Many South Okanagan residents were hoping against hope that the 2013 B.C. budget would include an expansion for Penticton Regional Hospital.
The budget did include $2.3 billion for capital projects at hospitals around the province — several of which are re-announcements of existing projects — but not PRH. It’s far from the only thing missing, however. With a goal of creating a balanced budget as they head into the May provincial election, the latest budget from the B.C. Liberals included very few extras.
Mayor Dan Ashton, who will be running as the Liberal candidate for Penticton on May 14, wasn’t surprised not to see Penticton included on the list of communities in line to receive funds for hospital upgrades, or in some cases, new hospitals.
Ashton is a strong proponent of the PRH hospital expansion — in process for nearly a decade — but he said the project wasn’t ready.
“Would I have loved an announcement? Yes, but realistically, we haven’t finished the due diligence,” said Ashton. “I am assuming we weren’t in the budget because we weren’t ready to be. We need to get the business case done.”
Others feel differently. In a recent open letter to Premier Clark, Dr. David Paisley, president of Penticton Medical Society, noted that hospital projects in Vernon and Kamloops were approved without a business plan in place.
In a release following the budget, Paisley and the medical society said they were “flabbergasted” to see Penticton passed over once again, having hoped that “10 years of promises of funding for the hospital for much needed upgrades would be fulfilled in the 2013 provincial budget.
“The doctors and the community of Penticton are very disappointed, to say the least, that we did not get approval for our project in the budget,” said Paisley.
Dick Cannings, the NDP candidate for Penticton, said the NDP would adopt an approach to health spending that focused on the patients.
“The Liberals have been going around spending money from the health capital budget based on political needs rather than health needs.” said Cannings, adding that a proper plan was needed on how to spend health capital dollars. “I think the NDP would do that quickly and I think the Penticton patient care tower would fare very well in such a comparison.”
One of the strongest points about this budget, according to the Liberals, is that it is balanced. Ashton, speaking as a Liberal candidate, said that the provincial budget mirrors what he and the past two councils have been working on in Penticton.
“I think it is long overdue that senior levels of government should have to have balanced budgets,” said Ashton. “We’ve shown astute fiscal and financial practice and this is what the province is doing right now.”
Cannings feels the Liberal budget shows a lack of vision for the future of the province.
“I think the Liberals haven’t really helped themselves or gained any traction with this budget. It has no vision in it other than a desperate attempt to create a balanced budget,” said Cannings.
Balancing the budget is being done through a combination of methods. Besides the controversial move to sell off government-owned properties, it includes raising the corporate tax rate by one per cent, increasing personal income tax in the highest tax brackets, and raising MSP premiums while slowing spending on health.
Some of the budget items, Cannings notes, were taken from the NDP platform.
“Bumping that corporate income tax up a point or two is what we have been planning and what we have been saying to the business community for months and months now,” said Cannings. “They are admitting that there is plenty of tax room in B.C. Perhaps it is time to do some prudent small steps of raising that tax income.”
School districts, which have been dealing with shortfalls over the past several years, aren’t earmarked for any significant help in the 2013 budget, other than the targeted funding of the Learning Improvement Fund, which the budget promises to continue funding.
In the long term, some parents may be able to benefit from the Early Years Strategy outlined in the budget, which promises $6 million in 2013/14 for the creation of new childcare spaces, and improving early childhood development programs and child care services.
The B.C. Training and Education Savings grant may also benefit some South Okanagan families. Once the child turns six and enters elementary school, families with a Registered Education Savings Plan in place will be eligible to receive a $1,200 grant, to help with the cost of studies or skills training after high school.
For Ashton, the highlight is that the Liberal budget focuses on growing the economy, not growing government.
“I think that is very important. They are controlling spending and that is what they are doing before asking taxpayers for additional resources,” said Ashton. “Anybody can run a deficit. You start addressing desires, you don’t address needs. When you do that, you get in trouble.”