Burns Lake Mayor Dolores Funk is urging the province to increase funding for tourism development in rural and Aboriginal communities.
In a letter to the provincial government dated Nov. 12, Funk said the recent suspension of the BC Rural Dividend program has had “a direct and negative effect” on the municipality’s ability to support the local tourism industry.
All applications received during the sixth intake period of the program (June 15 to Aug. 15), which provides up to $25 million a year to help small communities diversify their economies, have been suspended.
“We need to diversify our economy into tourism,” said Funk, adding the village had applied for $100,000 to update its tourism strategy and expand services at the Burns Lake Visitor Information Centre, and the Burns Lake Mountain Biking Association had also applied for funding to expand their trail network.
Dawn Makarowski, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, which administers the fund, said there will be further application intake periods in the future.
“All currently submitted applications will be retained so that the good work done by applicants will not be lost and can be considered when the program is continued,” she added.
Government has been using the program’s budget to provide critical supports to workers and families impacted by mill closures and curtailments.
According to the province, approximately 700 workers in four communities have been impacted by permanent closure, 1,000 workers in 13 communities have been impacted by indefinite curtailments or shift reductions, and 728 more that have experienced some impact resulting from temporary curtailments.
But Funk said the fund was a “key resource” for communities such as Burns Lake, which heavily relies on the forest products industry, to diversify their economies.
Funk said First Nations communities in surrounding areas have been working hard to develop their tourism sector and that the municipality hopes to partner with them.
“As a council, we recognize that the only way forward is together,” said Funk. “Funding that specifically targets the importance of working together in this endeavour would be very welcomed.”
The Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture said in a statement that the province is committed to championing tourism in communities large and small across the province.
In 2019 alone, the province is forecast to invest more than $145 million in the tourism sector to help municipalities create tourism opportunities and experiences in all seasons.
Anticipating growth in Indigenous tourism, the province is also investing $440,000 to conduct labour market research and develop a strategy for that sector.
In addition, the Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund Society has recently awarded $14,800 to the Village of Burns Lake to develop a tourism plan.