On Friday, March 10th, MLA of East Kootenay Bill Bennett presented the B.C. provincial budget at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce. The event was a chance for Chamber members to hear from both Mr. Bennett and Premier Christy Clark on how the budget will affect rural communities.

Mr. Bennett emphasized to the crowd that the province will continue to have a provincial debt, but the government is working hard to pay off the operating debt.

What we’re trying to do in B.C. is we’re trying to pay the operating debt off that we’ve had since the early 1980s and we’re getting close. By 2020, 2021, we hope to have the operating debt paid back. It will be the first time since I think about 81 or 82 that B.C. has been without an operating debt, said Mr. Bennett.

Once the operating debt has been paid off, the province will still hold a debt. According to Mr. Bennett, it’s debt that’s based on building infrastructure, and that infrastructure has a lifespan of 20 to 50 years, and in some cases, like Site C, it’s 90 years.

During his presentation, Mr. Bennett announced millions of dollars that the province will be spending on projects such as education, housing, health, mining, and invasive plants.

The province is investing $740 million into the K-12 public education sector with $320 million being used to reduce class sizes and for more teachers.

The province is also committing to spending $700 million on first-time homebuyers to help make purchasing a home more affordable for British Columbians.

There’s some housing money there, $700 million for first-time homebuyers, raising the threshold. You know your houses aren’t cheap in Invermere or in Fernie or in my riding so that threshold might help a bit here, said Mr. Bennett.

The B.C. health care budget will be increasing significantly with $4.2 billion being spent over the next three years.

Here’s something I love saying because it’s true and I don’t get to say it very often, about every four years when there’s an election. I get to say this: I’ve been an MLA for 16 years, we’ve increased the health budget every single year for 16 years. Every single year we have increased the health budget and not by a little bit, by a lot, said Mr. Bennett.

Mr. Bennett also announced $18 million to be spent on mines permitting and oversight as well as $10 million for invasive plant management. The East Kootenay MLA spoke on the importance of smart spending, staying competitive with the province’s exports, and reducing debts for future generations.

If we’re borrowing money for operating cost, what we’re doing essentially is living off their future, were saying we can’t afford to pay our way today, but don’t worry about it because our kids and our grandkids will pay it off later, said Mr. Bennett.