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

West Kootenay jogger barely escapes bruin attack

Man spends two hours up in tree, bear not located

Young farmers find a home through land-matching program

Young Agrarians links would-be farmers with landowners who have land to spare

Morning start: A history of the Arrow Lakes

Here is your Kootenays’ morning start for Wednesday, May 27

Restorative pole project underway in Edgewood

The pole was made almost 50 years ago to pay respect to local First Nations

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Risk of COVID-19 low in schools, Interior Health states

Medical Health Officer reassures parents as some children and staff head back to class June 1

Most Read