When the BC NDP government announced they were finally changing the medical services premiums (MSP), they were lauded by British Columbians who have been calling on for more than a decade.
They struck a task force to advice government on the best approach to changing a system that generates billions of dollars each year to pay for health care in the province.
But, rather than deliver on the recommendations of their task force the BC NDP decided to replace the MSP with an employers’ health tax (EHT).
Over the ensuing months, I have heard from medium-sized business in Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney. These are incredibly important employers with a payroll over .5 million dollars. They have detailed for me how the EHT is going to negatively impact them. Many are concerned about whether they can continue to do business in our region. I worry about business competitiveness in our our province.
So, I asked Hon. Carole James, Minister of Finance, about this in question period.
Since becoming an MLA, I’ve heard from businesses in my riding that they’re having substantial challenges handling increasing costs — affordability.
The Saanich Peninsula is one the largest industrial land bases in the region. It is home to most of the established manufacturers in the CRD. As a result, we benefit from having many medium-sized businesses in manufacturing, retail, food and tourism. Businesses like Butchart Gardens, Viking Air, Epicure, Schneider Electric and Mornwood — all have reached out to me expressing legitimate concerns.
With skyrocketing housing costs, transportation problems getting to the peninsula, businesses are facing challenges in keeping their operations sustainable, and they don’t feel that government is helping. There is inadequate workforce housing or public transportation in the region. Government’s decision to implement a new payroll tax substantially adds to their operational costs.
My question is to the Minister of Finance. What is the government doing to help businesses like these remain viable and keep jobs here, in light of the accumulated challenges they’re facing?
Hon. C. James:
Thank you to the member for the question.
As we know on this side of the House, it is important to remain competitive. B.C.’s economy is strong, and we are going to keep it that way while investing in the people of this province to help build a strong economy.
I’m very proud that in fact many of the items that have been raised by the member are areas that we have set as a priority for the budget. Business after business after business talks about the challenge they have when it comes to affordable housing. We have a crisis, because it was ignored by the other side. We are addressing the housing crisis not simply for tenants and families who need to work and live in their communities; we are also addressing it for businesses — for exactly the competitive issue that the member raised.
Investments in housing. Investments in child care. Investments in remaining competitive.
I’m happy to listen to the member talk about businesses and raise those issues with me. I’ve had many conversations with businesses.
We’re going to continue our good work to remain competitive and keep our economy strong.
The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
Thank you to the members on the other side for paying attention to the questions. Thank you to the minister for the response.
Many businesses in my riding are feeling real impacts on their bottom line from this new tax. Business leaders are worried about whether they can continue to do business on the Saanich Peninsula.
Some are unlikely to leave. Take Butchart Gardens, for example. It’s not particularly mobile, but we shouldn’t tempt them. For others, we compete for their business. Viking Air has manufacturing centres here and in Alberta. If they left for Calgary, it would be devastating. Schneider Electric employs 280 people in Central Saanich. They have a payroll of million. In 2017, they paid ,000 for their employees’ medical services premiums, and in 2020, they will pay 0,000 for the employers health tax. Schneider’s local management will have to defend to head office…
Members, we shall hear the question. Thank you.
…why they should stay on the Saanich Peninsula or even in British Columbia.
My question to the Minister of Finance is this. What are you doing to ensure that B.C. businesses remain competitive in the years ahead and that the employers health taxes you have proposed won’t be the final straw, having the effect of driving business off the Saanich Peninsula?
Hon. C. James:
In fact, right now we have the lowest unemployment rate in the country right here in British Columbia. We are finally, after years of stagnation, seeing wage increases in British Columbia, helping families in our province.
Employers Health Tax impacting business competitiveness on Saanich Peninsula
Canadian Riviera Vancouver Island