Reflections on British Columbia’s 2024 Provincial Budget

| Government, Uncategorized


Finance Minister Katrine Conroy’s 2024 budget for the Province of British Columbia lacks strategy for civil society. In this article, BCCA Co-Executive Director, Elvy Del Bianco, breaks down the 2024 Provincial Budget and what it means for co-operatives.

The Minister notes that in the face of a cooling economy, many British Columbians are facing significant challenges, including inflation and rising interest rates that are eroding purchasing power, a lack of affordable housing stemming from inadequate government investment and a reliance on market solutions that primarily served the interests of investors and speculators, inadequate investments in health care in the face of increasing needs of an aging population, and a lack of action to address the catastrophic effects of climate change.

In the face of these challenges, the government’s priorities are:

•         Helping individuals and families with everyday costs

•         Delivering more homes for people

•         Strengthening health care and other needed services

•         Ensuring communities are safe and strong

•         Building a stronger, cleaner economy that works better for everyone

Woven into these priorities is the advancement of Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in B.C. The broad spectrum of specific actions to support these priorities results in a forecasted budget deficit of $7.9 Billion for 2024/25.

While the initiatives proposed seem entirely reasonable, the budget appears more tactical than strategic. Bold initiatives to contend with the excesses of the market, including the negative consequences for the environment and the distribution of income, are largely absent.Of fundamental concern is the little consideration given to the role of civil society -that galaxy of societies, co-operatives, volunteer organizations and others that strive to meet the fundamental needs of their communities for connection, support, care, and social and economic opportunities. Without a strong civil society, addressing the economic, social, and environmental challenges we face will be insurmountable.

Co-operatives in particular provide a wide range of affordable goods and services, create economic opportunities for individuals and businesses, provide a crucial opportunity for community ownership of renewable energy generation, and are actively supporting meaningful Reconciliation with First Nations. Co-ops also bring people together to address common needs through the practice of reciprocity and, as a result, helps build much needed social cohesion. While the model is ideally placed to support the government’s priorities, co-ops are largely overlooked in the 2024/25 budget.

A partial exception is co-op housing. The government’s budget resource page includes a link to its 2023 Homes for People Action Plan, where the Province recognizes that housing co-ops provide security of tenure for people with mixed incomes and needs and a real opportunity forpeople to participate in community. As the plan notes: “The Province will work with co-op stakeholders and other partners to re-invigorate the co-op housing sector, including leveraging federal and provincial funding streams, addressing the issue of upcoming lease expirations, and examining new ways to grow the sector.”

The plan also notes that its $500 Million Rental Protection Fund will provide grants to non-profit housing organizations to buy residential rental buildings and co-ops, protecting tenants who and maintaining affordable rents. That fund is administered by the Rental Protection Fund Society, made up of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Co-operative Housing Federation of BC and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association.

Looking beyond housing, community-based organizations clearly have a role to play in meeting the government’s priorities, particularly with respect to housing initiatives; however, there is no specific investment plan to grow and strengthen our civil society. As many organizations struggle to secure adequate resources and their dedicated workers face burnout as they try to do too much with too little, we run the risk of undermining our collective ability to respond to our serious problems.

Elvezio Del Bianco, Co-Executive Director

Learn more about BCCA’s government advocacy work for co-operatives here.