It is unacceptable the approximate 330 applications for this round of Rural Dividend Program funding have been cancelled, said MLA Donna Barnett.
“This program was put in place when I was the Minister of State for Rural Development,” Barnett said. “The pine beetle coalitions at the time made a presentation to government at UBCM asking for a rural development ministry, strategy and funding for rural development.
“We put this in place to help communities get projects going and help diversify economies. The program has been well received.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development confirmed the plan is to reallocate $25 million from this year’s Rural Dividend Program intake to provide support to workers and families impacted by mill closures and curtailments.
“Using this funding to provide critical supports for thousands of impacted workers will enable many of them to stay in their communities — reducing potential economic impacts within those communities,” the spokesperson noted.
“I know this reallocation of funding is disappointing for many communities, but there has not been another industry in B.C. that has experienced significant job loss of this nature – as forestry is the major employer in many Interior communities, we are reallocating these funds where they are most urgently needed.”
Barnett said there are going to be jobs lost by discontinuing the program.
“This to me is very discouraging, a lot of people are very upset.”
Kirk Dressler, economic development contractor for the Williams Lake Indian Band, said the band had an application in that would have contributed to economic diversification and job creation in the Cariboo.
“These are exactly the things we need to do to minimize the impact of the downturn in the forestry industry, so we were profoundly disappointed to hear that the province has suspended the Rural Dividend Program.”
Dressler said they met with other ministers and are hopeful the province will find another mechanism to support the band’s project.
“WLIB feels we need to be taking action now, and that the best solutions for our region come in the form of carefully planned brick and mortar projects that will create jobs and inject money into our economy.”
Thomas Schoen, chair of the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium, said there were numerous communities counting on the funding.
“Nature trail developments have been a key part of these initiatives that provide numerous social and economic benefits to rural communities, particularly those impacted by the 2017 and 2018 wildfires,” Schoen said.
Instead of cancelling the current round of applications and suspending the Rural Dividend Fund, the province of B.C. should be investing more into diversifying the economic foundations of rural and remote communities and supporting long-term sustainable economic development, Schoen added.
“This will be a much wiser and cost effective means for supporting not only forestry workers, but all British Columbians.”
The ministry said the Rural Development Program is not cancelled and in the 2018-2019 budget the program was extended to 2020-2021 and there will be further application intake periods in the future.
“All currently submitted applications will be retained so that the good work done by applicants will not be lost and can be considered when the program is continued.”