Sun Country’s manager, Deb Arnott, is excited about being a part of the newly formed Rural Advisory Council. She calls them “git ‘er done people.”
Made up of 14 individuals with a background in economic development from around the province, the Council’s mandate is to provide input to government policy decisions “to best support thriving rural communities, while keeping in mind government’s need to control spending…”
The group held its first meeting in June. They were introduced to Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson and then met with Premier Christy Clark and talked about their mandate.
“What an enormous skill set around the table,” says Arnott, and they are all kept on track by a strong meeting facilitator. “Each of us has our own priorities,” she says
The group was appointed last Fall under the encouragement of MLA Donna Barnett, Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Thomson. The members have a two year term and meet quarterly to discuss the issues they believe are important to rural communities.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see it’s wide open,” says Arnott. “The group determines what it discusses. We have the opportunity to bring our views to the table and we have the opportunity to provide input to the government.”
At the June meeting, the group discussed what a rural dividend might look like. “We know that small communities need support,” she says. Communities are faced with an inequity of the tax base. How can unincorporated communities access funding when they need matching dollars, when they need someone to make the application in the first place? How can we make it work for them? she asks.
Arnott says she loves having MLA Barnett at the table. She says the former mayor of 100 Mile House sits at the table with them as the Council’s chair, listens to them and participates in the discussion. Then she reports to Minister Thomson, telling him how the decisions were made, sharing with him her passion for rural communities. Prior to 2013, Barnett was the Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Communities and Development to the Minister of Community, Tourism, Sport and Cultural Development.
The next meeting is planned for October and the group has already decided it will discuss access to capital for rural communities. It could be for groups or businesses.
Arnott says she’ll be gathering feedback before the meeting. “I want to ask the businesses what’s stoping you from accessing capital in the region? I want to know challenges. I also want to know what works.”
She believes the communities need to be more proactive. “Contact the council members. Call us to discuss your issues and have recommendations, she says. What government policies do you find problematic?”
“I think it’s working out really well,” she says. “I believe [the council] has an opportunity to provide recommendations directly to the government that we never had before.”
There are so many layers of government these days, Arnott says, but the council has a mandate to take its discusson directly to the government.
“It’s interesting, she says, “how similar we are in some things. “Education and health care have been a problem forever. People want to do the same thing over and over again. Maybe we need to change how we’re doing it. Maybe this group has the opportunity to make the change to move it forward.”