By Korie Marshall

Up to $75 million will be available to help smaller communities, as recommended by the Rural Advisory Council. The announcement was made by Premier Christy Clark last week during a speech at the end of the Union of BC Municipalities’ annual convention in Vancouver.

The Rural Dividend was announced recently as a way to help rural communities, but no funding amount had yet been attached.

“Rural communities struggling to reinvigorate and diversify their local economies will be supported in building and implementing their own solutions, based on their community’s values and needs,” says a news release from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, which is responsible for rural development. “The Rural Dividend will support innovative and ambitious ideas and solutions with potential for the greatest impact on rural communities.”

Eligibility criteria and program details have not been finalized, but are expected by March 2013, and the application process is expected to be open starting 2016-17, with $25 million available for each of the next three years. It will only be available to communities outside of urban areas with a population of 25,000 or less.

The news release says the Rural Dividend will be focused on four priorities: building community capacity and quality of life; expanding learning and skill development opportunities; providing opportunities for rural youth to stay and return to rural communities; and encouraging collaboration and partnership between rural British Columbians and First Nations.

“Communities will need to clearly articulate what the funds will be used for and demonstrate the need to be filled,” says the release.

At the UBCM annual convention in 2013, Premier Clark tasked Minister Steve Thomson with the responsibility for rural development. In September 2014, the government committed to forming the Rural Advisory Council, and McBride resident Rick Thompson was chosen this spring to be one of the 14 members of the Council from around the province.

“There has to be a way to keep small communities alive,” said Thompson last spring, when asked about why he applied to join the council. “Populations are diminishing. People are looking for work in the big centers. Families are being separated.”

“But small rural communities provide the lifestyle that people want to have,” he added. “So we also have to be able to provide the livelihood that will draw people here.”

Thompson was also re-elected to McBride Council in a by-election this month.

“I am very proud of the work done to date by the Council and the implementation of recommendations provided to the Premier,” said Thompson after the funding announcement. “This is great news for rural British Columbia.” He says the Council will meet again on October 15 and 16th to continue work on the specific details of the Rural Dividend, and he’ll be able to provide more information on this initiative after that.