The long-term future of an economic development fund responsible for more than $300 million worth of investment into Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast remains uncertain, despite promises of additional funding.
Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey announced Wednesday (March 29) morning that the Island Coastal Economic Trust will receive $10 million pending legislative changes in the fall of 2023.
ICET advocates have been lobbying for $150 million in funding as the fund enters its final fiscal year starting April 1 with less than $1 million in its coffers.
Adam Olsen of the BC Greens, who represents Saanich North and the Islands, said Wednesday’s announcement kicks ICET’s future “down the road,” adding it will only be a matter of time before it faces closure once again.
“It’s clear that Vancouver Island and coastal communities are not a priority for Premier (David) Eby, with billions of dollars of surplus he had the opportunity to ensure local economic development priorities could be funded in perpetuity,” Olsen said.
Bailey defended the amount. It’s a “significant” investment in line with those types of investments, she said, adding the government has no immediate plans to fund it beyond this year.
“There is not a commitment to give them more,” Bailey said, suggesting that the nature and operation of the trust could change in the future.
She added that government is also supporting Vancouver Island communities in other ways, pointing to the Rural Economic Diversification and Infrastructure Program. That fund will open up again in the fall, she added.
“So there (are) a number of ways that we invest in communities throughout the region.”
Launched in 2006, 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.
Wednesday’s funding announcement is far short of the figure found in ICET’s business plan submitted in the fall of 2022. It calls for $150 million toward a permanent fund, which ICET would then leverage to finance economic development projects up and down Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, a region home to 500,000 people, including many First Nations communities.
Brodie Guy, ICET’s chief executive officer, said earlier this week that locally elected leaders need an answer this week and no later than mid-April. Without additional support, the fund would have to start its dissolution process, Guy added. Assuming the worst case scenario, ICET could hold its last board meeting in the summer of 2025.
Speaking to Black Press Media Wednesday morning, Guy welcomed the funding while acknowledging that more work lies ahead.
“Our reaction to the announcement is that it is welcomed short-term investment to avoid coastal communities losing their only regional trust,” Guy said. “We recognize we have work to do with government to realize ICET as a sustainable and inclusive regional development organization that can drive real economic impact in its uniquely community-led model.”
Holly Plato, NDIT’s director of communications, welcomes the provincial funding.
“As this announcement is quite new, no decisions have been made with regards to how or where this investment will go,” Plato said. “We look forward to discussing next steps with our board and determining how Northern Development can best support the North.”
Laurel Douglas, ETSI-BC’s chief executive officer, said the funding shows the province’s commitment toward the economies of the Southern Interior. “We can’t wait to put these funds to work supporting communities in our service area,” Douglas said.
If Wednesday’s announcement promises to give ICET some breathing room, Olsen is pursuing a more permanent solution, having tabled a private member’s bill.
Wednesday’s funding announcement for ICET was part and parcel of a larger announcement that also sees the Northern Development Initiative Trust and the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior receive $10 million each.
Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development Roly Russell, representing Boundary-Similkameen, said the three regional economic funds have helped people and communities across rural B.C.
“By further investing in the three trusts, we can create new jobs and opportunities that will benefit people, businesses and communities across the province and continue building a strong, sustainable and inclusive economy that works for everyone,” Russell said.
BC Liberal Peter Milobar, Shadow Minister for Finance and MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson, said all three trusts do good work. “The real concern is around the time-lines, the rush with this year-end spent, making them wait so long, until literally the last two days it could possibly be announced,” Milobar said. “It just seems like a government that didn’t really have a target of how to actually properly address spending requests that were out there.”
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.