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.

Just Posted

T.W. Paterson column: This cougar story will never die

“As I walked along the last row in the Gallery, a skull mounted by one of the displays caught my eye!”

Shawnigan Hills parkrun report for Nov. 30

Seven personal bests set in chilly conditions

VIDEO: Celebrate magic of the holidays as Winter Harp returns to Cowichan Sunday

Wonderful Winter Harp is back at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on… Continue reading

VIDEO: ‘Holiday Magic’ when Celtic Rhythms and Summit Dance joined forces in Duncan

Fun and frolic combined with more serious selections to make a satisfying evening for everyone

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Bear raids freezer, gorges on Island family’s Christmas baking

Hungry bruin virtually ignored meat and fish, focused, instead, on the sweets

B.C. pharmaceutical company’s stocks double in value after successful lupus drug trial

More than 40 per cent of patients using voclosporin saw improvements in kidney function

Second warning on romaine lettuce from California region as another E. coli case reported

Two cases of E. coli have been reported in relation to the illness in the U.S.

B.C. Transit finds 28 used fareboxes online, saves $300,000

‘Someone joked maybe we can buy used fareboxes on eBay,’ CEO says

Many of Canada’s working poor can’t afford lawyers, don’t qualify for legal aid

One lawyer says many people earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to really live on

Economy lost 71,200 jobs in November, unemployment rate climbs to 5.9%

Jobless rate is at its highest since August 2018, when it hit 6%

BC Hydro reservoirs see record low rain across Vancouver Island

Hydro electric watersheds are at a third of their normal levels

Most Read