This summer while the forestry crisis was in full swing in rural British Columbia, workers in hard-hit forestry-dependent communities anxiously waited for government relief. Months passed with little action from the Province on the issue, until mid-September when the government announced modest monetary relief for forestry workers.
The Minister of Forestry, Doug Donaldson, announced $69-milllion in funding for forestry worker supports, and although the funding was not as comprehensive as people had hoped, it was encouraging to see the forestry crisis being recognized by the NDP government. However, a few days later we found out that the money promised to forestry workers was actually repurposed funds from another program important to rural B.C. –the Rural Dividend Fund.
The Rural Dividend Fund is a program that was introduced under the previous BC Liberal government with the purpose of promoting economic growth and diversification in rural areas. Communities and First Nations with populations of 25,000 or less have come to rely on this program to fund important projects that they could not otherwise afford.
There are countless success stories of the program helping small B.C. communities grow their local economies and generate jobs, multiple right here in the Fraser-Nicola. However, in order to pay for the $69-million promised to forestry workers, the NDP government has indefinitely suspended the Rural Dividend Fund. Communities that had been counting on funding for vital projects were then quietly sent letters from the Province letting them know that their applications would not be considered at this time.
This year the government has already received over 300 applications for the Rural Dividend, and it is difficult to think about so many communities being left without funding for their much-needed projects, especially when so many are already in a difficult place as a result of the forestry crisis. It is my hope that the government soon recognizes the importance of the Rural Divided Fund and swiftly reinstates it for the good of rural B.C.