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BC budget predicts deficits for at least two more years

“The pandemic will end, but our work to provide a better future will not,” said Selina Robinson.

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The John Horgan BC government has projected a nearly $10 billion deficit this year, and is also expecting deficits over the next two years.

Selina Robinson, finance minister for the province, said the province’s NDP government is projecting a $9.7 billion deficit in this year’s $69 billion budget as BC tries to recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The pandemic will end, but our work to provide a better future will not,” said Robinson.

“Budget 2021 gives us the tools we need to build a bridge to the better days ahead, and I look forward to crossing it together.”

There were no new substantial spending announcements — the province made most of its commitments through the 2020 economic recovery plan. 

The commitments include: free transit for kids under12; a $175/month increase to low income and disability assistance, and 50 extra bucks a month to the seniors’ supplement; $2 billion in a low-interest loan program for builders of affordable housing.  

The province also promised to pony up $120 million to support tourism recovery; everything from major attractions to community destination development grants. 

There is also more than $3 billion that will be allocated for pandemic and recovery contingencies for necessary programs as they come about related to the pandemic.

“Many people are still feeling the effects of the pandemic — and they will for a long time,” Robinson said. “There is no doubt that COVID-19 is still very much with us.”

The latest forecast projects a deficit of $8.1 billion for the previous fiscal years down from a last year’s projection the deficit could be as high as $13.6 billion.

In her presentation, Robinson noted that in April last year BC’s retail sector saw the largest monthly decline on record, yet the recovery was swift and by January sales rose more than 15% higher than the previous year.

As well, the province’s housing market stayed strong despite the pandemic, with monthly home sales reaching record levels in 2020.

However, Robinson warned B.C.’s economic recovery is expected to be troubled across various sectors.

“Our recovery won’t happen overnight, but by choosing to invest in people and building the collective resilience of our province, we will keep moving forward together,” she said.

Meanwhile, the province’s has $3.25 billion in pandemic and recovery contingencies for the the coming year, including nearly $1 billion in reserve, money ear-marked for health-related COVID-19 management, such as vaccine distribution, testing, contact tracing and screening for COVID-19 at long-term care facilities.

“For many B.C. seniors, staying safe meant saying goodbye to visits with family members, hugs from grandchildren, or just a trip to the post office or grocery store. And it has been an incredibly difficult and lonely year for so many parents and grandparents,” Robinson said.

Another large chunk of cash is also pandemic-related and includes more than $1billion to support workers and affected businesses, $200 million to prepare for economic recovery and $1.1 billion in reserve to support urgent health or recovery tactics.

The province is also re-investing in health care. Those steps include: $585 million to train and hire as many as 3,000 health-care workers, $45 million to address systemic racism against First Nations folks in the health-care system and $500 million over three years in funding for mental health

The province will also invest an additional $233 million over the next three years in Childcare BC.

Additionally, the province is doling out raises for roughly 11,000 early childhood educators (ECE) across B.C. It’s a bump that will see average ECE wages climb to almost 25 bucks an hour .

Not long after the budget was announced, the Canadian Tax Payers Federation (CTF ) called on the BC government to rein in post-pandemic spending to avoid spiraling debt levels.

“While it’s good to see the budget deficit much less than most were projecting, the government is increasing the province’s debt by 45% within the next four years and we can’t afford to keep spending like this,” said Kris Sims, CTF’s B.C. director.

“The government cannot get hooked on emergency spending when there’s no emergency years from now,” she said.

“If you blow a tire on the Coquihalla Highway, that’s an emergency and it will cost a lot of money to call a tow truck, but you don’t keep calling a tow truck every weekend. Why are we planning on doing that with our provincial spending?”

The provincial debt could be as high as $127 billion in 2023-24, which represents an increase of 45%.

“We are burdening our children and grandchildren with these increased costs,” said Sims.

“It’s wrong for the adults in the room to stick the future generations with these bills.”

Our kids may be stuck with the current bill, but will get a break this fall when children 12 and under can ride transit free of charge.

The advent of COVID-19, and its myriad of variants, is the chief culprit behind the province’s open wallet, the finance minister said.

“We are in a pandemic, and there’s been extraordinary spending as a result of the pandemic,” admitted Robinson

“There are challenges ahead, but I’m confident by drawing on our shared resilience we will get through these challenges together.”

Mike D’Amour is the British Columbia Bureau Chief for the Western Standard.
mdamour@westernstandardonline.com

Mike D'Amour is the British Columbia Bureau Chief and Copy Editor for the Western Standard. He worked as an investigative crime reporter at the Calgary & Winnipeg Suns. mdamour@westernstandardonline.com

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Third pastor arrested in Alberta for breaking COVID lockdowns

Pastor Tim Stephens, of the Fairview Baptist Church, was arrested by city police on Sunday afternoon.

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A Calgary baptist preacher has become the third religious leader arrested in Alberta for breaking COVID-19 regulations over church attendance.

Pastor Tim Stephens, of the Fairview Baptist Church, was arrested by city police on Sunday afternoon. He had been the subject of repeated warnings from Alberta Health Services for having too many people at his services.

Earlier this month, on the church’s website, Stephens vowed to contiue services.

“Our actions are borne out of theological commitments to the Lordship of Christ and his instruction to the church as revealed in Scripture,” wrote Stephens.

“This, above all, is the reason why we have been gathering and will continue to gather … the consequences may be severe. But we stand before Christ rather than bend before consequences.”

Pastor James Coates, of the GraceLife Church, outside Edmonton, spent a month in jail after he was arrested by the RCMP for breaking lockdown regulations repeatedly. His case is still before the courts.

Last week, Pastor Art Pawlowski was arrested in Calgary for continuing to flout the regulations at his street chruch.

Calgary police at the AHS issued a joint statement saying Stephens was “arrested this afternoon for organizing a church service that was held today at Fairview Baptist Church, located at 230 78 Ave. S.E., that did not comply with public health orders, including masking, physical distancing and attendance limits. Police did not enter the church during today’s service.

“CPS has received repeated calls from concerned citizens regarding church services held at Fairview Baptist Church over the past several weeks. Last weekend, Pastor Stephens was proactively served a copy of the Court of Queen’s Bench Order obtained by AHS,” the statement said.

“The pastor acknowledged the injunction, but chose to move forward with today’s service, ignoring requirements for social distancing, mask-wearing and reduced capacity limits for attendees.

“For several weeks, AHS has attempted to work collaboratively with leadership at Fairview Baptist Church to address the ongoing public health concerns at the site. It is only when significant risk is identified or continued non-compliance is noted that AHS resorts to enforcement action.

“Once again, CPS acknowledges it is important to understand that law enforcement recognizes people’s desire to participate in faith-based gatherings as well as the right to protest. However, as we are still in a global pandemic, we all must comply with public health orders in order to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing.”

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

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LETTER: Hypocrisy in high school rodeo approval

I see the hypocrisy Premier Kenney, can you?

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RE: Hinshaw grants approval for high school rodeos

Dr. Hinshaw approved school rodeos after Premier Kenney thought the rodeo near Bowden was a bad idea. It’s the mixed messaging these two are giving that is making me mad. A lockdown with very minimum exemptions is what I thought Hinshaw wanted, but apparently not. A school rodeo can bloody well wait until after the lockdown is completed!! Let up on the Whistle Stop Cafe then, Dr. Hinshaw. What a bully.

It’s a real kick by Hinshaw, at the Whistle Stop Cafe owner. With his cafe now in chains, while Dr. Hinshaw gives out approvals during this so-called circuit breaker lockdown.

I see the hypocrisy Premier Kenney, can you?

Steven Ruthven
Calgary, AB

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Opposition calls for crackdown on animal activists

A proposed private members bill, C-205, would amend the Health of Animals Act to punish trespassers on farms with a maximum $250,000 fine and/or a maximum two-year prison sentence.

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By EMMA GREGORY

A coalition of federal Conservatives, NDP and Bloc MPs want to increase punishment for animal rights activists trespassing on farms, because they might make the animals sick.

A proposed private members bill, C-205, would amend the Health of Animals Act to punish trespassers on farms with a maximum $250,000 fine and/or a maximum two-year prison sentence.

Chief Veterinary Officer for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said there are no proven instances of an animal rights activists spreading a disease to animals while protesting at a farm.

“To our knowledge, there are not many documented cases from trespassing or from people having demonstrations. The one that I heard is the one in Quebec, but I’m not actually sure if there is evidence of transmission from the activists to the pigs. So in the scientific literature, we have not seen much evidence of transmission of disease from these activities,” said Dr. Jaspinder Komal, to the agriculture committee earlier this month.

The one instance Komal mentioned was an allegation made by Porgreg, a pig breeding facility in Saint Hyacinthe, Que.

The activists involved in that protest, members of the group Direct Action Everywhere, are charged under the Criminal Code with breaking and entering and mischief. Whether or not they gave pigs rotavirus is a matter before the court.

Rotaviruses are common amongst pig herds and typically are transmitted from pig to pig, via the fecal-oral route.

If a human were to spread a novel rotavirus to a pig it would be in a similar fashion.

When asked if she or any of her associates pooped in the barn, activist Jenny McQueen said, “No.”

Komal said the CFIA does not police activists.

“The CFIA enforces the Health of Animals Act and regulations which address disease and biological, chemical, physical agents that may affect animals or be transmitted to persons and in the same way to protect animals from these risks…CFIA inspectors are public officers they are not peace officers… In contrast, peace officers are generally police officers, their powers include the ability to detain or arrest individuals. Peace officers may also be armed where public officers such as inspectors are not,” he said.

There are several new provincial laws that seek to lay blame for disease outbreaks in farmed animals on activists.

The Canadian Biosecurity Guideline lists an intentional act of contaminating animals with a disease is considered a possible threat of bioterrorism.

Gregory is a Vancouver-based freelance reporter

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