The findings of three regional beetle action coalitions in the final paper of their Rural BC project apply to all of rural B.C. said Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition (CCBAC) chair Williams Lake Mayor Kerry Cook.
Titled, The Pathway to Prosperity in British Columbia Runs Through its Rural Places – A long-term strategy for rural development, the discussion paper was jointly sponsored by CCBAC, the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition, and the Southern Interior Beetle Action Coalition.
It proposes that rural communities, beetle action coalitions, First Nations, economic development organizations, regional development trusts and other stakeholders work in partnership with the provincial government to develop a new long-term strategy for social and economic development throughout rural B.C.
The paper sets out 20 recommendations, including the formation of a leadership group in partnership with government to produce long-term work plans based on shared principles, the establishment of an ongoing revenue stream to fund the plans and deliver services, and the dedication of a cabinet minister with responsibility for rural issues.
“The objectives of the project is to raise awareness of the issues faced by rural B.C. and to present constructive and non-partisan recommendations about what rural communities require to meet these challenges,” Cook, told community stakeholders and local government leaders from the Cariboo at a media event held Jan. 18 at city hall.
Cook said the three BACs have already worked with stakeholders, reviewed and assessed the last 50 years of rural economic policies and programs in B.C., and searched North America, Australia and Europe for best practices used for rural economic development.
“We believe the information from our background work and recommendations found in this position paper apply to all of rural B.C.,” she said.
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said the release of the paper marked an “exciting day” for BACs.
“We started in 2005, there’s been a lot of research and a lot of energy and effort by those who have participated in the BACs, by citizens and organizations.”
She argued there’s been a lot accomplished.
“Many people say they don’t see anything on the ground, but there have been many initiatives and projects toward economic development and policies in government presented and put into place by the seed funds and the coalitions.”
Echoing Cook, Barnett heralded the initiative as something important for all of rural B.C.
“Rural B.C. is not urban-rural B.C. as some people call it. I bring that up at caucus all the time, “Barnett said. “It is the heart and soul of B.C. It is the Williams Lakes, Quesnels, the Anahim Lakes, the Horseflys and the 100 Mile Houses. It is difficult to get politicians to understand the difference and the fact that one size does not fit all.”
Many rural communities have lost their industry and are facing huge infrastructure deficits in the future, she added.
“We are coming to a curve in the road for Canada and British Columbia. There has to be funding to maintain infrastructure issues.”
Barnett said local governments, businesses, and BACs have to come up with solutions and work with the provincial and federal governments to solve the long-term issues.
“We can do many many things, but if we’re not on the same page we will accomplish nothing.”
Ministers Pat Bell and Steve Thomson are in support of the discussion paper and received it with “great enthusiasm” when it was presented to them last month, she added.
Now that the paper has been released, a workshop is planned in the near future with cabinet ministers.
“We will take pieces and make it a working document and it’s up to the pine beetle coalitions to continue to take charge. My request to the beetle coalition is do not let the bureaucrats steal your paper,” Barnett said. “You will have to be as forceful as you can be, in co-operation with government, and keep this document on the table.”