Columns: Lending a voice

Rural communities are the heart of B.C., providing wealth and prosperity for the rest of the province.

Rural communities are the heart of B.C., providing wealth and prosperity for the rest of the province. Our government promised to share the wealth that comes from rural B.C. more fairly with the communities that create it — and we’re keeping that promise.

In March 2015, I was named chair of the Rural Advisory Council, which was established to help identify opportunities for small communities to diversify their economies. One of the RAC’s recommendations was the creation of a Rural Dividend fund to contribute to the overall wellness and sustainability of our rural communities.

I was thrilled this past fall when our premier announced the creation of the Rural Dividend. This program will provide up to $25 million a year for three years to smaller communities like Williams Lake and 150 Mile House, to help them build capacity and promote economic diversification. It is part of our government’s commitment to ensure that rural communities remain great places to live and work.

This program is another example of how our government is giving a voice to rural communities. The Rural Dividend will help small communities with less than 25,000 residents remain strong. Applications for the first year of funding are now available and will be accepted until May 31. Funding is available in four categories: community capacity building, workforce development, community and economic development, and business sector development.

I encourage local governments, not-for-profit organizations and First Nations to apply for this funding. Single applicants can apply for up to $100,000 for community-driven projects and must contribute at least 20 per cent of the total project cost. Partnerships of more than one eligible applicant can apply for up to $500,000, and must contribute 40 per cent of the total project cost.

A project development funding stream of up to $10,000 is available to help communities with limited capacity put together business cases and feasibility assessments for future project applications.

Downloadable application forms, program criteria, and instructions on how to apply can be found on the new Rural Dividend website: www.gov.bc.ca/ruraldividend.

Donna Barnett is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin.