GABY WICKSTROM PHOTO Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom called out the provincial government for reallocating rural dividend funds.

Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom blows the whistle on rural dividend funds

Rural dividend funds were set up to diversify economies and weather the storms that come.

A tweet from Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom went viral on Sept. 23, where she ‘outed’ the provincial government for reallocating rural dividend funds to aide the interior’s forest industry crisis.

When asked to comment, Wickstrom noted the decision to reallocate the money to fund the crisis “pits coastal and interior communities against each other,” adding that while she thinks the interior does need help, the rural dividend funds were “set up to diversify our economies and weather the storms that come our way.”

She continued, stating that for the Regional District of Mount Waddington (RDMW), this reallocation will affect “all our communities — Port McNeill has a small application in for a Downtown improvement initiative. Port Alice has a large grant application in for interpretive signage to attract tourists to their waterfront. The RDMW has an application in for a person to administer the Vancouver Island North Training and Attraction Society as well as fund the Forestry Fundamentals Training program in Woss.”

Currently, Minister Doug Donaldson has said the rural dividend funds are suspended until the 2020/2021 intake, but Wickstrom noted there has “been talk… at UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities) it may be longer.”

When asked how she found out about the reallocation, Wickstrom stated a letter from Donaldson “was forwarded to us from Community Futures Mount Waddington. When I arrived to UBCM after tweeting it on Friday, I was surprised how many had not known.”

She added Donaldson has commented that the interior needs the help and that the money was needed, but “he has not said why he chose the rural dividend fund as the place to go to. I want to be clear that I am not saying the interior shouldn’t get help. They should and they need it. In my opinion by taking from the rural dividend fund and reallocating it to the interior forestry crisis the government is pitting coastal and interior communities against each other. The rural dividend fund was a way to give back to the resource based communities who give so much in revenue to the Province.”

Donaldson announced a $69-million support package for displaced forest workers on Sept. 19, but didn’t mention the money would be found through the suspending of $25 million in grants that were allocated to develop rural economy.


@NIGazette
editor@northislandgazette.com

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