Country roads: Bowen now permanently eligible for Rural Dividend Fund

As an island in Metro Vancouver, Bowen has a foot in two worlds. So are we city or are we country?

While islanders may debate whether or not they are “country mice” or “city mice” over coffee in the Snug or while watching the sun set from Bowen Bay Beach, for government bureaucracy, the question is more than banter. It’s a matter of money.

The province established the Rural Dividend Program in 2016 to help diversify rural economies beyond natural resources. This is the program’s fourth year of giving a total of $25 million to rural B.C. communities of fewer than 25,000 people outside of the Metro Vancouver and Capital Regional districts.

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Therein lies the issue for Bowen––Bowen is a small municipality within the borders of Metro Vancouver and yet a ferry ride away from many essential services. With a year-round population of fewer than 4,000 people but a mere hop-skip (ok, ferry ride) from the city, Bowen has a foot in two worlds.

But after three years of advocacy on the part of council and BIM, Bowen non-profit organizations and the municipality are now permanently eligible to apply for the rural grants program.

The Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) is the department that administers the grant. In a letter to Bowen Mayor Gary Ander earlier this month, the ministry said that Bowen is “geographically distinct,” being an island municipality. The letter also noted that Bowen’s economic integration with Metro Vancouver is more limited than other Metro communities’ due to its moated nature.

Organizations and the municipality can now apply for funding of up to $500,000 for projects to do with capacity building, workforce development, community and economic development and business sector development.

“Gaining rural status reflects about three years of solid work banging at a door we didn't think would open, and it has broader implications for funding opportunities from other agencies and the federal government,” said Bowen councillor, Maureen Nicholson in an email.

Nicholson had also been one of the figures behind getting Bowen the temporary eligibility exception that allowed Bowen to apply for and win $100,000 from the Rural Dividend Program for a community economic development plan earlier this year.

The sixth intake for the program, the only one for 2019-2020, opened June 15 and will close August 15. Nicholson notes that the application is “not uncomplicated” and so this timeline may be too short for Bowen organizations but there’ll be other opportunities.

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