British Columbia·TREADING WATER

Critics say budget 2020 offers little to families struggling with affordability

The province's 2020 budget promises spending for roads, hospitals and schools, but some families were hoping to see benefits closer to home.

Struggling families say budget misses opportunities to address child care, housing problems

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James speaks to reporters ahead of Tuesday's budget speech. Some families strugling to make ends meet say they're frustrated the budget did not offer more for them. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Stephanie Clark said the 2020 provincial budget, like others recently, was a mixed bag for families like hers.

While government MLAs clapped and thumped their desks in Victoria during the budget speech Tuesday, many facing affordability challenges said there was little to cheer about.

"For our personal expenses, I don't see a huge difference for our family," said Clark, a 37-year-old New Westminster mother.

Child care and strata fees take a big bite out of Clark's bank account.

Stephanie Clark, 37, lives in New Westminster and says life is becoming less affordable. (Stephanie Clark)

Last year, the daycare Clark's three-year-old daughter, Fiona, attends qualified for provincial funding that reduced fees by more than 10 per cent — but this year, the daycare is upping its fees 15 per cent. 

"Meaning we are going to be paying about a $1,000 a month," Clark said. "So that's more expensive."

And she's also disappointed there's no relief for strata homeowners in the budget with news of big hikes to insurance.

In Clark's building, the price of insurance has nearly tripled. That means her strata fees are going up about $100 per month.

Clark's not alone. Critics say many ordinary families trying to keep their heads above water won't get much help from this budget.

Child care, housing

The budget includes a record $22.9 billion in infrastructure spending over the next three years for schools, hospitals, roads, transit and the Site C dam.

It also hikes taxes on high-income earners and adds a new tax on sugary drinks, vaping and "foreign sellers of software and telecommunication services" like Netflix.

But University of British Columbia researcher Paul Kershaw said the budget did little to advance $10-a-day child care, a key promise from the NDP during the 2017 election.

Minister of Finance Carole James may have challenges in the future delivering on election promises while balancing the budget, an SFU researcher said. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"The 2020 budget shows no signs of an investment plan to make real the election promise," Kershaw said in a statement.

"The minority-NDP government's investment in child care will stall for all forecasted years in the budget at around 45 percent of the $1.5 billion annual expenditure required for a high-quality system."

Housing advocates said the lack of new funding in the budget will make the province's goal of 114,000 new rental homes by 2028 a challenge.

Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-op Housing Federation of B.C. said advocates are also concerned that the province appears to have dialled back its goal for building affordable homes by 2022: down from 15,940 new affordable homes to 13,515 homes.

"Given that the housing crisis in B.C. is becoming more urgent every day, we need bold action right now," Armstrong said.

Balancing act

Simon Fraser University political scientist Sanjay Jeram said forecasted smaller surpluses, combined with the NDP's desire for balanced budgets, means the government will need to show restraint in new spending going forward.

That could be tricky as many British Columbians feel squeezed financially.

"They seem to be committed to a fiscally tight approach," Jeram said. 

Jeram believes that is tied to the government's desire to fight off perceptions many voters have of the NDP.

"They have to deal with the legacy of the '90s NDP governments and the negative connotations ... that many people have of them running big deficits," Jeram said.

"They're trying to do things differently."

Treading Water is a series from CBC British Columbia examining the impact of the affordability crisis on people in Metro Vancouver and across the province, including the creative solutions being used to make ends meet.

If you have a story for our Treading Water series, please click here and tell us about it.



Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.

With files from Jesse Johnston