Community fund provided benefits to many Islanders
The Island Community Fund (ICF) is one of those worthwhile projects that assisted mostly rural communities and smaller groups across P.E.I. Thus, it was disappointing when the ICF was not renewed this year and $2 million was moved to the transportation department to leverage more money under a federal infrastructure program.
A quick review of the fund shows investments from a low of $575 for signage in Central Bedeque to a high of $2 million for the civic centre in Cornwall. But many of the grants were for $5,000 to $50,000 and while the fund didn’t get a lot of fanfare, it provided a major boost to fire departments, legions, playgrounds, seniors clubs, recreation fields, halls, and community projects throughout the province — groups that needed just a little help to overcome a big roadblock.
The ICF was launched, as a six-year project to assist communities with infrastructure needs, as a complement to the Rural Action Plan. The fund represents a provincial investment of $27.5 million spanning 2008-2014, targeting small projects and strategic initiatives.
Government argues the fund achieved its goals but there was more to be done. A sudden flurry of announcements just prior to the provincial election call — an estimated 17 projects in eight ridings — raised some eyebrows amid suggestions it was turning into a Liberal slush fund to attract votes.
The fund officially expired March 31 and the province certainly had the option to renew or extend the program. It was done before and could have been renewed again.
The province argues that by transferring the $2 million to transportation, it will allow government to access $7 million in additional funds through the federal Building Canada Fund. Government further argues this will increase funding to rural communities.
That’s unlikely since matching dollars is the usual prerequisite for infrastructure projects. Larger Island communities like Charlottetown, Summerside, Cornwall and Stratford might be in a position to access this extra leveraged cash, but not Souris, Georgetown, Rustico, Hunter River, O’Leary or Tignish.
And, as the Opposition pointed out in the Legislature, it will likely exclude community groups and organizations such as rural fire departments that can’t match funds and thus won’t be able to access small grants for upgrades or projects.
The province offers a weak response, suggesting that smaller amounts of money might be available though grants from other departments or programs in government. Really? Providing such grants was the reason why the ICF was developed in the first place, so why not keep it in place?