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Northern View

Dene Moore: The provincial budget did have spending of note for BC “Beyond Hope.” What it lacked was a strategic direction for the region.
Things look different from (and over) Prince George.

It would have been nice if the provincial budget included a service plan and strategic direction for rural development in B.C., as it did for Advanced Education and Skills Training, Agriculture and Food, Environment and Climate Change, Forests and many other areas that matter to the provincial government.

It did not.

But that’s not to say there wasn’t spending of note – or a lack thereof – for B.C. beyond the 604.

Most significantly, the budget includes $1.5 billion over the next three years to respond to the flooding events of last November, including $400 million for Emergency Management BC to support people and communities this year.

It’s been more than three months since the floods, and there are still victims funding their recovery with their savings and credit, so a day late and a dollar short are better than nothing.

The province will have to ensure recovery funds are distributed to all affected areas, including Merritt and Princeton – areas that so far seem to be overshadowed by Metro Vancouver-adjacent Fraser Valley.

There is another $243 million for the BC Wildfire Service and EMBC related to worsening wildfires in the province, including $145 million over three years to be used in part to make the BC Wildfire Service a year-round agency working on mitigation outside fire season, rather than the reactive seasonal service it has been. Those funds will also be used to improve Emergency Management BC’s response to climate-related disasters, including helping communities with emergency planning.

There is $83 million for a Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy, to expand climate monitoring networks, support government work with local and Indigenous governments on climate resiliency initiatives and develop an extreme heat response framework. The confusion that reigned over the role of municipal versus provincial authorities as wildfires scorched most of the Interior last summer would suggest that is long overdue.

There is also $210 million for community preparedness, wildfire prevention and Indigenous-led emergency management priorities.

B.C.’s disaster response resources have been taxed to the max over the past two years and it shows. Resources were strained beyond the breaking point, first by the heat dome and ensuing fire that burned Lytton, then one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, then the flooding. And they broke.

Any additional funds to help the province plan for the climate-driven disasters that have already become commonplace is much needed.

The budget also boosts the annual firefighting budget to $199 million from $136 million – an amount dwarfed by the estimated $565 million pricetag for fighting fires last year. In reality, it’s an exercise in budgeting and not limit on spending, as B.C. has blown through its stated wildfire budget every year for at least a decade.

The budget earmarks $185 million over three years to help forestry workers and contractors, industry, communities and First Nations adapt to changes in BC’s forestry sector. That will include connecting workers to short-term employment, education and skills training and economic diversification and infrastructure projects, as well as retirement bridging.

Forest revenue is forecast to decline 39.3 per cent this year, due to lower harvest levels and lower prices from the historic highs hit last year. Total harvest levels on Crown land are projected to decrease from 45 million cubic metres last fiscal year to 39.5 million cubic metres in 2024-2025.

The budget also reiterated the government’s commitment to improve the dismal distribution of high-speed internet throughout BC, committing $300 million over five years for rural and remote connectivity.

The government says 500 communities since 2017 have received high-speed connection and this will provide the same for another 280 First Nations, rural and remote communities.

The province’s spending plan does not reflect the shift in BC’s population growth over the course of the pandemic, as families and young professionals who can now work from home move to places they have a realistic chance of owning one.

It would have been nice to see that acknowledged, never mind encouraged, in the provincial government’s plans for the province.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo.