It’s time to ask some questions

By Prince George-Valemount Liberal MLA Shirley Bond
March 1, 2019 - 2:54pm

It’s been a hectic two weeks as the government tabled the Throne and Budget speeches.  This traditionally begins the Spring session in the Legislature and triggers a number of processes including the annual “estimates” debate.  While Question Period is undoubtedly the most high profile time to ask questions the most productive time to get information is during estimates.  This is when Opposition critics and MLAs are given the opportunity to ask specific questions about the budget of individual ministries.  The lead questioner is usually the critic for a specific portfolio, but MLAs are encouraged to bring forward regional and community concerns. It is a process that I always take advantage of.
As the co-Finance critic, my first priority is to work with my colleague and do an analysis of the budget that has been tabled.  Our first task is an initial response in the Legislature and then the homework begins.  We spend many hours reviewing, crafting and organizing the questions we will ask the Finance Minister in order to better understand the implications of the choices that have been made by the government.  Estimates can take hours or more often days to be completed.
As the MLA for Prince George Valemount, my job is to raise issues of concern that are more directly related to the region I represent.  And I intend to do that in the weeks ahead.  Key areas of inquiry for me will be related to investment in our hospital, additional training for healthcare professionals, safety and workload of nurses, mountain caribou consultation, investments in highway infrastructure and other critical issues.
The 2019 Budget causes me concern for a number of reasons.  I am perhaps most concerned about what is not reflected in this budget.  The government has laid out an ambitious spending plan but there is no discernible plan to grow the economy, attract investment or a plan to create well-paying family-supporting jobs.  I think it is safe to say that every budget contains things that MLAs from all three parties would agree are important and this budget is no exception.  I particularly appreciate that there will be additional funding for foster families and in addition -- the extension of those same benefits to extended family who support children and keep them out of care.  There will also be funding to begin dedicated support for child and youth mental health.
But there are risks associated with the budget that seem to have been dismissed for the most part.  There are signs that the global economy is slowing that will impact our province.  We can’t just assume that the robust economic circumstances British Columbia has enjoyed will continue indefinitely, in fact we know that they won’t.  The budget outlines that housing starts will continue to drop, natural resource revenue is expected to drop by thirty percent and taxes and our debt load will increase.  Now is the time for prudent fiscal management and a cautious approach to spending with the potential of economic storm clouds emerging.  It’s also time to ask some questions in the Legislature and that is exactly what I will be doing as the estimates process unfolds in the weeks ahead.

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