Don Blakely

Don Blakely

Vernon rep has good feeling on provincial search and rescue funding

Don Blakely of VSAR also sits on board of B.C. Search and Rescue Association

Vernon Search and Rescue won’t have to hold bake sales or scoop ice cream to raise funds like provincial counterparts may be facing if money from Victoria doesn’t come through at the end of March.

Search manager Don Blakely, who is also a director of large with the B.C. Search and Rescue Association, said Sunday the local organization gets tremendous help from local government.

“Vernon Search and Rescue enjoys the benefits of extraordinary levels of support. We are one of the best supported units in the province with that support coming from municipal governments and the regional district (of North Okanagan),” Blakely said.

“We’re in good shape (financially). There are units that are going to be strained and will have serious issues, but we’re not one of them, thanks to the generosity and support of our community.”

Blakely figures VSAR will be all right for the better part of a year before things start to hurt if there’s no search and rescue funding announcement from Victoria.

“It does impact us in things having fewer provincial courses available, things like that,” said Blakely.

Concerns were raised after no funding announcement for provincial search and rescue organizations was made in the recent budget.

Over the past three years, BCSARA has received three yearly grants of $5 million per year. VSAR has received a maximum grant of $100,000 each of those years from the provincial fund, which came about in 2015 after BCSARA submitted a business proposal to government, the first one, said Blakely, the government of the day ever took seriously.

“It was called the alternative support model. It proposed sustained funding for search and rescue at a provincial level and it proposed three different models,” said Blakely. “In today’s dollars, each model would cost $6 million to $9 million, depending on which model is picked.”

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The government, said Blakley, worked slowly on the proposal and would get pulled away from it for a quarter of a year due to things like flooding and wildfire season. BCSARA started complaining, then the grants were awarded, which pleased BCSARA as it allowed them to demonstrate they were capable of managing that amount of money responsibly.

Then, the government changed.

All the headway BCSARA had made on the political side suddenly had them starting over from scratch with new political personnel, like new ministers and deputy ministers. That slowed things down considerably.

Now, as the fiscal year-end date of March 31 approaches, BCSARA still doesn’t know what, if anything, they’ll receive for the ensuing year. So they’ve started shutting down programs early and pulling back on commitments for course delivery and training for the coming year.

Blakely believes one of three things will happen after Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced in the Legislature that government supports search and rescue. Only, as Blakely pointed out, “he didn’t say the magic words as to how many dollars would come with it.”

“I see three options before March 31,” said Blakely. “One is there will be no announcement. That’s the worst case scenario. The second option is the government needs more time, here’s another $5 million for a year. Carry on. It gives everyone breathing room.

“The third option is government comes through with a formal announcement of some type. If they do make an announcement, it may be a variation of one of our models.”

READ ALSO: RCMP honour Vernon Search and Rescue

BCSARA has struck two committees to pre-plan in the event a funding announcement is made. One is the BCSARA Roles and Responsibilities committee, which takes a broad view of all the relationships between the different players. The other is a BCSARA governance committee, which Blakely is co-chair of, to look at the internal restructuring of BCSARA if an announcement comes through which Blakely expects will happen.

“Our view is we are confident we are going to get funded, the only uncertainty is what the model will look like and when the announcement will be made,” he said. “The reason for that confidence is all the bureaucrats are believers (in search and rescue) and on our side, and they’ve been pushing this and pushing it hard.

“The results of the new election meant we had to re-educate the political people so that they managed to get on board and start pushing the process forward again.”

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