Qualicum Beach residents and taxpayers are typically given a rah-rah press release on those rare occasions when a grant request has been approved. On the other hand, we seldom receive notice from the Town when a grant request has been rejected, and are rarely provided any reasons why the grant request was denied.
While the funding agency may provide some of their reasons to the Town in their rejection letter, other justifications for denying a grant application are probably not disclosed. The result? QB taxpayers are largely kept in the dark about what grant applications were denied and why.
How successful has QB been lately in securing grants to help pay for capital infrastructure projects? Taking into account the year just ended, the Town’s 2020 capital spending budget included $2.7 million of potential revenues from provincial and federal government grants. However, the majority of the grant applications were not successful, resulting in an expected receipt of only $1.1 million, roughly 40% of the budgeted figure. In response, strangely, the Town did not adjust and approve a revised 2020 capital project budget.
Major funding available from feds, to be distributed by the province
The federal and provincial/territorial governments are midway through a multi-year Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program through which municipalities can receive up to 73.33% of eligible project costs (40% Government of Canada, 33.33% Province of BC) for selected projects. According to the feds, “the Government of Canada is investing more than $180 billion [through the Investing in Canada Plan] over 12 years in public transit projects, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation routes, and Canada’s rural and northern communities”. Approximately $4 billion of those federal dollars are allocated as BC’s portion of the multi-year Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program component, to be released in stages.
As expected, each envelope of funding opened to grant applications has been over-subscribed. Under the terms of the bi-lateral Canada-BC Agreement, it is BC’s responsibility to receive and review grant applications from BC municipalities, and recommend to the feds those projects deemed to represent best value-for-money use of the available funding in each of four streams (Community, Culture and Recreation Infrastructure; Rural and Northern Communities Infrastructure; Green infrastructure; public transit).
Councillor Harrison impeding our chances of success?
In a December 14, 2020 email to the BC Minister of Municipal Affairs, Councillor Scott Harrison complained about not getting the Town’s fair share, stating “From the town’s perspective, we are significantly lower than we ought to [be] based on per capita funding.” Huh? Wherever did Harrison get the idea that the infrastructure grant monies were to be distributed on a per capita basis?
Funding the restoration of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure should definitely be needs-based, and indeed it is. In other words, each application for grant funding should be, and will be, evaluated based on the relative merits of the project, as well as the capacity and capabilities of the requesting organization — not on a per capita basis as Councillor Harrison mistakenly whined about to the BC Minister of Municipal Affairs.
How does Qualicum Beach stack up against these merit-based criteria?
Put yourself in the position of the public servants in Victoria who screen and rank the avalanche of grant applications arriving in the wake of this tsunami of federal funding designed to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. They are currently evaluating applications for the second intake of both the Community, Culture and Recreation (CCR) stream, announced in June 2020 with an application deadline of October 1, 2020, as well as the Rural and Northern Communities (RNC) stream, with its application deadline of October 22, 2020.
Let’s look at three basic factors that typically will influence the funding agent evaluating the Town’s applications submitted in October 2020.
- Does the applicant (Town of Qualicum Beach) have its act together?
- Is the requested infrastructure urgently required?
- Could the Town afford to fund the project themselves?
FACTOR #1: Does the applicant (Town of Qualicum Beach) have its act together?
Given the following evidence, the conclusion would unfortunately be “No.” Town staff proposed that the Town ask for $3,636,867 in CCR funding to help pay for a $5+ million artificial turf field project, as well as $2,313,651 in RNC funding to help pay for a traffic circle at Village Way and Hwy 19A [see September 16, 2020 Council Meeting agenda]. Town staff also recommended that the Town indicate to the funding agents that the turf field project is the higher priority need. Council agreed with submitting the two requests, BUT reversed the priorities – recommending that the Village Way traffic circle be the higher priority.
But then, four months later, at the January 13, 2021 Council meeting, in a bizarre move, Councillor Harrison made a motion to withdraw the application for funding the Village Way/19A traffic circle. He was shot down by Wiese and Westbroek, and the motion failed, leaving both grant requests active. The purpose of this piece of theatrics is not clear to us – but the impression left on the provincial grant application decision-maker(s) could only be negative.
FACTOR #2: Is the requested infrastructure urgently required?
In other words, if no grant money were provided, would the Town have to proceed with the urgent project anyway, possibly putting other municipal services at risk because of the burden on the Town’s financial resources? Again, based on the evidence, the Town considers neither of these two projects a must-do. Neither project is included in the capital project budget for 2021. The traffic circle is pencilled in for 2022; the turf field for 2023. So, if the Town doesn’t consider these projects urgent, why would a provincial funding agency provide any funding at all, assuming relative urgency is one of the evaluation criteria.
FACTOR #3: Could the Town afford to fund the project themselves?
Even if the funding agent was convinced of the urgent, merit-based necessity of either of these projects, it is very unlikely that there is enough money in the BC municipality grant pot to support all of the worthy, urgent projects in each stream. So, the next criterion to look at becomes: How strapped is the proponent for funding? Which of the applicants could shoulder a higher proportion of the project’s cost themselves?
Once again, the evidence pretty much nails the coffin shut in terms of the Town’s likelihood of grant approval. One look at what’s happening today in Qualicum Beach would be sufficient to convince a funding agent that the Town has plenty of money, managed by spendthrifts willing to spill four or five million dollars on a non-essential, non-urgent, discretionary capital infrastructure project called the Memorial Avenue / Hwy 19A roundabout. Even when faced with the recent 46% ($1.75 million) INCREASE in the estimated project cost, as reported in a previous issue, the Town of Qualicum Beach forges ahead.
Looking through the eyes of a bureaucrat trying to decide whether to approve an infrastructure grant request from the Town of Qualicum Beach, you would probably find yourself now cycling back to Factor #1.
In December 2020, an additional stream of funding (number 5) was announced — the COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream — with the Canadian (80%) and provincial (20%) sources committing up to $80 million targeting shovel-ready projects that can be started before September 30 and completed by December 31, 2021. Town planning and engineering staff jumped on the opportunity and have submitted two additional grant applications for public works improvement projects that were endorsed by Council at their regular meeting on January 13, 2021. The two public works projects are described in staff reports on pages 284 to 288 of the Council meeting agenda.