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
[email protected]

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Just Posted

Bella Coola under another winter storm warning

Freezing rain is expected by this afternoon

‘Scariest boat ride of my life’: Passengers trapped by ice on rocky Nimpkish ferry sailing

The ferry docked in Bella Coola on Jan.12 coated in a thick layer of ice

Heiltsuk Nation calls probe into arrest of Indigenous man at bank ‘woefully inadequate’

Maxwell Johnson and his 12-year-old granddaughter had been at a Bank of Montreal branch in Vancouver on Dec. 20

Indigenous athletes invited to apply for Team BC

The Games will be the largest multi-sport event ever held in Halifax

VIDEO: Soldiers trade rifles for snow shovels to help dig out St. John’s

A state of emergency is set to extend into a fifth day

Warm ‘blob’ could be behind mass starvation of North Pacific seabirds: study

Unprecedented death toll raises red flag for North American marine ecosystems

ICBC to bring in ranking system for collision, glass repair shops

Change comes after the much-maligned auto insurer has faced criticism for sky-high premiums

‘It was just so fast’: B.C. teen recalls 150-metre fall down Oregon mountain

Surrey’s Gurbaz Singh broke his leg on Mount Hood on Dec. 30

B.C. woman crowned the fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history

Malindi Elmore ran an incredible 2:24:50 at the Houston Marathon

Alberta bulldog breeder ordered to refund B.C. buyer over puppy’s behaviour

Tribunal ruled a verbal agreement to send a new dog superseded the written contract

Man dies in backcountry near Nelson’s Whitewater Ski Resort

The victim was found unresponsive in a tree well Friday

Cariboo Memorial Hospital on the mend after cold weather wreaks havoc

Burst pipes and water leaks cause three different incidents

Most Read