SUBMITTED PHOTO Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom wrote this opinion piece about rural communities and how they no longer want to be ignored by government.

OPINION: BC requires healthy rural roots

At UBCM, small communities were saying they no longer want to be ignored.

This past week was a disappointing one for small, rural communities. From reallocating Rural Dividend funds to a convoy of trucks honking their horns showing government the face of a forestry sector in crisis. This was the week 250 interior forestry families drove to Vancouver to introduce themselves. They are our brothers and sisters and as I stood at the side of the road in solidarity, watching them file past, the emotion I felt caught me off guard.

I had hoped this convoy would get people’s attention, especially those in provincial government. I hoped they would hear the anguish of people fighting for their livelihoods and communities. Fighting for their families.

Small communities are very creative. We know how to turn a dollar into five or six. We know what’s best for our communities and we know how to leverage our money with provincial and federal funding. We forecast, plan, partner and communicate with one another. We balance our budgets and deliver services to our communities responsibly and with care. We are able to articulate our challenges with one another and work with others to solve them.

CBC Daybreak North interviewed Mayor Joan Atkinson from McKenzie and she stated, “The government did have representatives in the community about a week ago when Minister Donaldson made the announcement and we were just told it’s 69 million dollars and these are the programs it’s going to address, but what my community will be eligible for and what we will receive I have been given no notification about.”

It leaves me wondering if any consultation took place before the announcement was made. It’s akin to a doctor making a diagnosis about your health from across the room, having never asked you what your symptoms are and then writing a prescription based on his distant observation.

This week at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference, small communities were saying we no longer want to be ignored. The reallocation of Rural Dividend funds could very well have pitted the coast against the interior; instead it served to unite us. Large and small communities stood together. We asked to be treated equally and with respect. To work together to solve the problems we are facing. Island or mainland, rural communities have unique challenges and we feel the ripple effects much more quickly than urban centres. That’s why it is so important for us to have seat at the table.

Our province cannot afford to be divided. The problems facing rural and urban communities are the same and our aspirations no different: strong, resilient communities where everyone has the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

It’s time to listen to the blaring horns of rural communities who build the foundation of our province. Those communities whose rural, resource-based industries contribute $3,108,000,000 to provincial coffers. There’s value in reaching across the table and saying ‘how do we solve this together’.

Not disempowering us by making us appear to be petulant, spoiled children.

Mayor Gaby Wickstrom

Town of Port McNeill

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