Rural Dividend Program put on shelf for a year by NDP government

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, October 2 2019

When the BC NDP announced in early September it would be providing $69 million to the ailing BC Forestry industry, the government did not mention it would be taking $25 million from the Rural Dividend Program as part of funding the $69 million.

This past week at the Union of BC Municipalities, the NDP government faced backlash from rural communities throughout BC as local government leaders spoke about the impact of losing the Rural Dividend Program.

During his speech to UBCM, Premier John Horgan said this was a one-year suspention of the Rural Dividend Program, and the program would be back next year.

It was through the Rural Dividend Program the government provided $100,000 to the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce, allowing the Chamber to develop a homegrown strategy for economic prosperity on Gabriola Island.

In March 2018, the Economic Development Advisory Group (EDAG) for Gabriola, Mudge, and Decourcy islands was formed as the advising body for the Community Economic Development Officer.

Julie Sperber, EDAG’s Economic Development Officer, confirmed this past week that the Chamber and EDAG had an application in this year for $100,000 to the Rural Dividend Program.

They, along with all other applicants, received a letter from the NDP government stating, “Recognizing that communities are important partners in the delivery of services for workers and contractors, interior communities addressing a permanent closure will receive $100,000, communities addressing an indefinite full-facility closure will receive $75,000, and communities dealing with a shift reduction will have access to a pool of funding to provide defined services for impacted community members.

“Funding this essential programming for impacted workers has required that we temporarily reallocate funding in the Rural Dividend Program. 

“As a result, all applications received in this fiscal years’ intake period June 15-August 15, 2019, are suspended until further notice.”

At UBCM, Premier Horgan justified the decision saying, “We need to get dollars into the hands of forest workers right now.”

“[Rural Dividend] is oversubscribed - it’s always oversubscribed. Many of the applications are better placed in another fund, for example water treatments is better served through major infrastructure investments, so we’re trying to marry up some of those applications with funds that are cost shared with the federal government as well.”

Staff from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development confirmed the following:

“Last week, we announced $69 million in funding to help forestry workers and their families weather the challenges of the transition our forestry sector is going through.

“We made a decision to put forestry workers and their families at the front of the line for funding by reallocating $25 million for this year’s Rural Dividend Program intake to provide critical supports 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 Rural Development Program is not cancelled. It’s a reallocation to put workers at the front of the line for the funding.

“In budget 2018-19, our government extended the Rural Dividend Program until 2020-21, so 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.”

Ministry staff said, they know, “this reallocation of funding is disappointing for many communities, but there has not been another industry in British Columbia 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.”