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Steelworkers blast criticism of Rural Dividend Fund suspension

The revelation this week at Victoria has put the Rural Dividend program on hiatus has drawn the ire of some Interior mayors and the B.C. Liberals. That, in turn, has drawn the ire of the United Steelworkers Local 1-2017.

“John Horgan and the NDP have already ignored the crisis in the interior forest industry, and now they are going to steal from the Rural Dividend Fund to pay for their half-baked Forestry Transition program,” said Andrew Wilkinson, BC Liberal leader, in a news release. “This is an insult to every single community that has lost its primary forestry employment, and now the NDP are taking away their only real hope of diversification.”

The news comes a week after Victoria announced a $69-million program to help forest workers affected by a slew of temporary and permanent mill closures. The Rural Dividend Fund was created by the Liberal government and funds projects through the North. Victoria had committed to extending the $25-million-per-year Rural Dividend to 2021-22.

“It is simply unbelievable that during a time of crisis for forestry-dependent communities, the NDP would pile on with the suspension of the Rural Dividend Fund,” said Donna Barnett, MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin and Opposition Critic for Rural Development. “Only the NDP would think alienating small communities, driving away economic growth and putting even more jobs at risk is a good idea.”

USW Local 1-2017 President Brian O’Rourke was shocked at the comments some Interior mayors and others are making regarding the diversion of funding to new forest worker support programs.

“It’s just unbelievable,” said O’Rourke. “These same people have been slamming government for not taking action to assist forest workers and communities. What they’re saying now makes no sense. This funding diversion will be grouped with additional funding to help dozens of affected communities and thousands of workers and families in the forest sector. Right now there are thousands of workers from both the logging and manufacturing sectors who are not working. They haven’t (in some cases) been working for months. These re-directed funds will benefit many more people than someone’s special project.”

Forest workers are the lifeline in many communities, he said, adding providing assistance to those workers shouldn’t be questioned.

“Regrettably, it is and that’s very disappointing and, in my view, even shameful,” he said. “We have endured a number of downturns over the years and lobbied both federal and provincial governments for assistance because forest workers and forest communities are still the life blood of B.C.’s economy.”

He said the union fully supports the government’s current actions to assist forest workers.

“It may mean a short term setback for local special projects, but this funding will by far reach and benefit more workers and communities through these challenging times,” he said.

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