Rural B.C. needs to create a rural development strategy with new programs for economic development, revenue sharing, advocacy and venture capital, said Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition manager David Majcher during a presentation to Williams Lake city council last week.
Majcher introduced council to the Rural BC Project, which was designed to stimulate discussion and understanding of the challenges facing rural B.C. and what actions need to be taken to help rural B.C. communities succeed.
The project grew out of the Reversing the Tide initiative workshop held in Prince George in 2008, where people together from all over the world shared stories about the challenges of developing rural economies.
“That got the beetle action coalitions thinking that they needed to do something here in B.C.,” Majcher said.
All three beetle action coalitions are involved with the Rural BC Project, which includes identifying rural economic development and good practices, understanding of the mutual economic co-dependence between rural and urban areas, understanding the challenges and actions required to be successful and to demonstrate what best practices would be.
Rural B.C. is suffering from population decline, slow labour force growth, slow rates of business creation and the challenge to achieve healthy economic diversification, Majcher said.
“What’s interesting is that two thirds of provincial exports are derived from the rural areas. It’s not that rural B.C. isn’t important, it’s that were very important. The government’s invested heavily in economic diversification in urban areas but hasn’t spent too much effort trying to help us diversify our economies here.”
Alberta has a rural vision policy that is reflected in the planning and budget of every ministry in the Alberta government.
They evaluate their budgets and programs to make sure they’re not causing damage to the rural parts of their province, Majcher said, suggesting rural B.C. needs to bring all ministries together to help rural areas.
Rural B.C. has suffered the impacts of the mountain pine beetle and seen a decline in the forest sector that has created instability.
“Industries like mining and oil and gas are not always filling the gap,” Majcher said.
A rural dividend would ensure rural areas had a share of resource revenue generated in or near their communities.
Other provinces have core funding from lead agencies committed by contracts, usually protected from political interference.
“In Quebec they run their contracts out seven years on purpose and they line them up for the middle of government’s terms so they are looked after that way,” he said.
Having a senior B.C. cabinet minister responsible for rural development and a non-government organization that’s a rural advocate are crucial too, he added.
B.C. has had a successful record of venture capital, but the majority is invested in urban B.C.
Rural revitalization in the U.S. and Europe is focused on providing rural development venture capital so there are lessons to be learned from other jurisdictions.
At the upcoming Union of BC Municipalities conference taking place in Vancouver, Sept. 16 – 20, the CBACs hope to meet with Premier Christy Clark and other ministers, Mayor Kerry Cook said.
Council also unanimously passed a motion to write a letter of support to endorse the project. The goal is to recommend a long-term strategy for rural B.C. to be self-determining and have the tools and investment to succeed socially and economically. Project timeline is two years.