Premier Christy Clark made good on her campaign promise to restore $15 million in grants to community and sports organizations Thursday, promising more to come.
The new funds represent less than half of what was cut two years ago when proceeds from B.C. casinos and lotteries were cut. Clark announced in Vancouver that the latest funds will bring more than 500 organizations back up to "historical funding levels," including youth arts and culture groups, community service clubs, fairs, festivals, museums and organizations involved in community education like parent support services.
When the recession hit in 2008, the B.C. Liberal government cut grant funding from the B.C. Lottery Corp. from $156 million to $113 million, then raised it back to $120 million to restore funds to school district parent advisory councils.
NDP critic Shane Simpson said the government should restore the remaining $21 million, from casino and lottery proceeds that now total about $1 billion a year to the B.C. government.
Clark said the $15 million would also provide additional funds for transition houses, food banks and drop-in centres, whose core funding was maintained as the provincial budget slipped into deficit.
School district parent advisory councils will get an extra $5 per student, for a total of $20 for extracurricular sports and music programs. Parents of children in scouting or cadet groups will receive $25 per enrolled child to offset registration fees.
Former minister Rich Coleman announced the reallocation of lottery corporation grants in March 2010, and he had no apologies for making adult sports and arts organizations ineligible. The system was a patchwork in which some activities qualified and others didn't, he said.
"Adult sports is done," Coleman said at the time. "Why would we subsidize a guy who wants to play rugby with a bunch of adults who pay for their ice time?"
Coleman said the changes were overdue even without a recession. Programs for needy children were stretched while the B.C. government was giving $100,000 a year to a parrot refuge on Vancouver Island, and handing out grants to other groups without a clear idea of where the money was being spent.
The grants are now the responsibility of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong, and she indicated the general approach set out by Coleman hasn't changed.
"We are now targeting extra gaming grant funding, over and above what we've provided in the past, to groups that help families and individuals who are struggling," Chong said Thursday.
The cuts were an issue in the B.C. Liberal Party during its recent leadership contest. Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon, now the finance minister in Clark's cabinet, promised during his campaign to restore grant funding to its 2008 peak, with three-year guarantees to stabilize their plans. He also proposed restoring funds for adult sports, culture and arts, with an overhauled approval process.