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Nova Scotia Liberals promise quick access to funding for rural firehalls

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Nova Scotia rural fire departments could get a boost of funding in the event of a Liberal victory in the upcoming election, Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said Sunday at a campaign stop in the central part of the province.

Rankin told reporters in Mount Uniacke that his party will be supporting a federal program that allows firehall infrastructure to be an eligible spending category under the newly named Canada Community-Building Fund Program.

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Through the program municipalities will be able to funnel funding to rural fire departments to cover the costs of basic infrastructure maintenance.

Formerly known as the Gas Tax Fund, the program previously did not list firehalls as an eligible project for funding for “critical fire station infrastructure such as roofs, new flooring and basic maintenance,” Rankin said.

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Rural fire departments have been hit hard by a lack of access to the former Gas Tax Fund, and without a large tax base, the stations were often forced to fundraise to get the necessary financial support, he added.

And with re-election, Rankin said he would make the funding available to rural firehalls in Nova Scotia as soon as possible.

Kody Blois, the Liberal MP for Kings-Hants and the chair of the National Liberal Rural caucus, has been an advocate for the change to the eligibility list and said Sunday the caucus wanted to make that change to allow for more support for crucial services in rural areas of the province.

“We allow gas tax funds to be used towards things such as park benches in parks,” Blois said. “Why wouldn’t we allow it for basic infrastructure that is being driven by volunteers to respond to essential needs?”

Jennifer Daniels, a local volunteer firefighter with the Hansport Fire Department, said the funding could go toward improving the nearly 60-year-old station that’s in desperate need of an upgrade.

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Daniels, a former municipal councillor of West Hants, added that she has questioned the eligibility rules for fire stations since her time in government. And as communities grow, so does the need for public fire and life-safety protection.

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“As a then municipal councillor, I was frustrated that these buildings were excluded from the gas tax funding model because I viewed them as a municipal asset,” Daniels said.

“This new strategic investment will help alleviate the fundraising burden shouldered by the volunteer firefighters … and hopefully also aid in the future recruitment, retention and sustainability of the volunteer fire services in our community,” she added.

This month, Ottawa announced Nova Scotia would be receiving $58 million through the fund program for the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year and a top-up of an additional $55 million.

Voters in Nova Scotia are scheduled to hit the polls on Aug. 17.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2021.

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