Premier Christy Clark received a standing ovation for her speech from the Union of B.C. Municipalities Friday

Clark spends on rural communities, fire prevention

Surplus money to boost forest fire prevention, small-town economic diversification and 'guns and gangs' strategy

Premier Christy Clark peppered her annual address to local politicians with spending announcements Friday, mostly aimed at smaller and rural communities.

Clark emphasized the outsized contribution of small resource communities to the provincial economy, and said the extra help is made possible by the B.C. government’s spending control that has left three straight budget surpluses.

A $75 million “rural dividend” will be available over three years to communities of fewer than 25,000 people that are outside urban areas. The fund is to diversify local economies, but details won’t be released until March 2016.

Clark warned of increasingly severe forest fire seasons due to planetary warming, announcing a $10 million top-up to B.C.’s forest fire prevention program to control fuel in interface areas. The program started in 2004 and has been criticized for focusing on local plans rather than action. The forests ministry says more than 780 square kilometres have been treated so far.

Clark also announced a $90 million extension to the infrastructure fund for small communities, which started last year and is funded 50-50 by the federal and provincial governments. It’s available to communities under 100,000 people, covering up to two thirds of eligible projects, with applications accepted starting Oct. 30.

Urban communities will likely benefit most from a $5 million addition to the province’s “guns and gangs” strategy, which targets prolific and gang-related offenders and school programs to warn young people away from gang involvement.

While Clark received a standing ovation before and after her speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver, discussion before her arrival showed not everyone is pleased with the government’s direction.

An event that began with a small protest outside against the Site C dam project, beginning on the Peace River, ended with a resolution to reverse Victoria’s forced exclusion of the affected land from the agricultural land reserve.

The province imposed four-year election terms on local governments before last year’s municipal elections. At the convention, delegates reversed their long-standing position and called on the province to provide recall legislation for local councils.