Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman.

Medical premium ‘tax’ targeted at B.C. budget hearings

Government finance committee also hears calls for new tax on sugary drinks, road pricing to fund transit investments

The provincial government is being urged to freeze rapidly rising Medical Services Plan premiums that critics say have acted like a stealth tax on most families.

The recommendation to a budget consultations committee of the Legislature was made by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Jordan Bateman, who cited a 39 per cent jump in MSP premiums over the last six years to $150 per month in 2016 for the average family.

“Taxpayers need a break from unfair, never-ending MSP tax hikes,” said Bateman, who argues it’s unfair because people earning $30,000 a year pay the same amount as someone making millions.

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services was in Surrey, the latest of several stops around the province to collect public input ahead of the 2016 budget.

The CTF also called on the province to open ICBC up to more auto insurance competition, and reduce the $160-million-a-year dividend the government harvests from the public auto insurer.

The Surrey Board of Trade also appeared before the budget committee, urging investments on multiple fronts, including early childhood education, health care and social housing.

The business group also reinforced its preference for light rail rapid transit in Surrey over SkyTrain, and for “a comprehensive and fair road pricing policy for the Lower Mainland to allow for equitable funding of transportation infrastructure and transit service.”

The all-party committee has also heard from groups urging the province to resume regular increases to B.C.’s carbon tax.

The Canadian Diabetes Association has also pitched a new tax on soda and other sugary drinks on the grounds that they contribute to rising rates of obesity and diabetes.

The CTF said it would prefer government not raise any taxes and pay down debt instead.

Many requests for tax reform are recycled year after year.

The B.C. Real Estate Association again asked the province to lower the Property Transfer Tax charged when homes change hands.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong signaled some interest in reforming the PTT in response to concerns about housing affordability.

He has said the province might create a third tier of the transfer tax that would charge more on the sale of a high-end home, while providing some relief for buyers of entry-level homes.