For some 30 years the Community Futures Programs of BC, funded Federally by the Western Economic Diversification (WD) agency, have had the mandate to support the economic well-being of rural communities.
Unfortunately, when the service boundaries were created, the rural islands were Not officially included in BC Community Futures (CF) service areas.
Over these years, due to some local advocacy, there has evolved an unofficial –Community Futures (CF) services verbal understanding: if a rural island business is located near the boundaries of the Sunshine Coast, Cowichan Valley and Central Island CF offices – then that business would be eligible for accessing CF programs. However, this unofficial understanding did not include listing rural islands as ‘areas we serve’, on the individual websites for the CF offices of:
- CF Cowichan – Salt Spring, Galiano, Mayne, Pender and Saturna Island
- CF Sunshine Coast – Bowen Island
- CF Central Island – Gabriola, Decourcey, Mudge, Lasqueti Island
- CF Mt Waddington – Cormorant, Malcom Island
With the onset of the pandemic and the response by government to provide vital recovery support to help sustain businesses through this crisis, Community Futures served as the organization to facilitate rural community requests for support through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF). Local communities were informed via their CF offices to check the CF-RRRF Location Finder to determine the CF office that would serve their community.
The rural islands were not included in these announcements.
Moreover, the Rural Islands Economic Partnership Society found that since the launch of RRRF in April 2020, none of the rural islands were included in the CF RRRF Location Finder.
In January 2021, the RIEP Board, led by Chair, Francine Carlin and Vice-Chair Mike Hoebel, contacted their MP Elizabeth May – representing the Saanich Pennisula and the Islands, to help correct this inequity. MP May acted swiftly to contact Western Economic Diversification (WD) Senior Staff urging them to investigate and provide an explanation and resolution for these omissions.
RIEP-led advocacy resulted in meetings with WD senior staff to find best ways to correct the CF-RRRF Location Finder and to have the rural islands correctly included. This was corrected by February 1, 2021. (https://www.communityfutures.ca/contact-us/community-futures-location-finder)
Additionally, WD senior staff worked with each of these CF offices to update their individual website listings to include the rural islands as ‘areas served’ by mid-March 2021. This action is still within the ‘unofficial’ understanding. However, it is a big step forward. Now, when a rural island business searches the web and finds their island listed on a CF website as an ‘area we serve’, it’s a welcome invitation to be treated equally.
RIEP advocacy work with CF’s continues, as the Mt Waddington CF does not list Malcolm or Cormorant Island as an ‘area served’. The advocacy work to correct 30 years of inequities and boundaries, to officially include the rural islands as ‘areas served’, is critical. Did you know that 30 years ago Nanaimo was listed as ‘rural’! Clearly the time to update is NOW!