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Island Coastal Economic Trust faces uncertain funding future

Proponents hope for new arrangement to replace current ‘sinking fund’
ICET serves communities around most of Vancouver Island as well as the Sunshine Coast and islands in between. Image, ICET

Since 2006, the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) has directed money at community projects around Vancouver Island and the rest of its region.

It faces an uncertain future though, as its funding is dwindling.

“It’s not a great story, but it is the reality of it,” said ICET chief executive officer Brodie Guy.

The Trust was designed as a ‘sinking fund’ — in other words, one that directs its source money to projects — rather than as a fund that only takes from interest accrued and leaves its principle untouched.

The organization supports communities on Vancouver Island outside of much of the Capital Regional District, the Sunshine Coast, smaller islands and inlet areas from the Salish Sea to Cape Caution. Its office is based in Courtenay.

One of the reasons for establishing the sinking fund, says Guy, was that the interest on the original amount would not have supported much. Instead, money was used to help some large projects such as the airport expansion in Nanaimo. Locally, this has helped support a Cumberland Business Association (CBA) downtown revitalization project through THRIVE funding. An ICET annual report points to support for area projects such as technology strategies and agri-food innovation in the Comox Valley, the arts centre on Hornby Island, along with small capital investment projects like walk-in campsites in Cumberland.

“We’re really fighting for the Trust and to be able to have this resource,” Coun. Jesse Ketler said at a recent Cumberland council meeting.

RELATED STORY: Cumberland Lake Wilderness Society gets grant for walk-in campsites

The issue now goes back to how the organization was set up. Unlike the couple of other rural area trusts in the province, it was designed as a sinking fund because it involved far less money — originally $50 million. The province did put in another $10 million about five years ago, Guy said.

“It’s just not enough to meet the needs,” he added. “It’s just a slow burn — maybe not even slow.”

Trust proponents point to this disparity as reason for replenishing the fund because ICET was set up with less than the others received. Guy has worked for other trusts in B.C. and compared amounts other rural area trusts received: over $287 million for the central and northern region and about $692 million for the southern Interior.

The hope now, Guy says, is for more funding to become sustainable. Otherwise, ICET will face an intake period next spring set out to distribute its final $4 million or so to communities for projects around the region.

The issue has generated discussion among local governments. For example, Cumberland’s council brought up the matter at a meeting in June, with members discussing the need to make this a bigger issue with the province. Mayor Leslie Baird brought up the matter at the meeting about the discrepancies in funding for other regions’ trusts.

“We, as Vancouver Island, were really shortchanged,” she said.

The City of Courtenay, too, has had this on its agenda. At a meeting in June, it passed a resolution to have the Union of British Columbia Municipalities request the province to make a “generational investment in the renewal and transformation” of ICET for it to become permanent and sustainable.

Guy said the ICET board, which is formed of local government representatives, has also put together a submission to the Treasury Board so the province can consider the funding issue. This calls for an investment of at least $150 million for a permanent fund in the region, which could generate between $7 million and $10 million a year to help communities. He stresses the money has been used by communities to generate more revenue, so the pitch is that this would amount to an investment by the province.

“The province gets a great return on their investment. The communities get support,” he said.

Settling the question of funding is only one of two major concerns for ICET right now. The other is bringing First Nations into the arrangement more, in order to set up the organization as a real three-partner arrangement between Indigenous people, communities in the region and the provincial government, but this process itself is being put into question without certain funding in place.

“This is an opportunity for government,” Guy added.

The Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation has sent a statement, saying, “The Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) has played an important roll to stimulate economic development throughout Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast since 2006.”

The ministry is awaiting a formal business plan from ICET that charts its future beyond 2023. In the meantime, it remains available to engage with the trust and their CEO on its future.

(This story has been updated to correct information about ICET support for the CBA, as well as to add a statement from the provincial government.)

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