The province will spend $4 billion over the next three years to expand urgent and primary care centres, reduce wait times for surgeries and hire thousands of new health-care workers in response to the pandemic and the province's five-year overdose crisis.
In presenting her $69 billion budget, B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson said that the past year has highlighted the importance of strong health care and mental health services.
The spending includes $900 million in one-time funding to help deliver COVID-19 related services such as vaccinations and contract tracing.
In addition, B.C. will spend nearly $600 million over three years to train and hire up to 3,000 people as health-care support workers, including those needed at long-term care facilities. A total of $68 million will be spent over three years to improve home care for seniors.
Another $500 million is earmarked for B.C. residents to increase access to diagnostic services and surgeries, $253 million to expand care centres so residents will have more access to doctors and nurse practitioners and $300 million for enhanced cancer care.
The province is putting aside money to address racism in the health-care industry after an investigation found widespread Indigenous-specific racism.
it will spend $45 million over three years to train and educate health-care workers, while also committing to hire a workforce that better represents B.C. communities.
The province also maintains the budget will deliver the largest mental health investment in B.C. history.
It will spend $500 million to expand mental health and substance use services, after the deadliest year for the opioid overdose epidemic, which was declared a public health emergency in 2016.
In 2020, almost five people died every day on average from a drug overdose, according to the BC Coroners Service.
"The dual health emergencies of COVID-19 and illicit drug toxicity have taken an immense toll," said the province in a budget document.
The money includes a network of supports for youth, including increased mental health funding for schools. There is also additional money for First Nations health authorities to deliver mental health and addictions services, and 195 new substance use treatment and recovery beds in communities throughout the province.
Other social spending
In this budget, the province is also making transit free to children aged 12 and under starting in September.
Income and disability assistance in B.C. will increase by $175-a-month and the seniors supplement will increase by $50.
Douglas King, the executive director for the Together Against Poverty Society, says the increases are welcome, but that the cost of living in many B.C. communities means the money may end up going directly to landlords.
The society wanted to see measures in the budget that would help ease the cost of housing, especially rents.
"The government is still chasing the root causes of poverty," he said.
The province will spend $290 million over three years to reconcile with Indigenous people in B.C. by meeting goals set out in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which was adopted in 2019.