, all issues raised were given to her office for review including a letter written by one of our members on the impact of the fossil fuel combustion systems tax.

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The Kamloops Chamber of Commerce is situated on the traditional and unceded lands of the Tk'emlups Te Secwepemc within Secwepemc'ulucw, the traditional territory of the Secwepemc people. We are honored to live and work and play on this land and acknowledge the complicated history and humbly move forward in a spirit of collaboration and gratitude.