B.C. Budget 2021: B.C. projects $9.7 billion deficit as government spends on social programs, COVID-19 economic recovery

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The B.C. government’s first budget since the start of the pandemic included significant spending on mental-health and addiction services, housing and supports for seniors. But critics decried a lack of major spending to prop up businesses struggling with the fallout of the pandemic and little support for workers without a provincial paid sick leave program.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson tried to strike a balance between continuing to support people and businesses during COVID-19’s crushing third wave and post-pandemic economic recovery. The budget, unveiled Tuesday, calls for spending of up to $67.6 billion in fiscal 2021-22 with an estimated $9.7-billion deficit. There were no new major taxes.

It did include $120 million over three years to prop up the tourism sector. It also followed through on an election promise to make transit free for children under 12, which will cost taxpayers $26 million.

Iglika Ivanova, senior economist with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said considering the crisis created by the pandemic, the NDP government went with “a surprisingly status quo budget.” She said the government relied on a continuation of its 10-year plans for child care, housing and climate change announced in the 2018 budget but delivered few new social initiatives.

“Unfortunately, this budget misses the opportunity to become … the most significant budget of the generation, which I thought it would be,” Ivanova said. “Considering the significant, very deep, gender and racial inequalities that the pandemic spotlighted, I would have liked to see a lot more ongoing investments in speeding up some of those programs on affordable housing and child care, and on addressing their urgent climate emergency.”