British Columbia

10 things to know about the B.C. budget

NDP delivers on affordability promises such as eliminating MSP premiums, freezing ferry rates and providing housing while adding new taxes to curb speculation and bolster ICBC.

NDP says the measures will make life in B.C. more affordable

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James presents her government's budget on Feb. 20, 2018 in Victoria B.C. (CBC)

The NDP has delivered a balanced budget for 2018, while committing to significant spending to meet a number of campaign promises centred around "making life more affordable in B.C."

"Budget 2018 lifts people up," said Finance Minister Carole James in her address to the legislature.

Here are 10 initiatives from the NDP's first full budget that stand out.

1. Speculation tax

This new, annual property tax will apply to foreign and domestic homeowners who do not pay income tax in B.C., including those who leave their properties vacant.

The new tax will initially apply to homes in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and capital regional districts in Victoria and Nanaimo, Kelowna and West Kelowna.

In 2018, the tax rate will be 0.5 per cent of assessed value. In 2019, it will rise to 2.0 per cent of assessed value.

2. Enhanced foreign buyers tax

Effective Wednesday, the government will increase the foreign buyers tax from 15 per cent to 20 per cent.

While it's currently only in Metro Vancouver, it will be extended to the Fraser Valley, the capital regional districts in Victoria and Nanaimo and the Central Okanagan Regional Districts.

"We think that foreign buyers should contribute more for the high quality of life they enjoy in our province," said James.

3. Student housing

The budget allocates $450 million to a new student housing program that will allow public post-secondary institutions to borrow from government to finance student housing projects — something not previously allowed in B.C.

The idea is to get more students housed on campuses to free up spaces elsewhere.

4. Child care

The NDP says it is making a "historic" $1 billion investment in child care in the province.

It will create a new child-care benefit worth $1,250 per month, per child starting in September.

James says it will apply to up to 86,000 families in the province, while the existing child-care subsidy only went to 26,000 families.

The government is also reducing child-care fees, adding 22,000 new child-care spaces and creating programming to help support providers who want to become licensed.

Also starting on April 1, parents with children in licensed care will be eligible to receive between $60 and $350 per month in fee reductions.

5. MSP premiums eliminated

The budget will eliminate Medical Service Plan premiums on Jan. 1 2020.

As part of eliminating the premiums, the province will put in place a new payroll tax for employers starting on Jan. 1, 2019.

Businesses with a payroll of more than $1.5 million will pay a tax of 1.95 per cent on their total payroll.

Businesses with a payroll between $500,000 and $1.5 million will pay a reduced rate. Those under $500,000 will not pay at all.

"We believe this is a fair process," said James. "We believe this is manageable."

Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland have similar taxes. Ontario's rate is 1.95 per cent while the others are higher.

6. PST luxury surtax on passenger vehicles worth more than $125,000

If you drive a really expensive car, you are going to pay more for it starting April 1.

The new tax rates will apply to new and used vehicles.

The tax on passengers vehicles with a purchase price between $125,000 and $149,000 is being increased to 15 per cent from 10 per cent.

Vehicles with a purchase price of $150,000 and above will be taxed at 20 per cent up from 10 per cent.

7. BC Ferries fare freeze

The province says it will freeze fares on three major routes, linking Nanaimo and Victoria to the mainland.

It will also roll back fares on small routes by 15 per cent and restore the Monday to Thursday fare discount rate for seniors.

8. Indigenous languages

Finance Minister Carole James says Indigenous languages in the province are under threat and points out B.C. is home to 60 per cent of First Nations languages in Canada.

To support their preservation and revitalization, the budget includes $50 million in this fiscal year for programs.

9. Health care

The province says it will spend more than $1.5 billion in health-care-related spending.

Initiatives include improved care for seniors, such as increased hours of residential care and money to help residents find a family doctor.

10. Wildfires

The government says it is also accounting for unpredictable costs due to the impacts of climate change. Specifically, it says it will set aside $72 million for wildfire recovery and resiliency activities.