It’s hard to believe, but when it comes to accessing certain pots of government money, Salt Spring Island is not deemed “rural.”
Local governments in many far-more-populated areas of B.C. are eligible for considerable funding from programs such as Community Futures and the Island Coastal Economic Trust. Grants can be used for all kinds of infrastructure and economic development projects, of which Salt Spring has many in the works or at least envisioned. Because Salt Spring, the other Gulf Islands and the Juan de Fuca area are part of the Capital Regional District, they cannot access certain program funds, even though they are the epitomy of “rural.” They have economic development challenges and are physically isolated from larger centres.
Bowen Island, with a population of 3,680, also finds itself in the same position being part of the Metro Vancouver Regional District. It makes no difference that Bowen is incorporated and Salt Spring is not.
Almost two years ago at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, CRD electoral area directors Wayne McIntyre (Salt Spring) and Dave Howe (Southern Gulf Islands) convinced conference attendees to pass a resolution calling on the governments of Canada and British Columbia to recognize the rural nature of CRD electoral areas and include them in all future government programs and grants aimed at rural areas. After that, the Gulf Islands were deemed eligible to receive some B.C. Rural Dividend funds.
But the voice of the UBCM did not lead to all of the desired changes, so last week the issue was brought to Islands Trust Council.
To the credit of trustees from all of the islands, they put their support behind motions to have Trust Council chair Peter Luckham write to both Premier John Horgan and to the federal Minister of Western Economic Diversification Dylan Jones about this issue. While we all know that the islands’ local governments are anything but coordinated, it is heartening to see one agency readily giving support to another.
Our local MLA Adam Olsen and the CRD Board have also written letters to the powers that be, advocating for change. With a concerted push from various quarters, we expect to see senior governments examining the evidence and giving our islands the obvious “rural” designation they deserve.