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B.C. boosts green rebates amid record deficit

In addition to a 25% boost in the BC Family Benefit Bonus, British Columbians will see a 10% increase in the Climate Action Tax Credit and a one-time $100 rebate on their hydro bill.
gassing up at station
The Climate Action Tax Credit is aimed at helping people with low and middle incomes offset their share of B.C.'s carbon tax, which is used to pay for clean energy projects like charging infrastructure, as well as other green services and programs meant to tackle climate change. The payments, which are administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, are paid out at the same time as the federal GST/HST credit.

The B.C. government says it's increasing a number of rebates to help individuals get through a sluggish economy and high rates of inflation. 

On Thursday, the province’s latest budget projected a record-high $7.9-billion deficit for the coming fiscal year. The continued spending instantly provoked criticism from the B.C. Business Council, which said the 2024 budget lacks “fiscal discipline” to get B.C.’s economy back on track. 

The BC NDP government, however, said tough economic times called for more government supports.

“In the face of global challenges, like inflation and high interest rates, we are taking on big challenges and supporting people to build a good life in B.C.,” said finance minister Katrine Conroy.

The budget laid out a 25 per cent increase to the BC Family Benefit Bonus — which will now provide an average of $445 more per family every year — and up to a $400 tax credit for B.C. renters.

Some of the rebates aim to ease the cost of the province's carbon tax and hydro electricity squeezed by persistent drought. A one-time BC Electricity Affordability Credit will give a $100 rebate to households across the province, while saving the average small business about $400 a year, according to the government. 

Rebates under the Climate Action Tax Credit, meanwhile, would go up 10 per cent, so that a family of four will receive $1,005 a year. 

“A majority of British Columbians are projected to receive more through the enhanced credit than they pay in carbon tax by 2030,” said a statement from the Ministry of Finance. 

More money for green infrastructure

This year's budget included some novel new spending, including a home flipping tax to deter real estate speculators, and a commitment to provide one cycle of free in vitro fertilization to anyone who wants to start a family.

Also buried in the budget was $40 million in new funding put toward heat pump rebates for low- and middle-income households. While welcomed by some, the money is a fraction of what is required over the coming years. 

By 2040, government investments to decarbonize and climate-proof buildings and homes have to climb to $1.3 billion per year if the province is to meet its targets, according to the Pembina Institute. 

The green think tank lauded the B.C. government’s additional $20 million set aside for active transportation grants and $30 million to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

“British Columbia, along with Quebec, has the highest levels of electric car ownership in the country by a considerable margin and looks set to remain a leader in the adoption of EVs,” said the group in a statement. 

But for some, those spending measures fell far short of what’s required to keep the province on track to hit its climate targets and to do so in a way that’s fair to everyone. 

Torrance Coste, associate director of the Wilderness Committee, said the budget left a lot of the burdens from climate change to fall on to individuals. 

Take transit: much of the increase in spending would go to service increases, not reducing fares, Coste said.

“If the carbon tax is going to make a tank of gas more expensive, that’s going to hit people in Langley more than it hits people in Mount Pleasant,” he said, referring to a neighbourhood in Vancouver. 

“For a lot of people living outside of the dense urban core — transit, walkable neighbourhoods, reliable food — all these things that have lower emissions associated with them, will be out of reach.” 

Government still failing to invest in long-term drought planning, say critics

Others worried the province failed to properly set aide money for what many expect to be a year of widespread drought.

The B.C. government allocated $83 million to an infrastructure program to help farmers and ranchers better collect, transport and store water. Another $50 million was earmarked for a pilot program to meter water in 21 B.C. communities. 

On Vancouver Island, the government approved $14 million to replace the Cowichan Lake Weir, while on Salt Spring Island, $10 million will go to help sustain water levels at Saint Mary Lake by raising a dam.

Coree Tull, co-chair of the BC Watershed Security Coalition, supported those local and industry specific investments. But she also said that together they don’t come close to confronting the scale of the problem B.C. is facing. 

“It’s definitely shaping up to be a really bad drought year,” she said. “But with drought, once you’re over that waterfall, it’s a little late to start paddling. 

“We need governments to start making investments now… Otherwise, we’re just in this cycle of drought, flood, fire. Drought, flood, fire.”