It appears the BC NDP are prepared to abandon rural Vancouver Island and coastal communities.
Despite spending more than $2.5 billion of so-called surplus money from Budget 2022 on provincial priorities (which I supported), it is unfathomable that the BC NDP has chosen to not re-capitalize the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICE-T). The Trust is a critical community-led economic development vehicle for rural communities in the region.
The BC NDP has asked for patience. What we are waiting for?
The provincial government, including more than a dozen BC NDP MLAs, are missing a critical opportunity to create a permanent fund with the budget surplus they rushed out the door in recent weeks.
We have seen more of the short-term, status-quo approach from Premier David Eby shoveling out short-term cash. Apparently, investing in an permanent economic development driver, one that leverages nearly a billion dollars over the 25 years to benefit communities on Vancouver Island, is too difficult.
It makes no sense. With the ICE-T legally required to wrap-up operations if the provincial government does not step up to the table, there is only so much patience. It is inappropriate and disrespectful for the BC NDP to continue to string along community leaders with no real tangible plan in place.
When I take a look at another example of where the government is using short-term thinking instead of long-term thinking, I think of another issue that I’ve raised in the last couple of weeks here, the Island Coastal Economic Trust.
The proposal that has been put in front of this government, back in September of last year, was to turn a sinking fund into a permanent fund, to place, yes, a large sum of money, but to protect it in a permanent fund and then allow the Island and coastal communities, the communities on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, to be able to draw from the profits that are made from the investment every year and disburse it.
Between $7 million and $12 million dollars every year could have been disbursed to those communities — again, on their priorities. But instead, that fund and the people who are operating that fund remain…. They have no idea as to whether or not they’re going to be required to shut down this year, because they run out of money, or whether or not they’re going to be supported in the short term, or what their long-term viability looks like.
This is just a missed opportunity. One that, frankly, shocks me, because these are communities that are represented by…. Other than my colleague from Cowichan Valley, all of the other communities that are within this trust area are members from the government side of the House. How it is that this was too complex an investment, and yet we see all of these other investments that are being made scrambled out to the end of this year, seems to me like a complete and total missed opportunity.
We could have taken some of the surplus. We could have even actually increased…. They asked for $150 million. The provincial government had the opportunity to increase that amount.
We see the kinds of sums of money that are being invested in certain areas and priorities for this provincial government. I think that so far — so far, anyway, I’m going to remain hopeful — the message to the people that live on Vancouver Island and in those coastal communities is that they are not a priority for this government.
Otherwise, we would have seen that fund recapitalized.
We would have seen those projects that have been so important funded on an annual basis. We would have seen an opportunity for other community members to also invest in that fund and grow it, making it a more impactful and a more powerful community economic development tool.
But unfortunately, they or those communities or the leaders…. I’m not sure what it is — not the priority for this B.C. NDP provincial government. Yet I do remain hopeful that if there is not a long-term solution, there is at least a short-term solution so that, then, the communities that are benefiting from these funds will be able to continue to invest in their local priorities.