B.C. budget needs to address poverty, justice

The spring sitting of the Legislature is now underway, and the 2012 budget will be tabled this week.

The spring sitting of the Legislature is now underway, and the 2012 budget will be tabled this week.

I will be watching closely to see if the provincial government will finally pay attention to the many pressures facing taxpayers, and start providing the help that my constituents urgently need in so many areas.

A just-released B.C. Stats report says our province has the largest income gap in the country, and yet the government continues to deny the problem.

It’s time for government to take a hard look at the growing gap between the very wealthy and the rest of British Columbians, who are facing increased fees and the burden of the HST.

For the third year in a row, the province has hiked MSP premiums, and this time they’re up by six per cent.

ICBC premiums increased an average of 2.1 per cent. Over the next three years, B.C. Ferries wants to increase fares by another 18 per cent on major routes and 37 per cent on smaller routes. B.C. Hydro rates are slated to jump another 17 per cent over the next three years.

Rates for long-term residential care have increased by 93 per cent since 2003, and low-income seniors are now expected to pay up to 80 per cent of their income towards residential care. We deserve a competent government that makes life easier for citizens, not harder.

Help for students

Ten years of tuition increases and the elimination of grants by the provincial government have made pursuing higher education increasingly difficult, especially for students from low- and middle-income households.

Students in British Columbia are saddled with the highest student loan interest rate in the country, on top of rising tuition and an average student debt load of $27,000.

Ensuring access to advanced education must be a cornerstone of any economic growth and jobs plan for the province.

It’s time for government to step up and provide support for students to get the credentials they need to enter the economy of tomorrow.

A needs-based grant program, financed through reinstating a minimum tax on financial institutions, would help post-secondary students. Restoring grants is key to improving accessibility, supporting young people and building a more prosperous economic future.

Justice not served

There’s a deepening crisis in B.C.’s court system, and addressing the massive court delays in this province should be a priority.

The government has a responsibility to ensure criminals get prosecuted in a timely way and the public has the resources necessary to access justice.

Right now, the number of cases on the edge of being thrown out because of unreasonable delays sits at more than 2,500.

Yet the Criminal Justice Branch has been told by the government to cut $6 million from its spending this year, and the legal aid budget has been slashed by more than a third.

It’s all a result of extensive cuts made to the justice system over the last 10 years.

The Opposition is calling on the government to fill court vacancies, use community courts more frequently, and explore ways legal aid can be better used to ensure no British Columbian is denied access to justice.

maurine.karagianis.mla@leg.bc.ca

—Maurine Karagianis (NDP) is the MLA for Esquimalt-Royal Roads.

 

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