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BC Rural Dividend put on hold as $25 million reallocated to support displaced forestry workers

A decision to suspend the BC Rural Dividend Program indefinitely has sparked backlash.

Joining the BC Liberal Leader and other local government officials Tuesday morning in Vancouver was Mayor of Williams Lake Walt Cobb.

“We’ve used rural dividend many, many times but in this particular case everybody knows that the federal and provincial governments have just brought down new regulations in manganese,” Cobb said.

“The money, the $500,000 that we’re going to lose or will be put off for a couple more years is our water treatment plant for the City of Williams Lake. We’re on an advisory right now from Interior Health because of the manganese in our water. We can’t wait another two years to get our water treatment plant started and planned and get it in place so that we don’t have to boil our water.”

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Leader of the official opposition Andrew Wilkinson said the recently announced $69 million support package to assist displaced forestry workers which they believed is new money is not.

In a letter dated last week Thursday, Minister Doug Donaldson said that all Rural Dividend applications received in this fiscal year’s intake period from June 15-August 15, 2019 are suspended until further notice in order to support workers and communities in the interior as they face an unprecedented situation in the forestry sector economy.

“We are using the funds that we have now to support families and communities that are going through some very, very difficult and challenging times,” Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development, Ravi Kahlon told MyCaribooNow.

“But the applicants who have applied will be in the queue for the fund once it becomes back online. My hope is early in the new year but at the latest, it will be in the new fiscal year which is April.”

Kahlon said it is not ‘robbing peter to pay paul’ as Wilkinson had suggested and said the amount of funds that were allocated for the 2019 wildfire season has been spent with the majority of it going towards fire preparedness.

“The Rural Dividend fund is $25 million and the announcement was $69 million so clearly his [Wilkinson’s] math is off,” Kahlon said.

“But what I would say to that is all that $69 million is going to helping rural communities. In fact it’s going towards helping many of the communities that his MLAs represent, and so when he says that it’s phony money he should go talk to the workers that are going to be affected by the pension bridging or the direct job placement or the contractors who will be getting the contracts for fire prevention so they can keep their workers working.”

“We’ve made a decision to use some of the money from the rural fund but other places as well towards these communities that are directly affected, and I think it’s money well spent because keeping people and workers and families in communities is a good way of investing in communities,” Kahlon added.

Sickened by the decision says Cariboo Chilcotin MLA

“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,” Minister Doug Donaldson told MyCaribooNow.

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said she feels sickened by the news.

“They have taken away from many, many economic initiatives of small rural communities, even those that were not reliant on forestry,” Barnett said.

“So what they’re doing is that they’re penalizing people because they can’t manage money.”

Donaldson said while he knows this reallocation of funding is disappointing for many communities, 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,” Donaldson said.

“It’s unfortunate the Opposition is trying to create conflict between communities and workers instead stepping forward with realistic solutions. Our goal is to invest in communities by investing in workers and their families, so they can continue to live in their communities and contribute to their local economies.”

Donaldson added that in budget 2018-19, their government extended the Rural Dividend Program until 2020-21.

“So there will be further application intake periods in the future,” he said.

“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.”

(Editor’s note: Corporate Engagement Officer for the City of Williams Lake Guillermo Angel said Mayor Walt Cobb misspoke when he said the City is under a boil water advisory. Angel said the City is in fact under a water quality advisory.)

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