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THIS TAX SEASON, REMEMBER YOUR HEALTH - January 25, 2017

For most of us, it comes more naturally to associate “death and taxes” than health and taxes, but we should all give our health some thought this tax season. Specifically, it’s important to think about expenses we incurred for health promotion or assistance – they might just make us eligible for some helpful tax credits.

For parents with active kids, both the federal and provincial governments offer tax credits for child fitness. You can claim these credits if your child was under 16 at the beginning of 2016, and was enrolled in an ongoing “prescribed program” during the year. That is, you can claim the cost of registration or membership in any extra-curricular club or program that got your child moving for at least eight consecutive weeks, under the supervision of a coach or instructor. For example, if your child was involved in hockey, soccer, or any of numerous other sports or activities, you can claim this credit on your income tax.

For 2016, you can claim eligible fitness costs up to $500 per child on your federal income tax. Provincially, you can claim up to a maximum of $500 per child through the BC Child Fitness Credit; you can also claim equipment costs, in the amount of half of what you claim for the BC Child Fitness Credit, through the BC Child Fitness Equipment Credit.

Federally, the fitness credit is a refundable one – which means if the amount of the credit is more than the taxes you owe, you will receive a refund on your return. Provincially, both the Child Fitness and the Child Fitness Equipment credits are non-refundable, meaning you won’t get a refund if you owe less than the total amount of your credits.

For adults, and for those of us whose kids are grown, and who are looking toward maintaining our health in our golden years, there are health-related tax credits we can take advantage of, too – though they’re more targeted toward managing the challenges of illness and aging than toward promoting active lifestyles.

Regardless of your age, if you, your spouse or dependents incurred medical expenses in 2016, and were not reimbursed for them through any health benefits program, you may be eligible to claim them on your income tax return.

Federally, for 2016 you can claim medical expenses above $2,237 or three percent of your net income, whichever number is less; the Province will use your federal amount to calculate your provincial tax credit, though provincially the threshold for expenses is the lesser number between three percent of your net income, or $2,085.

If you are claiming medical expenses, be sure to keep your receipts and prescriptions; for some expenses, you may also need a certification in writing from a medical practitioner to support your claim. While you won’t need to send any of these documents with your return, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) may ask to see them after you have filed your return. To find out if your medical expenses are eligible, whether you need written certification to support them, and for instructions on how to claim them, visit the CRA’s website (www.cra-arc.gc.ca) and enter “medical expenses” in the search field.

For seniors, staying healthy and independent may include modifying our homes to make them more accessible and safer as we age. If you are over 65, or a family member living with a senior, and you made permanent renovations to your home in 2016 for the sake of increased accessibility, mobility or safety, you may also be able to claim those expenses. You can receive a refundable tax credit in the amount of 10 percent of your eligible renovation expenses, up to a credit of $1,000 per tax year. For more information, search “Home Renovation Tax Credit” on the CRA website. If you’re thinking about making improvements to your home this year, you may also wish to look into the BC Home Adaptations for Independence Program, which you can find at www.gov.bc.ca.

As we prepare to lay our lives out in dollars and cents this tax season, I encourage you all to be mindful of the role your health has to play in this part – as in all other parts – of life.

MOVING FORWARD FROM “GOOD” HEALTH OUTCOMES FOR OUR CHILDREN AND YOUTH - December 15, 2016

I was glad to be able to make time recently to review the Provincial Health Officer’s (PHO) report on child and youth health in B.C., released in November and titled “Is ‘Good’, Good Enough? The Health and Well-being of Children and Youth in B.C.”

This report, released in partnership with Child Health B.C., is the first of its kind in Canada, and is a great opportunity for us to learn where we’re succeeding as a province, and where there’s room for improvement.

Overall, it was encouraging to hear that the health and well-being of B.C.’s children and youth is quite good, and that we have made progressive improvements in recent years.

The report showed we’re doing well in many areas: the infant mortality rate has decreased; visible tooth decay in young children has decreased; there are fewer children with unmet food needs; and many kids are reporting participation in extracurricular activities and sports. Additionally, more B.C. students are eating fruits and vegetables, with 94 percent reporting that they ate fruits and vegetables the day before. And, in the 10 years between 2003 and 2013, the percentage of students who reported ever having used tobacco decreased from 34 to 20.7 percent, while the percentage of those who reported having used marijuana also decreased.

In B.C., we’ve introduced many measures to make sure moms and dads have the support they need to do the important work of raising healthy kids, in an effort to produce improvements and positive health outcomes like these.

To encourage healthy eating in schools, we introduced the B.C. School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program,  which supports healthy eating in schools by delivering fruits and vegetables to more than 1,400 B.C. schools, including 40 schools in the Central Okanagan, 13 times every year. This program, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, combined with the fact that the sale of junk food in our schools has been banned since 2008 and that all K-9 students are required to partake in 30 minutes of physical activity daily, has done a lot to promote health-consciousness in our schools.

For families raising active kids, we also have the Children’s Fitness Credit in B.C. – a non-refundable tax credit of 5.06 percent of eligible expenditures up to $500 for each child.

We’ve also worked hard at discouraging tobacco use, and protecting our kids from exposure to second-hand smoke with measures like banning smoking in all public places and in vehicles with occupants under the age of 16.

It’s thanks to measures like these and the conscientious efforts of B.C.’s parents that the children and youth of B.C. are in good health, overall.

However, just as the PHO’s report asks, we must ask ourselves – is “good” good enough for our kids and grandkids? One look at my own granddaughter Luna is enough to answer that question for me.

The report points out several areas where there’s more to be done for children and youth across B.C. While our youth are reporting increased levels of family and school connectedness, there are fewer of them who feel they don’t have an adult they could speak with about a serious problem. There also remains significant disparities in general health status, geographically and as relates to sex and gender.

We are fortunate in the Okanagan to benefit from one measure taken recently to increase access to supports for our youth. Foundry Kelowna, a new integrated youth-service centre opened this month, will make it easier for youth to get any primary care, mental health, substance use or social services help and support that they need.

It’s good to know that B.C. is a leader among provinces when it comes to the health of our kids. But we didn’t get here by being complacent, and we won’t rest on any laurels now. In fact, the opposite is true – reports like this one from the PHO can act as a guide as we plan for the future.

Together with support from parents, communities, schools and health authorities, we will continue to work hard to ensure we’re pushing forward from “good” health outcomes to the excellence that our kids and grandkids deserve, right across the province.

To read the full report, visit www.ChildHealthIndicatorsBC.ca.

INCREASING FOOD SUPPLY SECURITY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA - December 1, 2016

Big things were happening for BC’s agricultural sector this month, right here in Kelowna.

On November 14 and 15 at the BC Agrifood and Seafood Conference: Growing the Future Together, we not only welcomed over 35 experts from around North America for a conversation about increasing food security – we also set the wheels in motion on some exciting agriculture technology projects, connected local food producers with retailers and distributors, and heard from famed BC chef Vikram Vij.

The conference grew out of our BC Liberal government’s commitment to increase food supply security in our province. We’ve been working with farmers, ranchers and the seafood and food manufacturing sector toward this goal, developing policies and programs to encourage agrifood production. Thanks to the hard work and passion of BC’s food producers and our commitment to this goal, we’re seeing great results already. BC’s agrifood revenue last year was a record $13 billion.

However, we know there’s more to be done. Our goal is to reach $15 million in annual revenues for BC’s farmers and agrifood companies by 2020 by increasing production, driving competitiveness and building markets – which will in turn increase food security.

But we can’t do it alone. At the BC Agrifood and Seafood Conference, we gathered some of the best agricultural minds, leading technological and business experts and – of course – BC’s food producers to help us build a foundation for our next steps forward.

We had some great break-out sessions with our panelists, a diverse group of experts who shared their insights about the roles they and others can play in strengthening food supply security.

But before we sat down for the panels, we had an exciting opening to the conference – the launch of the Agritech Innovation Challenge.

Agriculture technology, or agritech, has the potential to maximize the productivity of our agricultural sector while minimizing inputs, and so to create the best value for our farmland and coast.

Participants in the Challenge were tasked with developing a product or process that promotes overall food supply security for BC. At the conference, they discussed their ideas with technology, entrepreneurship and agriculture experts. After two weeks to refine their proposals, they submitted their entries at the end of November – Challenge finalists will move toward receiving funding to help make their ideas a reality.

Our government, in partnership with the federal government, is proud to support the development of the successful Challenge proposals through the Growing Forward 2 program.

The conference also allowed BC companies that are already using new production practices and technology to display their innovations at our exhibitor showcase. The many food producers in attendance not only had the opportunity to see this agritech in action, but to meet with retailers and distributors looking to strengthen their local suppliers’ networks.

From facilitating these local connections to sowing the seeds of new advancements in agritech, this conference was an overwhelming success. I look forward to seeing this success continue, as we work together to strengthen BC’s agrifood and seafood sector.