Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross says he’s going to keep pressing the provincial government for details on how it will share resource taxation revenue with local governments in the northwest.
It’s an effort that began four years ago with the creation of the Northwest B.C. Resource Benefits Alliance, a coalition of local governments stretching from Haida Gwaii to Vanderhoof, which lobbied first the former B.C. Liberal government and now the NDP government.
The alliance notes that local governments can’t tax large-scale industries and projects, most of which are outside local government boundaries, but they face pressures providing services such as roads, sewer, water and recreation.
The former BC Liberal government rebuffed the alliance’s attempts but the NDP, during last year’s provincial election, held out the promise of revenue sharing.
It’s that promise the alliance is now pursuing, and Ross is looking for more details.
“What I don’t understand is how this is going to fit into future budgets,” said Ross of any revenue sharing formula. “Where is this money going to come from?”
“Every penny is now being spent,” added Ross in wondering if any agreed on formula will simply shift around existing budgetary allocations.
“New money was one of the suggestions I heard but wasn’t clarified. Another suggestion was to share revenues from all resource development that now comes from the north,” the MLA said after questioning municipal affairs minister Serena Robinson in the legislature recently.
Ross said that while he’s focused on the Skeena riding, he supports the broad objectives of the benefits alliance outside of the riding, including tapping into one potential new money source — a liquefied natural gas plant.
“[But] I was also clear in a meeting [with the benefits alliance] that if they were looking to share LNG dollars, then I didn’t want to read about any municipalities opposing or trying to delay LNG in Kitimat,” he said.
While Ross wants to know what kind of revenue sharing formula might be put into place, he’s also curious about how the $300,000 being given to the alliance by the province last month will be spent to finance its upcoming revenue sharing negotiations with the province.
“How will the success of this initiative be measured,” Ross wondered in quoting a government press release that the money is to be spent on “building relationships” with First Nations, industries, businesses, labour groups and the non-profit sector. There was no direct mention in the release of negotiations.
“I also found it odd as sharing revenues with government doesn’t have anything to do with First Nations or industry. Or am I missing something?”
But Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth, speaking as a co-chair of the alliance, said the $300,000 will be spent on meetings with First Nations, companies and others to ensure the alliance has broad support for its revenue-sharing objective as well as preparing for actual negotiations with the province.
“We want to make sure they know what we’ll be doing,” said Germuth of a planned series of meetings across the region to be financed through the $300,000. A budget has yet to be finalized, he said.
Since its creation, the benefits alliance has spent approximately $700,000 —all of it raised through taxpayer contributions via participating municipal and regional district governments. Of that amount, $100,000 has been spent so far this year.
Germuth said the alliance doesn’t necessarily consider Ross’s questioning of how the $300,000 provincial grant will be spent as a direct criticism of its work.
“He’s in the opposition now and he was doing his job; he was clearly doing that,” Germuth said.
As for how much of a share of taxation revenue the alliance wants, that’s to be decided by negotiations with the province, he said.
Germuth also gave assurances revenue sharing shouldn’t be considered as an additional tax.
“We’re not calling for additional taxes [on industry]. What we want is what’s fair for our region. There’s a lot of money that leaves here in resource taxation but not a lot of it comes back,” said Germuth.
Northwestern residents should also know that revenue sharing will not only be used for physical infrastructure requirements but also for social service needs that accompany large-scale industrial growth, he said.