Practical Solutions to Advance Rural Development

The province today announced the creation of a Rural Advisory Council to provide input to government policy decisions to support rural communities. The announcement, complemented by the release of a provincial government report in support of rural development, achieves one of the action plan recommendations of the Rural BC Project Working Group.

At a clinic earlier in the day, members of the working group provided an update on the Rural BC Action Plan, which calls for access to investment capital, business transition strategies, and placing a rural lens on government policy, in order to help rural communities succeed.

Co-chair Don Bassermann reviewed the working group progress since last September, when Premier Clark assigned Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, as the Minister responsible for Rural Development and Donna Barnett as Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development.

With the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary in attendance, Bassermann detailed their four-point action plan for practical solutions, including:

  • A BC Community Economic Development Investment Fund;
  • Provincial engagement with rural and First Nations’ communities on economic development and diversification, using a share of natural resource revenues;
  • A Rural Advisory Council to provide a rural lens on government policy, announced today; and
  • Development of an overarching rural strategy.

Bassermann cited UBCM’s Strong Fiscal Futures report, which calls for a new framework of taxation and revenue sharing with local government, as a key strategy to support all rural communities. Venture capital investment, business attraction, retention and succession strategies, and capacity building workshops and webinars were also recommended.

Increasing provision of natural gas and electric capacity in some Interior communities was cited as an obstacle to development. “Everything is on our radar,” said Grace McGregor, Rural BC Project Chair and Regional District of Kootenay-Boundary Chair Grace McGregor. “Once you start waltzing through obstacles, you figure out the bottlenecks and work them out.”

Presenters shared personal and poignant comments on the challenge of keeping young people in their hometowns. Offering skills training in smaller communities can help. Aspiring teachers, construction and health care workers and other economic pillars are usually lured away to larger centres for training. “It is more expensive to train in local communities, but it is a good investment if those young people stay in communities,” Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen’s observed. “Once they leave for training, they are not coming back.”

“Companies are increasingly realizing that skills training should take place within communities,” said Mackenzie Mayor Stephanie Killam, Omineca Beetle Action Coalition Chair.

Parliamentary Secretary Barnett praised the panel’s diligent and cooperative efforts, reminding participants that rural BC is the backbone of this province, accounting for 60% of the provincial tax dollars that pay for education and health care in BC.

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