Not a wish list: northwest officials band together
Today saw the signing of what is being heralded as a “monumental agreement” between municipal leaders throughout the northwest.
The Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA) brings together mayors and other municipal leaders in a unified front to negotiate a deal with the province that would see provincial dollars allocated for infrastructure and services needed due to pressures of industrial expansion.
Revenue sharing is the term used for these arrangements. Similar alliances have been forged between municipalities and government in the Northern Rockies, Peace and Columbia Basin districts.
“It’s like signing a northwest Magna Carta, it’s of that kind of import for us who have lived through boom and bust for such a long period of time,” said Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine chair and Terrace city councillor Bruce Bidgood before making the announcement to a packed room at the Best Western this afternoon.
The list of signatories who attended the ceremony included Bruce Bidgood, Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski, Hazelton mayor Alice Maitland, RDKS directors Linda Pierre, Ted Ramsey and Dave Brocklebank; New Hazelton mayor Gail Lowry, Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan and deputy mayor of Stewart Billie Ann Belcher.
The first order of business for the alliance is to present the provincial government with a detailed plan for how revenue sharing could work, including formulas and timelines. The ongoing development surrounding pipelines, LNG plants, numerous mines, the Rio Tinto Modernization Project and the expansion of the port in Prince Rupert are cited as industries driving growth that threatens to outpace the regional infrastructure’s capacity.
A document released as a backgrounder for the negotiations states that the agreement would apply to communities with a 100,000 square kilometre area of the northwest and provide “(a) for good government of their communities, (b) for services, laws and other matters of community benefit, (c) for stewardship of the public assets of their communities, (d) fostering the economic, social and environmental well-being of their communities, and (e) ensuring that major resource development does not put the long-term sustainability of communities at risk.”
“In order to obtain social licence for major resource development, the provincial government, federal government and major resource companies must share the benefits of major resource development with RBA communities,” the document continues.
Bidgood said the RBA is gunning for a deal to land three per cent of the money that the government takes in from industry in the region, a figure from $500 million to $3 billion over several years, similar to long-term deals forged in other districts.
The alliance says that the partnership needs to happen soon to build on the $1 million already provided this year by the provincial government for planning through the Northwest Readiness Project.
The money would go towards “things like repairs for the airport or sewer systems,” said Bidgood, items that could “prove an impediment to these new initiatives such as LNG and mines. What we want to do is become partners with the provincial government in helping grow the local economy to the benefit of all.”
Linda Pierre spoke of cultural, social and spiritual issues that a revenue sharing agreement with the government could encompass, items “not quantified in our accounting society."
Alice Maitland said another aim of the money would be to lower the historically high illiteracy and child poverty rates in the northwest.
By getting a revenue sharing deal with the province signed soon, the alliance hopes to have infrastructure such as a new Haisla Bridge in Kitimat in place before construction of one or more LNG plants begins.
In an interview Bidgood said the RBA has attorneys working for it in a negotiations capacity, the same people who worked on other revenue sharing agreements in the Peace and North Rockies.
“We will calculate with the province a formula for the allocation of some portion of those revenues or taxes derived from the LNG industry and other industries in our area,” he said, adding that the partnership with the province would hopefully lead to more transparency. “We are hoping through the partnership with the province that we will be privy to more timely information about those developments.”
Mines in the region are also going to have an impact, Bidgood continued, with 100 workers from the Kitsault mine, recently opened 300 km north, expected to live in Terrace. He said First Nations will also be consulted by the alliance.
“If they are not interested in participating in the benefits negotiation, perhaps they are interested in sharing information,” said Bidgood.
He stresses that what the RBA is presenting to the government “is not a wish list.” Rather, it will be a request for a portion of profits after which the communities will “work together to come up with their own priorities.”
He said that each community would pitch ideas internally for different projects according to its needs.
“We are not asking for a handout, but to be a partner in growing the local economy. We provide all the services that the people who will be here will require,” said Bidgood.
The alliance will also be reaching out to other municipalities such as Prince Rupert and Port Edward, however no officials from the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional district are part of the current grouping.
An emailed statement today from the Ministry of Sport, Culture and Cultural Development said it look forward to working with the RBA.
"The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development welcomes the regional cooperation by local community leaders in the region, and looks forward to continued engagement with local governments," said the statement.