A rural economic trust that benefits the Southern Gulf Islands will be funded again this fall, according to the province — but at a fraction of what was hoped for by local officials, who fear dwindling dollars signal an end to B.C.’s support for small cultural and economic projects.
The Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) will receive $10 million through legislative amendments to be introduced in late 2023, according to Brenda Bailey, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation. It’s a one-time injection of cash rather than a self-funding endowment as exists in some other regional economic trusts. Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen said ICET dollars support important community projects up and down the coast, and that he’d called on the BC NDP to explain “why this government is allowing this fund to die out.”
“ICET has been advocating for a permanent fund of $150 million for months,” said Olsen, explaining that an endowment would allow projects to be funded indefinitely. “Similar trusts in the Interior and North have long-term financial instruments that they use to leverage investments in their communities. Instead, this government offers $10 million to come in late 2023 or early 2024 following amended legislation.”
Salt Spring Island’s Community Economic Sustainability Commission (CESC) lobbied for years to be eligible as a non-municipality to apply for ICET funding, and in 2021 was finally included — along with the rest of the Southern Gulf Islands. ICET grants support new infrastructure, enhance small-business opportunities and support Indigenous economic development, and have helped fund several regional projects on Salt Spring; the recent murals in Ganges were supported by grants from ICET’s new THRIVE Small Capital Program.
CESC chair Francine Carlin agreed the one-time funding wasn’t sustainable, and unless the province changes course, similar future projects would likely go unfunded.
“A sinking fund is like having the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of our communities,” said Carlin. “The government’s decision not to establish an endowment fund is a siloed, one-off approach that will not contribute to sustaining islands and coastal community economic development.”
ICET was created by the province in 2005 with a $50-million funding base; it was modelled after the Northern Development Initiative Trust, which had been funded the previous year with $135 million sourced from BC Rail sale proceeds. In 2018, ICET was recapitalized with another $10 million — and that’s running out, according to Olsen.
“The BC NDP have chosen to kick the can down the road,” said Olsen. “It will only be a matter of time before ICET is at risk of closing once more.”
Olsen said he’d tabled amendments to lift the cap on ICET funding and to “top up” to what ICET had requested, and called on Minister Bailey to bring them to debate. For more information about ICET projects, visit islandcoastaltrust.ca.