One of B.C.’s largest agricultural fairs has learned it cannot apply for COVID-19 relief funds through a provincial program designed for major attractions, sparking criticism on the program’s scope from the official opposition.
Armstrong’s Interior Provincial Exhibition (IPE) draws thousands to the fair grounds each summer, but because it’s only open for a handful of days annually, it was not eligible for funding through B.C.’s Major Anchor Attractions program, according to IPE president Heather King.
King received a letter from the office of Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu on Monday (June 7) confirming the fair does not qualify.
Upon announcement of the funding program on May 18, Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo scrutinized the eligibility criteria, which required that events be operated year-round or open to visitors for 60 days in a calendar year in order to apply.
The BC Liberal deputy whip posed the question to Premier John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark in question period. In response, Minister Mark encouraged the IPE to apply for the grant (which has since closed) as decisions on recipients hadn’t been made yet.
With confirmation that the IPE won’t be eligible, Kyllo is now questioning why there couldn’t have been an adjustment to the program’s rules, given they were developed on the fly to keep a struggling industry afloat during the pandemic.
“Government holds the pen for the eligibility criteria, they can modify or adjust the eligibility criteria at any point in time so that smaller fairs like the IPE, the Salmon Arm fair and Falkland Rodeo can actually make and application,” Kyllo told the Morning Star.
King, who assumed her role as IPE president in February 2020, said the Major Anchor Attractions criteria was “confusing,” and the final word on the IPE’s eligibility was disappointing.
“I know that everyone is hurting so badly, but our industry is just being decimated right now because all of the events are two-day, three-day, five-day events, so we are hurting for sure.”
She said an exception to the criteria was warranted for short-term events like the IPE that bring big dollars to their regions.
“We’re only open for five days during the year but the spin-off in terms of the economic revenue is so huge. Plus, we’re open all year round at our office and it takes a year to plan it.”
Kyllo echoed King in arguing that events like the IPE outweigh smaller events that fit the criteria in terms of economic impact.
“If you were a small arts studio, apparently, as long as you meet the eligibility criteria you can apply. So it doesn’t tie in any way shape or form to the economic impact and benefit that comes to the region.”
King said the IPE feels MLAs Sandhu and Kyllo are “both in our corner,” adding Sandhu told her the province has plans to offer grants for festivals and fairs down the road.
However, those grants remain unannounced, and with the summer months looming the IPE is left with a vague picture of the festivities they’ll be able to hold this year.
At least two things are certain: there will be no IPE events in the summer months for the second year in a row; and even if public health restrictions allow for some IPE festivities by September long weekend, there won’t be the usual rides, as West Coast Amusements — the contractor that supplies the rides at the fair – has pulled its season due to insurance uncertainties.