It is not clear whether a fund supporting economic development across Vancouver Island will continue or start winding down this year.
Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey said Tuesday the province is currently in talks with the chief executive officer of Island Coastal Economic Trust about its future.
“We’re continuing to have discussions with the new CEO to explore funding options for ICET,” Bailey said. “We’ll have more to announce in future days.”
She gave this answer as part of a back-and-forth during Tuesday’s Question Period in the legislature with BC Green MLA Adam Olsen representing Saanich-North and the Islands.
Launched by the previous BC Liberal government in 2006, ICET supports economic diversification and growth on Vancouver Island (minus Greater Victoria municipalities but some parts of the Capital Regional District including southern Gulf Islands) and coastal regions opposite eastern Vancouver Island (minus Lower Mainland).
According to the 2021-22 annual report, communities have directly attracted more than $300 million in new investment to their projects by leveraging $55 million in ICET funding since its inception.
Half a million British Columbians, including many First Nation communities, live within ICET’s coverage area and its future has been up in the air.
ICET’s chief executive officer Brodie Guy and board chair Aaron Stone, who recently won re-election as Ladysmith’s mayor, have called on the province to renew the fund this year.
“Renewal of (ICET) is imperative for us in 2022/23,” they wrote in ICET’s annual report for 2021-22. “Without new investment this year, the board of directors must initiate dissolution of the Trust in 2023/24 — closing the doors on the only trust financing economic development across our vast region serving more than 500,000 British Columbians and Indigenous people.”
Olsen reminded the government of this uncertainty.
“Our local government colleagues rely on these funds to be able to fund local projects,” he said.
Resilient communities require reliability in government funding, he added. “They need to know how they’re going to be able to plan,” Olsen said. “Unfortunately, according to the act, ICET is about to have to shutter their doors because their funding is coming to an end.”
Olsen added that 28 communities including Courtney, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Powell River have also asked about the future of the fund.
“I look to my colleagues on the (government) side who represent these communities and wonder out loud how it is that we even got to this sort of brinkmanship situation,” Olsen added.
Bailey, who described herself as an “Island girl,” said these communities “matter deeply” to her and government. Communities in ICET’s region are also able to apply for funding through the government’s new Rural Economic Diversification and Infrastructure Program to drive economic diversification.
“The first intake just closed, and we’re very excited about the quality of the applications that have come in,” Bailey said. “We’ve got more work to do. The focus on local communities continues, and it’s incredibly important to us.”
After coming to power in 2017, New Democrats have invested about $13.3 million into the fund. “This funding has supported the trust to hire business advisers, to help diversify local economies through the pandemic and to help mitigate changes in the forestry sector,” Bailey said.
Black Press Media has reached to Bailey’s ministry and Stone for additional comment.