VICTORIA — British Columbia Premier John Horgan is making good on his campaign pledge to hike income assistance and disability rates by $100 a month.
The policy takes effect Sept. 20 and will be the first time the welfare rate has increased in a decade.
“Raising the rates is only the beginning,” Horgan said in a statement Thursday. “Our government is committed to bring forward a comprehensive poverty-reduction plan to lift children and families out of poverty.”
The rate hike means a single person on income assistance will be eligible for up to $710 per month, while someone on disability support can receive up to $1,133.
The increase will catapult B.C. from last to third place in the country when it comes to assistance rates, Horgan added.
Stephen Portman of the Together Against Poverty Society said he welcomed news of the rate hike as “a breath of fresh air.”
“While much more is needed to stem entrenched poverty and inequity at a systemic level, this change is an important signal that poverty reduction is a priority,” he said in a statement.
Portman called for further changes, such as improved medical and dental benefits, to help ease the burden on some of B.C.’s most vulnerable.
The previous Liberal government froze income assistance for 10 years, but made a U-turn in last month’s throne speech by promising a $100 jump in monthly rates, adopting a key promise from the NDP’s election platform.
The revamped throne speech failed to garner enough support to keep the Liberals in power.
The NDP were sworn into government this week holding a minority of seats in the legislature but supported by the Green party’s three elected members, who hold the balance of power in the wake of the May 9 election. It’s the first time the NDP have been in power in B.C. since 2001.
Horgan also moved quickly to put a New Democratic Party stamp on the province’s Crown corporations and government organizations by announcing four high-profile appointments.
Joy MacPhail, who is the former NDP finance minister, deputy premier and health minister, is the new chair of the Insurance Corp. of B.C., while one of its director’s seats will be filled by Cathy McLay, chief financial officer and executive vice-president of TransLink.
Kenneth Peterson, former chief executive officer of BC Hydro subsidiary Powerex Corp., is the new chairman of BC Hydro, replacing Brad Bennett, who was a key player in former premier Christy Clark’s re-election campaign.
Cassie Doyle, a deputy minister with both the federal and provincial governments, is the new chair of the BC Housing Management Commission, which develops, manages and administers subsidized housing in the province.
Horgan said the appointees were chosen for their proven ability to deliver effective leadership that would benefit the public.
“Each of them will face significant challenges because of the choices made by the previous government,” Horgan said in a statement.
The Liberals were not immediately available to comment.
Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt approved of Horgan’s choices, describing Ken Peterson as “hugely experienced” and Joy MacPhail as a tough-minded and effective minister.
Horgan worked under Harcourt in the early 1990s, the first time the B.C. New Democrats formed government after 16 years as Opposition. Harcourt described Horgan as one of his “key troubleshooters,” and said the key to staying focused and not disappointing supporters is to set priorities.
“There are unlimited demands for limited funds,” he said.
“You budget. You say you’ve got so much money and you set priorities you say we’ll not get everything done at once but over one or two terms.”
— By Geordon Omand in Vancouver
The Canadian Press
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