Currently, the only regional economic development tool available to rural communities to financially support their local priorities is the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICE-T).
As it stands, in the coming months the doors will be closed, and the lights will be off. It is inexplicable. All but two of the ridings in the region are represented by an MLA in the BC NDP majority government.
The ICE-T’s capital stream has accelerated projects like the Hornby Island Arts Centre and Parksville Outdoor Theatre. The community placemaking project stream has benefitted the downtown revitalization in Campbell River and Lantzville commercial core revitalization. The start-up stream has boosted the Cortes commercial commons, and Gabriola Island Quick Start projects. There are dozens of other examples.
For context, the ICE-T was created in 2006 with $50 million as a sinking fund. The BC NDP gave them a $10 million boost in 2017. This day was always coming. In September 2022, the ICE-T submitted a plan to the province asking for $150 million to re-capitalize as a permanent fund.
The proposal is to create a legacy that can leverage an estimated billion dollars of economic development over the next 25 years. Without ever touching the initial investment, the trust would draw between $7-million and $12-million annually, to disburse to countless more community projects. It is a sound proposal.
In the past couple of weeks, the provincial government has spent more than $2.7 billion on municipal funds to build new recreation facilities, roads or other municipal needs. The money is part of the $5.7-billion surplus cash that the government found in Budget 2022 and announced last November. ICE-T was eagerly hoping for good news in Budget 2023, but neither has anything for the fund.
I have had many conversations with my colleagues in the BC NDP. I have yet to find anyone who thinks it is a bad idea, however I am cautioned that it is complex. Yet, I fail to see the complexity. On many occasions I have seen how simple it really is: when a majority government wants something to happen, they make it happen.
The evidence is in the recent debates. The provincial government needs to spend the surplus by March 31, or it is used to pay down the debt. Premier David Eby told nine ministries to spend money. The Ready, Fire, Aim approach.
So why can’t we find the $150 million to re-capitalize the ICE-T, to create a long-term benefit for rural Vancouver Island and coastal communities? It is inexplicable. With deficit budgets forecast for the foreseeable future, now is the time to make this investment.
There is still time before the end of the fiscal year to change course! I will bring your message to the legislature and share it with my BC NDP colleagues. Send your note to encourage the BC NDP to not miss this important opportunity to me at Adam.Olsen.MLA@leg.bc.ca.
Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands