Lumby Mayor Kevin Acton joins other rural mayors describing need for B.C. rural diversification fund at Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, Vancouver, Sept. 24, 2019. (Facebook)

B.C. communities protest transfer of aid funds to those hit by sawmill closures

‘Rural dividend’ money diverted to communities losing mills

The B.C. government’s decision to transfer its $25 million annual “rural dividend fund” to an aid package for communities losing their sawmills has prompted a backlash.

The fund was set up by the B.C. Liberal government to provide economic diversification to communities of 15,000 population or smaller, many of them dependent on a single industry. That changed Sept. 17 when Forests Minister Doug Donaldson announced ministry funds have been reallocated for this year.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson hosted rural community representatives at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Tuesday, where they took turns blasting the decision.

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb said his community was counting on funds to help upgrade its water system.

Cobb noted the city is currently on a water quality advisory due to levels of manganese found in the water which does not meet Health Canada’s new water quality guidelines.

“We can’t wait two years,” Cobb said.

Wilkinson said the current year’s rural fund has 338 applications, totalling $35 million in needed assistance. The province has $300 million that was “left on the table” after a calm forest fire season, and that money should be available to help with rural needs whether they are related to mill closures or not, he said.

The new assistance fund is $69 million over two years, directed to four B.C. Interior communities that have seen a permanent closure or indefinite curtailment of mills: Quesnel, Chasm, Vavenby and Fort St. James.

RELATED: B.C. offers early retirement, training fund for forest workers

RELATED: Teal-Jones shuts down remaining B.C. coast logging work

Port McNeill had an application in for the earlier fund, and Mayor Gaby Wickstrom was first to speak out publicly about the decision to defer applications to next year.

“Rural communities are going to keep knocking on the minister’s door until someone realizes the reallocation of the rural dividend funds has been a big mistake,” Wickstrom tweeted from the UBCM convention.

Donaldson sent letters to applicants for the rural dividend fund on the day the sawmill relief fund was announced, advising them their grant applications are “suspended until further notice” to help those hardest hit by a wave of mill closures across the Interior.

“I recognize the importance of this program and the services it supports,” Donaldson said in the letter. “Staff are working with colleagues across other ministries to identify options for alternative funding, with an emphasis on community economic development and diversification.”

Donaldson said projects funded through rural dividend funds in previous years are unaffected, and “all funded applicants are encouraged to continue to implement projects and complete the necessary reporting requirements.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. snap election: What we know about candidates running in the Nechako Lakes riding

Premier Horgan called for a snap election Monday, Sept. 21.

Letter: Assume COVID is in your community; Act accordingly

Chief of Staff at St. John Hospital writes letter to residents of the Omineca region

Vanderhoof’s Anonymous Art Show aims to go Canada-wide next year

The Anonymous Art Show in it’s second year is gaining popularity across… Continue reading

New book about Vanderhoof is a compliment to the people in the region, says author

‘Go North Young Man, Go North!’ is available at stores in the District

SD91 develops course to explore student identity and diversity

School District 91 has developed a course for grade 8 students that… Continue reading

COVID-19: 4 more deaths, 366 new cases in B.C. since Friday

A total of 8,208 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 since January

Group wants Parliament, courts to hold social media to same standard as publishers

Daniel Bernhard made the comments shortly after Friends of Canadian Broadcasting released a research paper

B.C.’s Chase Claypool catches first NFL touchdown pass

Abbotsford grad establishes new record for longest scrimmage TD by a Canadian

B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows

B.C. currently has 1,803 active cases after weeks of COVID-19 spikes in the province

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

181 days gone: Family continues to look for man last seen in RCMP custody 6 months ago

Brandon Sakebow’s last known location was leaving Mission RCMP cell, police say; family has doubts

B.C. unveils new cannabis sales programs to help small, Indigenous growers

Government did not say how it will define small producers, but says nurseries will be included in the policy

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Most Read