Rural funding status extended to Gulf Islands

By Shannon Waters February 17, 2021

The NDP government issued an order-in-council yesterday that Adam Olsen, the Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, said he has waited years to see.

The order adds Salt Spring Island and the Southern Gulf Islands to the North Island-Coast Development Initiative Trust Regions regulation. Part of Premier John Horgan’s riding received the same economic classification just before the snap election call last year, as first reported by BC Today.

“I spent the better part of three and a half years [working] with the former jobs ministers [Bruce] Ralston and [Michelle] Mungall,” Olsen told BC Today.

The province said the change was made because it “determined these communities have fewer services” than other, more urban parts of the nearby Capital Regional District and “lack the ability to cover the costs of core services and amenities and face challenges in developing their economies.”

No news release was sent out when the OIC for Juan de Fuca, the area in Horgan’s riding that gained the designation last September, was issued.

Olsen credits Economic Development Minister Ravi Kahlon for being receptive to his concerns on the matter but called the September exclusion of Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands “the most unnecessary thing.”

“It is bizarre,” he said. “However, I think it’s important to recognize this is an example of advocacy working and a minister that’s open and willing to hear that advocacy.”

Getting the new change made required a new round of advocacy from local reps. “I know I got copied on dozens, if not 100, emails asking the government to make this change,” Olsen said, adding that local lawmakers had been pushing for the change for “about a decade.”

The change enables all three electoral areas to apply for funding from the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET), as well as other funding streams available to rural areas.

ICET was created in 2006 and since then has provided more than $52 million to 225 projects.

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.