B.C. doubles the amount of money available through new rural development fund

The provincial government is doubling funding for an economic diversification fund it created a few months ago after it failed to meet the needs of a similar fund created by the previous government.

Brenda Bailey, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, announced on Tuesday (April 11) that the government will invest up to $66 million in rural economic diversification and infrastructure programmes.

Bailey made the announcement near the Kamloops area, where Tkemlups te Secwepemc’s economic development company will receive $100,000 to expedite the development of 230 acres within its reserve.

The provincial government first announced REDIP on November 15 with an initial budget of $33 million to promote economic diversification, clean economy opportunities and infrastructure in rural BC

The top-up announcement comes less than two weeks before Bailey announced $10 million for the Island Coastal Economic Trust pending legislative changes in the fall of 2023. ICET advocates have been lobbying for $150 million in funding as the fund enters its final fiscal year with less than $1 million in its coffers.

Adam Olsen of BC Greens, which represents Saanich North and the Islands, said at the time that the additional funding put ICET’s future “on track,” adding that it was only a matter of time before it faced closure.

ICET was launched in 2006 by the former BC Liberals to support economic diversification and growth on Vancouver Island (minus the Greater Victoria community, but parts of the Capital Region) and the coastal region opposite East Vancouver Island (minus the Lower Mainland).

Since its inception, the community has directly attracted more than $300 million in new investment by leveraging ICET’s $55 million in funding, according to its 2021-22 annual report.

ICET was one of three economic development funds set up by the previous government, which received $10 million, the others being the Northern Development Initiative Trust Fund and the Southern Inland Economic Trust Fund.

The current provincial government also announced the BC Manufacturing Employment Fund in early 2023, initially at $90 million, which has since doubled to $180 million to support communities affected by forestry closures.

Bailey said the funds were not competing with each other.

“These funds actually work well together,” she said.

REDIP has a different perspective in accepting applications from local governments, regions, Aboriginal communities and organisations, Aboriginal development companies and non-profit organisations. At the same time, the jobs fund supports businesses looking to add more value to their products, she said.

Meanwhile, funds like ICET allow community members to identify specific opportunities within their communities and fund them directly, Bailey said.

All of these funds demonstrate the government’s commitment to supporting rural British Columbia, she added.

Olson wasn’t so sure.

“Island and coastal communities are competing with those rural communities who can also get funding from their regional trusts,” he said during a question period in late February. “It’s puzzling that the Minister believes she offers a viable, long-term, sustainable alternative. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that REDIP funds provincial priorities while ICET funds local ones.”

Bailey responded that she was not implying that REDIP would replace ICET.

“There are many different ways that economic development can be promoted,” she said.

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