Northwest unprepared for boom times

THE NORTHWEST needs a way to provide municipal, educational, social and other services that will be required arising from billions of dollars of major projects, says a member of a committee looking at the impact of development.

THE NORTHWEST needs a way to provide municipal, educational, social and other services that will be required arising from billions of dollars of major projects, says a member of a committee looking at the impact of development.

The challenge is that mines, power projects, and other developments take place outside of municipal jurisdictions, meaning there is no way to finance services for those working on the projects, says Rick Brouwer from the Skeena-Nass Center for Innovation in Resource Economics.

Brouwer sits on a committee of industrial, educational and government players examining the development potential from the Northwest Transmission Line and other projects.

It says there’s no plan in place to prepare and train northwest residents for the thousands of jobs that will result, leaving companies forced to import workers into an area that ironically is beset by high unemployment.

A report prepared for the committee suggests between $8 billion and $25 billion will be spent within the next decade, requiring between 9,500 and 32,500 person years of employment during construction.

Adding to the pressure for labour, the projects enabled by the construction [of the transmission line] face competition from oil and gas and port expansion projects and other heated labour markets such as Fort McMurray,” the committee says in a summary of its findings.

The competition drives costs up through higher wages, increased turnover and search costsz and impact on productivity.”

The list of projects includes the estimated $404 million transmission line, the $700 million being spent by AltaGas to build the run-of-river Forrest Kerr power project, the several hundred million to be spent by Imperial Metals on its Red Chris copper project, the more than $2 billion Rio Tinto Alcan is spending to modernize its Kitmat aluminum smelter and the more than $4 billion to be spent on a pipeline to feed a liquefied natural gas plant at Kitimat.

Brouwer said the committee recognizes that not every job can or will be filled by a northwestern resident, noting that some of the skills required are highly specialized.

And while the construction jobs are very significant, notes Brouwer, the projects will need between 2,000 and 5,000 people afterward.

It’s providing services for these people and their families that has him saying a regional approach to deal with growth is needed.

There’s more to this than the jobs,” said Brouwer. “You have all these projects in the field and not a tax base per se. We’ll have an influx of people and not the infrastructure to support them.”

‘These are the kinds of issues that we need to deal with as we move forward and we suggest that should be with the province.”

Brouwer suggests that northwest residents look to the northeast where the province is sending money each year tied to the region’s oil and gas industry.

Known as FairShare, agreement has provided more than $184 million since 2005 to the northeast as grants in lieu of taxation.

The industrial tax base is located outside the boundaries of the region’s municipalities, making conventional taxation practices impossible,” reads a provincial explanation of the agreement.

Brouwer said any such agreement here needs to focus on long-term stability.

That’s the question. How do we create that and that’s what we need to talk about,” he said.

The Skeena-Nass Center for Innovation in Resource Economics, chaired by former Terrace mayor Jack Talstra, has a goal of encouraging the development of a regional economy avoiding the boom and bust cycle of past years.









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