I want to begin by sharing an unfortunate event from 2016.
That year, a rockslide damaged the regional irrigation canal located in the community of Oliver. The canal runs from north of Oliver south to Osoyoos and is critical infrastructure, serving many South Okanagan farming communities.
When it came time to fund the repairs, the local government budgeted to invest its fair share in the project. Likewise, the provincial government of the day also stepped up to cover its share. Unfortunately, the answer was no from the federal government. The bureaucrats said the project did not fit into any established grant programs and washed its hands of the problem.
The area was not in my riding, however, the MP who represented raised the issue many times in Parliament but was ignored by the government.
What was even more infuriating from my perspective was two years later, in 2019, the government gave the mega-grocery corporation Loblaws more than $12 million to help buy more energy-efficient refrigeration. The net earnings of Loblaw Companies Limited reached approximately $1.99 billion in the financial year ending Dec. 31, 2022.
For context, the cost to repair the Oliver irrigation canal was estimated at $11.4 million.
Why do I mention this? In 2021, communities such as Princeton and Merritt, as well as the surrounding unincorporated areas, were devastated by flooding. At the time, there was national media attention about the situation and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised residents of those communities he "had their backs" and "would be there for them."
The mayor of Princeton was given a special number to contact (Trudeau’s) office, but when he tried to use this number, he was told to go talk with the province.
You may have heard recently that the government announced it was giving Volkswagen up to $13 billion in subsidies over the next decade as part of a deal to ensure the automaker builds its electric-vehicle battery plant in southern Ontario. According to Statista, Volkswagen's operating profit in the 2022 fiscal year increased 14.78% from the previous year and stood at roughly 22.1 billion euros.
What you may not have heard is there are still residents in Merritt and Princeton who cannot return home. Likewise, there are many badly needed infrastructure projects these small communities need help to afford.
People in Merritt and Princeton pay taxes to Ottawa like everywhere else but all too often rural Canada is ignored by this government.
It is crucial Ottawa hears directly from rural mayors of these hard hit communities to understand better the struggles they face as they try to rebuild. Last week, I invited Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne and Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz to appear in Ottawa at the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
I want to thank them both for attending and sharing the experiences of their communities and the many challenges they face.
This week's question:
Do you think the federal government is properly supporting rural communities?
I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll-free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Conservative MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.