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New vision connects rural B.C. to a stronger future

by ahnationtalk on September 22, 202342 Views

Sept. 22, 2023

VANCOUVER – The B.C. government has released StrongerBC: Good Lives in Strong Communities, a new vision that outlines investments to help build a brighter future for rural communities and the people who call them home.

“If you’re looking for people to help cut through the noise and get a job done, my bet will always be on the people who call rural B.C. home,” said Premier David Eby. “That’s why I’m proud to have so many rural British Columbians on our government team. Together, working with community members, this vision for rural B.C. will connect people to the opportunities and services that will help them build a good life in the communities they love.”

The vision focuses on concrete actions to make life better for rural British Columbians – including delivering high-speed internet to every community, helping goods and people move, and bringing more rural expertise and perspectives to government.

“Our vision is deeply rooted in respect for place. The challenges faced by rural places are different than those in urban centres, but all B.C. communities deserve the opportunity to thrive. Unique challenges, coupled with unique local solutions, require flexible support from the province,” said Roly Russell, Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development. “These investments are a key part of our larger strategy to building strong and diverse rural economies, because we know that when rural communities thrive, it puts us all on the path to a brighter future.”

Another key focus of the new vision is enhancing people’s access to quality health care when they need it. An initial investment of $20 million to enhance medical-travel supports provided by the Canadian Cancer Society and Hope Air will support more people in rural and remote areas who need to travel for cancer care. Through this investment, more people will be able to travel and get cancer treatment in one of the six BC Cancer Centres or at one of the 41 Community Oncology Network sites throughout B.C.

“The size and landscape of the province can make it challenging to deliver health care in rural communities,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health. “Some medical procedures are best delivered by specialists at dedicated medical centres that provide specialized care far from many communities. That’s why we’re going to help cover travel-related costs – including transportation, accommodation and meals – during a patient’s cancer treatment.”

Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is a thread that runs throughout the new vision. Many of the actions and investments support the Declaration Act Action Plan, a cross-government action plan that guides the Province’s work to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in B.C.

A backgrounder follows.

Contact:

James Smith
Deputy Communications Director
Office of the Premier
jimmy.smith@gov.bc.ca

BACKGROUNDER

What people are saying about the rural vision

Dr. Sandra Krueckl, executive vice-president of mission, information and support services, Canadian Cancer Society –

“People with cancer and their families face significant financial and emotional strain that is amplified the further they live from treatment and care. Thanks to this generous funding from the Government of British Columbia, we will expand access to travel and accommodation support so more people in B.C., particularly in rural and remote communities, can access their life-saving cancer treatment no matter where in the province they live.”

Mark Rubinstein, chief hope officer, Hope Air –

“This new funding will enable Hope Air to support more cancer patients in need with free airline, accommodation, meals and transportation programs. Our services will also support escorts travelling with patients to assist in their medical journey. We commend the government of British Columbia for this extraordinary commitment to assist cancer patients in need when travelling long distance to reach care.”

Paul Adams, executive director, BC Rural Health Network –

“The BC Rural Health Network acknowledges and appreciates all investments in rural health and well-being. The benefits of travel assistance programs, especially in partnership with esteemed organizations like Hope Air and the Canadian Cancer Society, are clear. Their efforts in offering personal aid and travel accommodations for patients and their families are not only transformative but also a beacon of hope. Funding such initiatives edges us closer to a more equitable health-care landscape for every resident.”

Peggy Skelton, BC Rural Health Network –

“We recognize and value the premier’s foresight in appointing a parliamentary secretary for rural health. This role, in our view, is not only essential, but warrants permanency within the B.C. government structure. Having direct communication channels with the parliamentary secretary provides a much-needed bridge for rural engagement and a means for more effective dialogue with the Ministry of Health and government as a whole. Such rural-centric endeavours enhance the well-being of our communities and, by extension, enrich the lives of all British Columbians.”

Daniel Arbour, director, Area A, Comox Valley Regional District –

“The B.C. rural strategy brings together the capacity of the Province with the needs as identified by rural and First Nation communities. In this era of tough challenges in rural B.C., residents expect all levels of government to work collaboratively. By having the strategy built on a spirit of collaboration matched with real investments, I certainly feel like our region is being heard and supported.”

Walter Popoff, director, Area H, Regional District of Central Kootenay –

“The BC Rural Strategy recognizes the tough challenges our residents face in rural B.C. The Province brings together the capacity of the province with the needs as identified by rural and First Nation communities. In this era of tough challenges in rural B.C., residents expect all orders of government to work collaboratively. By having the strategy built on a spirit of collaboration matched with real investments in high-speed internet, cell service, highways, health care and transit. I certainly feel that our region will realize the benefits from the rural strategy.”

Greg Halseth and Marleen Morris, co-directors, Community Development Institute at the University of Northern British Columbia –

“As longtime researchers and advocates for non-metropolitan British Columbia, we were very pleased to read this document. It conveys the ethos that our communities and people need to realize growth and prosperity and the kinds of investments needed for economic success. The future of all British Columbians depends on the vital contributions of strong and vibrant non-metropolitan regions. We look forward to working with the provincial government on these opportunities as this plan moves forward.”

Tracey Therrien, chief librarian, Nelson Public Library –

“The pandemic highlighted that those without access to technology were left behind. In our community, we saw families outside the library in their cars accessing the library’s Wi-Fi, because it wasn’t available at their home or it was unaffordable. Ensuring all rural communities have access to stable, affordable high-speed internet will reduce the digital divide and support access to information, training, connections and increase economic opportunities.”

Pat Corbett-Labatt, mayor, District of Port Hardy –

“Thank you, Premier Eby and cabinet, in recognizing that rural B.C. communities have unique and particular needs that have been neglected. Your new rural plan will lead to a ‘new’ strong, rural B.C. that has services (on par with urban communities) that will make meaningful and transformative improvements to the lives of all rural B.C. citizens and communities. I look forward to many improvements particularly in increased cell coverage on Highway 19, better highways/transportation, and much better health services in Port Hardy.”

Dan Macmaster, forestry manager, Osoyoos Indian Band –

“The Osoyoos Indian Band believes in developing strong economic partnerships, fostering successful services to support communities and ensuring reliable connectivity for our businesses to thrive on a regional and global scale. This plan will provide much-needed investment in the B.C. Interior and strengthen the position of the Osoyoss Indian Band to be leaders in land management and in the business opportunities throughout our rural communities.”

Karen Ross, executive director, Hornby Island Community Economic Enhancement Corporation –

“I am heartened by the acknowledgment of the unique issues faced by rural communities, and by the premier’s defined action plan to address some of those challenges. The commitment for every community in the province to have access to high-speed internet by 2027 is a game-changer. The benefits are both personal and economic – health, education, remote working and social connections. On Hornby Island, we are thrilled with the government’s support in helping us cross the digital divide and look forward to functioning, high-speed internet in the very near future.”

Jude Kornelsen, co-director, Centre for Rural Health Research, and associate professor, department of family practice, University of British Columbia –

“Good Lives in Strong Communities lays out a sensible plan for addressing some of the sustainability gaps experienced by rural communities, within a larger partnership framework that recognizes the importance of the lived and living experience of rural residents. From an evidence-based perspective, strengthening local primary care is foundational to supporting healthy communities. When care needs exceed what can be provided locally, subsidized travel and expenses, such as those committed to patients seeking cancer treatment, is essential for ensuring appropriate access to health care for those who live in rural and remote settings. Likewise, recognition of social determinants of health through attention to key enablers, such as affordable housing and safe communities, ensures a wraparound solution to improve rural health. These initiatives are the building blocks for stronger, more vibrant rural communities.”

Lisa Domae, president and CEO of North Island College –

“North Island College offers programming that helps build healthy and thriving rural communities one student at time. The Good Lives in Strong Communities action plan will greatly enhance our work with First Nations and Indigenous communities, local governments, business and industry partners to support rural families across north Vancouver Island and the central coast of B.C.”

Dr. Tracy Morton, GP Oncology, Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre/Xaayda Gwaay Ngaaysdll Naay –

“As a rural generalist practising on Haida Gwaii, many of the announced service enhancements will make a difference to patients and health-care staff. Rural retention incentives, coupled with support for local students to access health career training, means we can train locals to work locally while retaining those already working on Haida Gwaii. Real-time virtual supports in use since 2020 mean I can bring an emergency or intensive-care specialist to help virtually with diagnosing and managing critically ill or injured patients. Enhancements to medical travel programs mean people needing specialized services can do so without crippling costs.”

Diana Lockwood, mayor, Village of Salmo –

“Rural communities are strong and resilient because of the people living in those communities and I look forward to the partnership with the Province in their rural strategy. “

Maggie Matear, president and CEO, Selkirk College –

“It’s very gratifying to see our government applying a rural lens to such a broad range of policy and quality-of-life issues. This thoughtful approach facilitates more equitable treatment for B.C. residents regardless of where they live.”

Grace McGregor, director, Electoral Area C/Christina Lake, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary –

“I am excited that the provincial government understands and recognizes the need for a rural strategy. Making decisions using a rural lens will strengthen our partnerships as we move forward together.”

Jennifer Wetmore, general manager, Community Futures Boundary –

“Those of us who live in rural communities in B.C. choose to do so because we love the way of life. Growing our food, knowing our neighbours and really being there for each other in difficult times matters to us, and are part of how we define community. We appreciate a government that recognizes the unique makeup of rural B.C., seeks our input, and respects and supports our practical, grassroots approach to building resilient healthy communities. By working with us to identify the tools and supports we need to build and grow our communities how we want, rural B.C. is far better positioned to succeed in the long term.”

Lorri Fehr, Peak Renewables Kootenays –

“The new BC Rural Strategy is thorough and inclusive, recognizing the complexity of challenges faced by British Columbians as well as the diversity, strength and resilience of rural citizens and communities. The strategy recognizes disruptive global realities – the climate as well as changing global markets – and positions B.C. well for the future. An investment in both digital and physical infrastructure, as well as support for new technologies to enhance industry, are commitments that will support both the health of our citizens and the growth of our economies, building sustainable communities that balance health, connectedness, economic growth and our natural environment. The deep commitment throughout this strategy to First Nations partnerships and expertise is critical to the success of the entire province and provincial leadership in this area is invaluable. Rural British Columbia is recognized globally for its beauty, friendliness and connection to the natural world. This plan also sets the stage for leadership on the global economic front, as together we search out and create new products for emerging markets. Together we can make B.C. the most desirable place to live and thrive.”

Merlin Blackwell, mayor, Clearwater –

“I grew up in Metro Vancouver. It’s really hard to explain to my friends there that things they take for granted can be a real struggle for small-town B.C. Huge areas still have no cellphone coverage, no ability to access 911. Kids in high school can have no internet at home because there are literally no lines to their homes. In a larger city, one nurse not making it to work usually doesn’t cause a crisis. In rural B.C., one nurse can be the difference between keeping an emergency department open or having to close it. Equally important is having child care spaces for those health-care workers, as no one should face the difficult choice to miss a shift and let their team down because of a lack of available child care. Housing, especially affordable homes, can make the difference between having health-care workers, police officers, teachers, trades people in your town, or not. Being short one RCMP officer could mean you are missing 20% of your local detachment. We struggle to pay for critical infrastructure that makes housing happen. A few million dollars in a big city could be the budget for a single school or a library. In a small town, it could be the entire annual budget for everything – the arena, roads, sewer and water services. Small investments in small towns can be difference between having services and having nothing.
“Small towns have piles of positives. Volunteerism is the engine of culture and sports in our community. Clearwater has so many clubs and volunteer groups that I had to plot them out on a map just to remember them all. We all know each other, or we know someone that knows someone. All triumphs are personal as are all tragedies and we support each other through the good and the bad. Any investment that makes life better for a few citizens is a win for all of us in a small town.
“Rural B.C. is a huge economic engine for this province, whether it be forestry, mining, or agriculture. Clearwater hosts hundreds of thousands of international tourists each year, generating tens of millions of dollars for the local and provincial economy. Any investment in tourism that gets those visitors to stay longer is a big deal in a small town.”

Owen Torgerson, mayor, Village of Valemount –

“Rural regions and communities play a crucial role in sustainable resource extraction, agriculture and environmental conservation, making their well-being vital to the province’s overall prosperity and sustainability. Through investment in transportation, health care, connectivity and bringing rural expertise and perspectives to government, the Province is building the bridge that is essential to lessening the urban-rural divide, fostering inclusivity, and ensuring a more balanced and resilient economy for the entire province.”

Arnold De Boon, mayor, Creston –

“We were fortunate to have high-speed internet installed before other communities and it did bring people who could work remotely back to where they called home. Expanding this to so many other communities means children can live close as their grandparents grow older and also adds economic development opportunities at the same time. Improving access to health care, aiding in the recruitment, training and retaining of health-care workers, and providing more angel flights will greatly enhance the ability of people to access the services they need, with greater assurance their needs can be met in a timely manner. So much of this plan coincides with the conversations we have had at our council tables that it makes us feel like there will be collaborative solutions within sight.”

David Seymour, vice-president and general manager, Microsoft Vancouver –

“Access to high-speed internet is foundational to how we work and learn. Provincewide connectivity unlocks key digital opportunities for everyone, enabling all British Columbians to participate in today’s economy.”

Contact:

James Smith
Deputy Communications Director
Office of the Premier
jimmy.smith@gov.bc.ca

NT5

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