Forestry towns and First Nations integral to B.C.’s growth: report
The Rural BC Project says the provincial government needs to invest in rural B.C. for the sake of the province’s economic and social future.
The report, titled The Pathway to Prosperity in British Columbia Runs Through its Rural Places and spearheaded by the Southern Interior, Omineca, and Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalitions, was released as the final discussion paper on rural economic development on Jan. 18.
The paper asserts that places where forestry is the main industry have gone from being the fastest-growing to the slowest-growing in the province over the last 50 years, to the detriment of B.C.’s economic stability.
It defines rural areas as the 95 per cent of the province’s land where 15 per cent of the population lives — essentially, everywhere outside of Metro Vancouver, Central Fraser Valley, the Capital Region, and Greater Kelowna.
Among the report’s recommendations is that the provincial government appoints a cabinet minister for rural issues. In the meantime, it suggests the premier’s office oversees its 10-year strategy for investment in rural communities and First Nations.
“First Nations youth are less likely to leave their communities and with resolution of land claims, First Nations will increasingly have influence over the economic future of their territories, adjacent lands, and communities,” the report states. “Investment in First Nations ... makes sense because they can provide both labour and economic benefits for themselves and surrounding rural areas.”
It also recommends involving post-secondary institutions in the development of economic strategies and for their ability to provide critical research.
The report also posits that the government should provide investment in rural economic initiatives up front rather than program grants, which it says foster a competitive environment for limited money. It also suggests the government needs to take a more active role in the long-term direction of industrial resource development rather than providing standards and requirements for the industry to meet. The Environmental Assessment Act, the Heartlands Economic Strategy, and 2009’s “wood-first” policy in the construction of public buildings are only partially successful attempts to provide economic guidance in rural B.C., the report adds.
The paper says urban and rural communities are mutually dependent, and urban people should invest in rural sustainability, as rural lifestyles can offset urban ones. It references a Japanese policy for urban people to send money to rural areas for watersheds.
“Rural B.C. is extremely important to this government and I look forward to future discussions with the Beetle Action Coalitions on ways to bolster rural economic development in B.C.,” Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development Donna Barnett said in a press release.
The Beetle Action Coalitions are expected to meet this month with the provincial government to discuss the paper’s recommendations.