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B.C. posts balanced budget, pledges more money for low-income families

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New subsidies for families and the elimination of interest on student loans were the big announcements in what was primarily a status-quo budget delivered by the B.C. government on Tuesday. 

Finance Minister Carole James announced the elimination of operating debt for the first time in 40 years, an estimated surplus of $274 million for 2019/2020, and a forecasted surplus of $374 million for the current fiscal year.

“British Columbia is thriving,” said James.

“We have a balanced budget across the fiscal board. We’re the only province with a AAA credit rating. But we will never have a truly prosperous province unless everybody can share in that prosperity.” 

While James’ second full budget didn’t have the same blockbuster announcements such as the elimination of Medical Service Plan premiums or property speculation tax as her first budget, several new policies were introduced that build upon the government’s commitment to provide more funding to the less wealthy.

“The past government prioritized surpluses for the sake of surpluses. We’re investing in a blanketed approach,” said James.  

Funding for families with children  

The biggest new program is the B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit, which will give money to approximately 60 per cent of families each year, based on their income level and number of children under 18.

Beginning in October 2020, it will replace the Early Childhood Tax Benefit, which ends at six years of age, and will cost an additional $250 million each year. 

“We really want to make sure we have the opportunity for every child to thrive,” said James. 

James fields questions from reporters on her budget in Victoria on Tuesday. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Families making less than $25,000 will receive $1,600 annually if they have one child, and $2,600 annually if they have two children. The amount decreases based on family income, and isn’t available for families making more than $97,487 with one child or $114,487 with two children. 

“Anyone who’s raised a child knows how transformational that support can be. These kinds of dollars are going to make a significant difference in families’ lives.” 

ICBC risks 

Other new commitments include a dedicated fund from gaming revenue for First Nations communities, an increase of $50 a month to welfare and disability payments, and new funding for foster care parents. 

More money was also promised for modular housing — intended for areas where homeless camps come up — and further investments into clean energy programs. 

Business and labour leaders and representatives of other organizations impacted by the provincial budget study it prior to its public release. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

But the government’s forecasted surplus is predicated on a number of factors, including property transfer taxes remaining stable, wildfire costs going down after two record-setting years — and most crucially, reforms to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia to eliminate the billion-dollar deficits the crown corporation has suffered the last two years.

“We’re dealing with back claims right now, but because we’re dealing with so many back claims, we’ll be better off as we go ahead,” said James, who said she was “pretty confident” the forecast would be met because of the reforms that take effect on April 1. 

At the same time, the government’s own budget documents said “there is a particular risk that changes to claims costs trend within ICBC, given recent volatility, will impact the corporation’s financial result.”    

Greens pleased, Liberals not 

Reaction from the B.C. Liberal party was negative, as expected. 

“The NDP don’t really have a plan to make B.C. a better place. They want to massively increase spending over the term of their government,” said Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson. 

He was critical of the lack of tax relief in the budget and argued future budgets from the government wouldn’t be nearly as fiscally healthy. 

“This is a government that’s treading water knowing that housing starts are dropping. Resource revenues are dropping, they say by 20 per cent. The world’s economy is slowing down dramatically, and they’re pretending it’s all going to be okay.”

However, the minority government’s ability to pass legislation has always rested on the continued support of the Green Party — and they had high praise for the budget. 

“This is a good budget,” said Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, who mentioned new funding and subsidies for clean energy programs and the elimination of student loan interest as specific areas his party pushed for. 

“While we may not have done things exactly that they would like they did, overall we’re we’re pleased with the general sense of direction of this budget and we’ll be supporting this in the upcoming vote.” 

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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