Pandemic exposes B.C. government service gaps

Review health tax, increase digital connectivity, help seniors and minorities, Victoria told

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps in B.C. government services, a June budget consultation has found.

As such, it has made 124 budget recommendations including revisiting the employer health tax, ensuring the digital work and education shift continues to be supported, cooperating with Ottawa to continue pandemic supports and pursuing national pharmacare.

"The committee recognizes that the next budget is an opportunity to address these gaps and inequities and to continue to make progress on reconciliation, diversity, inclusion and accessibility,” Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services chair Bob D'Eith said.

The committee has released two volumes: One (https://bit.ly/3aP8tAi) and Two (https://bit.ly/2YliPme). The largest number of recommendations was in the areas of taxation, health care, education and justice.

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Taxation

On taxation, recommendations include:

• reviewing opportunities to temporarily adjust the employer health tax in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses.

• reforming municipal financing to provide municipalities with a broader range of sustainable, predictable and reliable funding tools in order to address increasing financial pressures related to a growing asset base, aging infrastructure, climate change, housing challenges and the opioid crisis;

• reviewing the luxury tax threshold for vehicles to eliminate its application on pick-up trucks and essential work vehicles;

• ensuring the budgetary and taxation framework supports competitiveness, and proactively incorporates equity, reconciliation and climate action lenses to address short- and long-term challenges for individuals and businesses.

• working with Ottawa to support individuals and businesses through the with necessary transfers, identifying and addressing gaps, and transitioning emergency funding to targeted investments in recovery and financial relief based on individual and sectoral needs, and;

• increasing monitoring and enforcement of B.C. tax laws and consider implementing public reporting for the payment of the PST by non-resident companies working in BC.

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Health care

In health care, recommendations include:

• creating a dental plan for low-income seniors;

• expanding and accelerating digital health infrastructure investments;

• increasing targeted funding for training health care professionals in underserved areas;

• continuing investments for mental health and addiction from prevention and intervention to recovery, including increasing residential treatment capacity;

• exploring the establishment of a universal pharmacare plan with federal, provincial and territorial governments

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Education

In education, recommendations include:

• ensuring students have access to the technology required for remote learning, including both the hardware and Internet access;

• increasing funding for special needs students, and;

• sustaining funding for hygiene, enhanced cleaning staff, supplies, personal protective equipment, and other safety resources and measures.

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Justice

On the justice front, recommendations include:

• increasing investments in legal aid funding;

• increasing community restorative justice programs :

• increasing Indigenous justice programs and services funding;

• improving access to the courts and justice system through investments in digital transformation, including expanding the use of online platforms for virtual hearings, and continuing with pandemic-related measures such as remote swearing of affidavits and witnessing signatures;

• investing in prevention, intervention, and recovery programs and supports for people facing gender-based violence, and;

• improving funding for protections of sex workers.

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Other recommendations

Another area of concern was the need for digital connectivity, an issue exposed as needing work as people worked from home in the pandemic.

"Committee members heard about the need to address significant gaps with access and affordability as the pandemic accelerated the shift to a digital environment,” deputy chair Doug Clovechok said.

As British Columbians shifted to an online environment for pandemic-period work, gaps and barriers related to broadband access and affordability of internet services started to appear, especially in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, the report said. The committee recommended accelerating investments in extending and strengthening digital infrastructure. That recommendation includes addressing challenges related to affordability.

The committee also recommended the upcoming budget address reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, and accessibility issue.

Specifically, it recommended providing resources for implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the calls for justice from the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Also recommended was ensuring ministries adopt a diversity and inclusion lens and recognize systemic barriers to address the disproportionate pandemic impacts, as well as providing programs and supports for equity-seeking groups who face systemic barriers.

The budget consultation ran June 1-26. Due to the pandemic, public hearings were conducted by video and teleconference.

The committee heard 281 presentations, received 1,362 written and video submissions, and 3,625 responses to an online survey.

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

@jhainswo