The Village of Telkwa will not be getting the $10,000 it applied for to complete a parks master plan this year.
That is because early last week, Doug Donaldson, the province’s forests minister announced the B.C. government is cancelling the $25 million Rural Dividend Fund for this year. The fund was set up by the former B.C. Liberal government to provide economic diversification to communities of 15,000 population or smaller, many of them dependent on a single industry.
The money is being diverted to create a $69 million assistance fund for workers in four B.C. Interior communities that have seen a permanent closure or indefinite curtailment of mills: Quesnel, Chasm, Vavenby and Fort St. James.
Although the Town of Smithers had no applications in for this year, Acting Mayor Gladys Atrill said she was disappointed by the decision.
“Generally, it’s disappointing when funds are pulled away for something that communities can apply for and use for special projects or their own ideas of diversification,” she said. “I heard the minister speak the other night about the reasons why and I certainly have sympathy for communities that are going through the crisis of the mill curtailments and shutdowns. So, I support the sentiment and the initiative of the government for putting money into those communities, I just wish it wasn’t that fund.
“I wish there was another fund where that money could have been taken from because I think the Rural Dividend is now something that people count on as well as an opportunity for doing new projects and adding a bit of vitality to other projects and other sectors.”
In the past, the fund has paid for Smithers’ Downtown Landscaping Concept Design and the Active Transportation Plan.
The Interior News was unable to contact Telkwa Mayor Brad Layton, who was away at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference for a comment on what the Village plans to do.
In a letter to the 338 applicants to the program this year, Donaldson suggested there may yet be hope.
“I recognize the importance of this program and the services it supports,” he wrote. “Staff are working with colleagues across other ministries to identify options for alternative funding, with an emphasis on community economic development and diversification.”
Later in the week, Premier John Horgan reassured communities at UBCM that the fund is not cancelled and will be back next year.
That’s not good enough for Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb, who said his community was counting on funds to help upgrade its water system.
Cobb noted the city is currently on a water quality advisory due to levels of manganese found in the water which do not meet Health Canada’s new water quality guidelines.
“We can’t wait two years,” Cobb said.
Horgan referenced that situation in his speech saying there are infrastructure funds being reviewed that could help with that project.