In an effort to prop up the province’s struggling forestry sector, the B.C. government suspended its rural dividend program, leaving some Shuswap groups which had been counting on the funding in a tight spot.
All applications to the fund received in this year’s June 15 to Aug. 15 intake are suspended until further notice. A statement from the government said all applications will be retained for vetting or funding consideration at a future date.
Funding applications received and approved during the 2018 application process are unaffected by the suspension of the program.
I’m calling on John Horgan to immediately re-instate the Rural Dividend Fund program.
— Andrew Wilkinson (@Wilkinson4BC) September 24, 2019
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson issued a statement on Sept. 24 calling on the B.C. government to reinstate the fund immediately. Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo called drawing from a fund meant to help rural communities diversify their economies ‘mean spirited.’
Kyllo noted the vast revenues the province draws from the forestry sector from stumpage fees, income taxes and other sources as well as the money the province saved this year due to a moderate forest fire season. He brought up the government funding a top-up for electric vehicle subsidies from a contingency fund, while taking the forestry assistance from a fund already bound for rural B.C., as an example of the government’s lack of concern for rural areas.
He said projects such as Salmon Arm’s Innovation Centre, which was assisted by rural dividend funding, will benefit the community for generations.
“To cannibalize that program and to take away the opportunity for other communities to access funds for programs like the Innovation Centre at the very time we’re trying to diversify local economies, it seems like robbing Peter to pay Paul to me,” Kyllo added.
One of the Shuswap groups that had hoped to put rural dividend money to work this year is the Shuswap Trail Alliance. Projects the Trail Alliance has been a partner on have benefited greatly from rural dividend funding in the past. Last year local governments and First Nations partnered with the alliance to secure $600,000 in rural dividend fund which assisted the rail trail and Secwepemc landmarks and trail sign projects.
Trail alliance executive director Phil McIntyre-Paul said it was hoped that a similar investment could be secured to help out the West Bay Trail project aimed at a safe pedestrian link between Salmon Arm and the nearby Neskonlith and Adams Lake reserves. Grants to support region-wide trail planning and infrastructure improvements focused on alpine trails in the east Shuswap were submitted this year at the cost of resources and staff time with no indication that grants from the dividend would be suspended.
Community Futures Shuswap had applied to the Rural Dividend Fund for phase two of its Indigenous tourism development project. Executive director Rob Marshall said phase one of the project is currently underway, having previously received support from the Rural Dividend Fund.