The B.C. Rural Dividend Fund has been suspended, as local mayors learned that the $25 million from the program would instead be allocated to the B.C. Government’s $69 million commitment to the struggling foresty industry.
Learning that the funding was being taken away at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) Convention, the local mayors were taken aback by the announcement.
“I think we’re still in a bit of a state of shock over the whole thing,” Don McCormick told MyEastKootenayNow.com, Mayor of Kimberley. “It’s going to take a few days here to digest it all and figure out what our path forward is.”
As of September 17, 2019, the B.C. Government announced $69 million in funding to help the forestry industry, what was learned is that the entire $25 million from the B.C. Rural Dividend would be supporting that announcement along with another $12 million from the Advanced Education Fund.
“This was dedicated funding to rural British Columbia and now that’s left in limbo,” said David Wilks, Mayor of Sparwood. “It will be very difficult for smaller communities to access funding from other means.”
Both McCormick and Wilks said that all communities across B.C. are concerned for the communities affected by the forestry industry and the collapse of the market, but not at the expense of every rural community with less than 25,000 people that heavily relies on the Rural Dividend Fund every year.
“It cuts across a wide variety of needed projects and the fact that that’s no longer available is going to have a significant impact on the things that we’re doing,” said McCormick. “The real impact is going to be maintaining the kind of momentum that we have out here in our region right now, it’s a momentum killer is what it is.”
“The Province created a problem in which communities such as Sparwood who had made an application to the Rural Dividend Fund for a project in our community, which was the revitalization of Centennial Square, in which that application is now parked until some form of funding comes available again,” Wilks told MyEastKootenayNow.com.
The District of Sparwood’s application for the Centennial Square Revitalization was for $100,000 from the Rural Dividend Fund while the City of Kimberley made a $125,000 application for the Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Society to look at Kimberley’s outdoor recreation assets and attract companies to the community who do research, development, and manufacturing in that industry.
“The individual organizations that have submitted the grants are going to have to evaluate their situation and see if in fact there is an alternate source of funding,” said McCormick. “That’s going to put incredible pressure on some of these other funding agencies and operations. It’s going to be a trickle-down effect that is going to be devastating for everybody.”
Wilks said there are no immediate remedies to help save the suspended applications and not a lot of options to find other sources of money for projects.
“You have to wait for those grant opportunities to come available, either provincially or federally and then they have to fall within the mandate of what you are trying to accomplish,” added Wilks. “You have to find that proper grant and then on top of that, if it’s federally, you’re competing with every community in Canada and that becomes a real problem. I’m hoping that the Province of British Columbia will find another avenue to be able to assist those in rural British Columbia.”
The BC Liberal Caucus has since called on the B.C. Government to immediately re-instate the B.C. Rural Dividend Fund, which provides $25 million every year to assist rural communities with a population of 25,000 people or less to diversify and strengthen their local economies.