The provincial government doubled funding for an economic diversification fund it created mere months ago, and after not meeting the demands of a similar fund created by the previous government.
Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey announced Tuesday (April 11) that government would invest up to $66 million into the Rural Economic Diversification and Infrastructure Program.
Bailey made the announcement near Kamloops area, where Tkemlups te Secwepemc’s Economic Development Corporation is to set receive $100,000 to speed up development of 230 acres of land on its reserve.
The provincial government first announced REDIP on Nov. 15, with an initial budget of $33 million to promote economic diversification, clean-economy opportunities and infrastructure in rural B.C.
This top-up announcement comes less than two weeks after Bailey had announced $10 million for the Island Coastal Economic Trust pending legislative changes in the fall of 2023. ICET advocates have been lobbying for $150 million in funding as the fund was entering its final fiscal year with less than $1 million in its coffers.
Adam Olsen of the BC Greens, who represents Saanich North and the Islands, said at the time the additional funding kicks ICET’s future “down the road,” adding it will only be a matter of time before it faces closure.
Launched in 2006 by the former BC Liberals, ICET supports economic diversification and growth on Vancouver Island (minus Greater Victoria communities but some parts of the Capital Regional District) and coastal regions opposite eastern Vancouver Island (minus Lower Mainland).
According to its 2021-22 annual report, communities have directly attracted more than $300 million in new investment by leveraging $55 million in ICET funding since its inception.
ICET is among three economic development funds created by the previous government that received $10 million, the other two being the Northern Development Initiative Trust and Economic Trust of the Southern Interior.
The current provincial government in early 2023 also announced the BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund with an initial amount of $90 million, since doubled to $180 million, to support communities impacted by forestry closures.
Bailey said the funds are not competing against each other.
“These funds actually work quite well together,” she said.
REDIP has a different lens in accepting applications from local governments, regional districts, Indigenous communities and organizations, Indigenous Development Corporations and not-for-profits. The jobs fund, meanwhile, supports businesses that want to add more value to their products, she said.
Funds like ICET, meanwhile, allow community members to identify specific opportunities within their communities and fund them directly, Bailey said.
All these funds speak to the government’s commitment to support rural British Columbia, she added.
Olsen is not so sure.
“The Island and coastal communities are competing against those rural communities that also have access to money from their regional trusts,” he said during Question Period in late February. “It’s inexplicable that the minister thinks that she has provided a viable, long-term, sustainable alternative. That’s not even mentioning the fact that the REDIP funds provincial priorities and ICET funds local priorities.”
Bailey responded by saying that she was not implying that REDIP would replace ICET.
“There are many different ways to do economic development,” she said.