Province pressured to bring back funding for rural communities as money troubles loom
The pressure is on the province to bring back a fund that small communities rely on after the Rural Dividend Fund was temporarily suspended to help fund an aid package for forestry workers in the interior hit by a slowdown.
Friday, an emergency motion at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference put forward by Grace McGregor of the Kootenay Boundary Regional District called on the province to bring the back the fund, and easily passed. The call comes after several mayors raised concerns the sudden and temporary suspension would be devastating for their communities.
McGregor told CTV she hoped the province would take the concerns seriously.
Last week, the province announced a $69 million aid package for workers in the interior hit hard by a forestry downturn.
“All of us are really feeling bad for those communities, we really are,” McGregor told CTV News. “At the end of the day though, rural and remote and Aboriginal communities use this dividend for a leg up.”
The suspension of the dividend was only made public -- by mayors -- days after the "good news" announcement. The premier defended his government against criticism it wasn’t being up front.
“How much up front other than advising people we've curtailed it, do you want us to be? We've responded to a crisis in the forest sector,” he told reporters at a news conference after speaking at the UBCM conference Friday.
There's another possible crisis factoring into the decision to borrow old money rather than spend new money.
“Whether you’re talking about Brexit or trade wars, we have a very uncertain time when it comes to the economy,” said Finance Minister Carole James.
James ordered all government ministers to cut back on discretionary spending – things like travel, office supplies and consulting. The goal is to reduce expenses by 300-million dollars, the same amount the government has taken from contingencies to keep the budget on track.
James insisted that’s as far as it goes and at this point, there’s no hiring freeze. She did admit employment could be impacted.
Asked by a CTV reporter whether it would be up to each minister to decide whether to fill positions, James replied, “That’s right. Ministers know best their budgets and where they can find savings.”
For McGregor, the focus is also on the financial situation for smaller communities.
“We're not going anywhere but it would be nice if it was a little bit easier.”