With work in Victoria now wrapped up for the season, I’m reflecting on the highs and lows of the last four months.
Although the BC Liberals’ budget saw a $230 million tax break to the richest two per cent while your hydro rates, MSP premiums, ICBC rates and ferry fares went up — not to mention the cost of housing and food — there was a shining light. After less than a year of public advocacy, we saw an end to the child support clawback that saw millions taken out of children’s hands simply because their parents receive social assistance.
No longer will government be taking money that rightfully belongs to 6,000 of B.C.’s poorest kids. This was a positive step in reducing child poverty in our province, but there is so much more to do.
The maternity and parental leave clawback is another BC Liberal policy that contributes rather than reduces child poverty the minute a child is born. How does this happen? If you receive disability, you are allowed to work, if you are able, and earn up to a certain amount. While you work, you must pay employment insurance and federal law allows you to use that EI for maternity and parental leave. But should you do that in B.C., the Liberal government takes every cent of it away so that you not only lose your wages but all your maternity and parental benefits just when your growing family will have added expenses.
I’ve spoken to families impacted by the maternity leave clawback. They are making choices between paying rent, bills or food. Their mental health is taking a toll while debts mount, and charities and food banks only offer so much help. It is every parent and child’s right to spend that first year together, and we all benefit when they do. So why is this Liberal government punishing them and creating greater child poverty? This clawback needs to end.
BC NDP Leader John Horgan and I pressed Premier Christy Clark to do the right thing and end this terrible policy. Her response utterly failed to acknowledge the issue. You can watch the exchange on my YouTube channel, then sign the petition on my website, www.michellemungall.ca, to end the maternity leave clawback.
Along with poverty-creating policies, we saw terrible education policy in the form of Bill 11 and campaign finance restrictions lifted in Bill 20. My BC NDP colleagues and I exposed the Liberals’ cloak and dagger approach to public information with their repeated deletions of key public records on a wide array of issues including the Highway of Tears. Sadly, we also saw funding to the fake town of Jumbo go up to $300,000 per year while it was confirmed that their “day lodge” concrete slab is indeed in an avalanche path.
To be sure, we saw a lot of poor governing, bad choices and terrible policies, but I remain hopeful. We can end the maternity leave clawback just as we ended the child support clawback. We’ve kept Jumbo wild for 25 years and we will keep going. If the new Alberta government can restore education funding, we can do that here — and it will most certainly happen after the next provincial election in 2017.
On another note, I’d like to thank everyone for their kind words with the passing of my mother-in-law. After 30 years of living with MS, my husband’s mom said her goodbyes to this world May 13. We were sorry to miss the many Kootenay festivals and events over the long weekend, and very much appreciate your understanding that we will be there next year.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.