ICBC rates are up 5.5 per cent

Hydro, ICBC, MSP fees up in 2016

Premier Christy Clark's government has intervened in BC Hydro and car insurance rates, medical premiums up 40 per cent since 2010

Medical Services Plan premiums, electricity bills and vehicle insurance rates are up in 2016, reviving criticism of the B.C. government’s constant boast about keeping taxes low.

MSP premiums rise from $144 to $150 as of Jan. 1, for a family of three earning more than $30,000 a year. For a single person in the same income group, the rate goes from $72 to $75, with lower rates for lower incomes down to $22,000 a year, where premiums drop to zero.

B.C. is now the only province in Canada with a health care fee, and it has risen about 40 per cent since 2010. Premier Christy Clark has defended the fee as a signal to citizens about the enormous cost of providing health care.

BC Hydro rates have been politically dictated since Clark and Energy Minister Bill Bennett intervened to cap rate increases in 2013. Hydro rates jumped nine per cent in 2014, followed by annual increases of six, four, 3.5 and three per cent in the 10-year rate plan. Starting with the proposed four per cent increase in 2016, the independent B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) is reviewing if rate increases can be lower than what is capped in the rate plan.

Insurance Corporation of B.C. basic vehicle insurance went up by 5.5 per cent on Nov. 1, an increase still subject to review by the BCUC. That works out to an increase of $3.70 per month added for the average driver.

ICBC had proposed the maximum 6.7 per cent increase to cover increasing costs of personal injury claims and fraud, but the province gave it permission for a one-time transfer of $450 million from its optional insurance business to subsidize the basic rate.

In a year-end interview, NDP leader John Horgan stopped short of promising to eliminate MSP premiums, but he called it a “regressive tax” that would be part of a broad review of B.C. taxation fairness if he wins the 2017 election.

The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation says people who benefit from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promised middle-class tax cut will see most of those savings eaten up by provincial and municipal tax increases.

Trudeau vowed to reduce the federal income tax bracket between $45,282 and $90,563 from 22 per cent to 20.5 per cent, and increase the rate for income over $200,000 from 29 to 33 per cent. The change would provide up to $2,000 in tax relief for middle-income earners, with dual-income households benefiting most, CTF federal director Aaron Wudrick says.

Municipal taxes are expected to increase across the province in 2016, with local councils preparing to set budgets for the new fiscal year that starts April 1. Port Alberni has proposed a seven per cent increase, and the CTF says it hasn’t found any B.C. municipalities yet that propose to freeze or lower property tax rates.

With the rapid rise in property prices continuing in parts of the Lower Mainland, the B.C. Assessment Authority sent out 37,000 letters in December, warning single-family homeowners to brace for a big jump in their assessed value.