Part of the premier’s riding is now eligible for rural grants while other regions still await designation change
Part of Premier John Horgan’s Langford—Juan de Fuca riding was quietly granted rural funding status on the eve of his snap election call.
The regulatory change came via an order-in-council that added the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area to the North Island-Coast Development Initiative Trust Regions regulation.
Signed by former jobs minister Michelle Mungall on September 20, it was one of several OICs finalized by various ministers the day before the election was called.
Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who has been advocating for a similar addition for parts of his Salt Spring Island and the Southern Gulf Islands riding for years, says the last-minute change looks like political favoritism on behalf of the premier.
“It seems like it was a deliberate exclusion of these areas that the [jobs] minister herself admits are rural,” he told BC Today in an interview. “What they did on the eve of the election was they included Juan de Fuca, which is a large chunk of John Horgan’s riding. They did not include the Southern Gulf Islands.”
Now, parts of Horgan’s Langford—Juan de Fuca riding will qualify for access to the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET), which doles out grant funding to rural communities on B.C.’s south coast for projects ranging from infrastructure improvements to innovation initiatives.
In 2018, the NDP added $10 million to ICET’s coffers. In its most recent fiscal year, the trust provided more than $1.5 million to successful projects.
Premier Horgan’s office told BC Today the changes to Juan de Fuca’s designation were made based on “regional concerns.”
Regional inclusion push had been a package deal
The local area directors for Juan de Fuca, Salt Spring Island and the Southern Gulf Islands wrote to Horgan last fall, asking to be made eligible for ICET funding. The jobs ministry had already confirmed the requisite consultation process “was complete, was satisfactory, and should lead to a positive decision,” per the letter.
According to Olsen, the push for the regulatory change has “always gone forward as a package.”
For Francine Carlin, chair of the Salt Spring Community Economic Commission, the OIC “looks like a political move.”
“It’s not representing … all the islands and coastal communities in BC — it’s only representing those who supposedly have a good relationship with the premier,” she told BC Today. “This is pretty outrageous.”
The ICET was founded in 2006, and Carlin has been trying to figure out why Salt Spring and the Gulf Islands are not eligible for its support since she first became a commissioner in 2016.
“Even though we are paying rural taxes, the Southern Gulf Islands area is not considered rural,” Carlin said.
During the summer session, Olsen said he was told “the job was going to be done.”
“If the government made the decision that the Southern Gulf Islands and Salt Spring Island are not rural — that they should be treated like the City of Victoria or Saanich — then they should explain that to me, openly,” he said. “And they should openly explain that to the community leaders on the Southern Gulf Islands as to why they’ve made this decision.”
The province will take Olsen’s request under consideration once a new cabinet is formed, per a spokesperson in the premier’s office.