Local B.C. communities to share in $1.62 billion recovery cash

“To kick start the economy and support communities,” Horgan says

Photo: Darren Stone, Times Colonist

The provincial government has allocated $1.62 billion for municipalities, transit and education as part of the pandemic economic recovery plan released Sept. 17.

“The steps we are taking now will improve health care, get people back to work, support B.C. businesses,” Premier John Horgan said.

The funding is a combination of federal and provincial monies.

Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) president Maja Tait called the plan “incredible news for British Columbia communities.”

Among provincial plans to support communities is $400 million to revitalize community infrastructure and support local governments to provide the services.

The funding includes $100 million in infrastructure grants for shovel-ready projects to create jobs, “to kick start the economy and support communities,” Horgan said.

Community infrastructure can also expect a boost as Victoria provides $300 million for infrastructure and connection grants. That includes roads and highways, small airports, and paths and trails.

Mountain resorts will be helped change to become all-season destinations. Tourism regions will also receive $20 million while tourism operators will be eligible for grants of $10-40,000 to restart.

“Our government will invest $19 million to support small municipalities who are dependent on tourism to build, adapt and diversify their tourism infrastructure,” the plan said. “This program will create job opportunities in the communities and prepare for the future. “

“Local governments have been on the ground supporting people in their communities,” Finance Minister Carole James said.

And, said Tait, mayor of Sooke, helping local people as well as loss of revenues has “left big holes in local governments’ budgets.”

She said the UBCM has been in ongoing contact with both Victoria and member communities since the pandemic’s start.

“We feel the overall impact is a boost,” she said.

James said infrastructure development would not only create local jobs but also increase access for people to necessities such as health care.

She said officials would be further meeting with municipal representatives as part of next week’s UBCM annual meeting. (The conference is being held virtually).

James said work is being done to assist communities in dealing with the increasing numbers of homeless camps in the province.

The plan said $100 million would be allocated specifically for tourism to support businesses and communities to be well positioned to re-emerge in 2021.

Further impacting local communities, a new tourism task force is set to develop recommendations on how tourism in B.C. can be well positioned for a 2021 tourism season and ideas on envisioning a sustainable future. Some $50 million is earmarked to implement task force recommendations.

Local communities can also expect businesses to receive multiple streams of funding for businesses to expand or to produce critical supplies.

Communities can expect greater digital connectivity with $90 million to expand the Connecting British Columbia program. That will include funding to assist businesses shift to online sales.

All of those supports – whether business assistance or infrastructure projects combine to assist communities, Taint said.

“This is really important in small towns as well as large cities,” Tait said.

The infrastructure funding is important as it will help get local contractors back to work on projects that were ready to roll but faced postponement, Tait said.

In its July Stronger Tomorrow Starting Today economic report, the Business Council of B.C. recommended municipal government reform.

The council proposed development of a new Municipal Planning Act expedite zoning and redevelopment.

And, Victoria listened, documents saying Victoria will assist municipal-level governments to speed up development application approvals.