Jobs and wealth need to stay here

A regional trust fund based on northern resource would provide a needed safety net.

By STEVE WILSON

Excuse me if I sound skeptical of the glitz and gloss of the BC Liberal economic and jobs strategy.  I will not even get into the absence of Ottawa being involved in this strategy despite great efforts of various people to have the federal government play a role.

In 2005/06 the KLNG agreement which is now leading to the construction of a liquefied natural gas plant just outside Kitimat was negotiated and executed.

That agreement set out the process of designing and planning for a roll out in earnest starting with the right-of-way negotiations between the 15 First Nations and the province.

In November 2006 the leadership of the province was hand delivered the northern energy corridor but the leadership has done little to finish what it started.

In 2008 the province undertook a comprehensive exercise on revamping the competitiveness of each branch of government culminating with the ticker tape unveiling of the, “BC Energy Plan: A Vision for Clean Energy Leadership.” In that plan our government promised:

* Promoting a B.C. service sector.

* Establishing a clear, structured infrastructure royalty program, combining road and pipeline initiatives and increasing development in under-explored areas that have little or no infrastructure.

* To explore value-added opportunities in the oil and gas industry by examining the viability of a new petroleum refinery and petrochemical industry.

* To work collaboratively with industry, communities, Aboriginal people, education facilities, the federal government and others to define the projected demand for workers and take active measures to meet those demands.

* To attract, develop and retain workers focusing on under-represented groups: Aboriginal people, women, youth and immigrants.

The plan also called for the responsible ministry to facilitate and support opportunities for First Nations training, education and private-First Nations’ partnerships.

While I applaud the revised service plans and announcement on jobs as being great, it is a little light on detail. And since much of the project work has begun, how are we going to benefit?

Unfortunately the majority of the sustainable work is so specialized that the skilled labour will be outsourced from different regions, provinces, and countries.

The outcome is stories in the Globe and Mail such as: “The number of foreigners admitted under the Canadian Experience Class program is expected to rise to 7,000 in 2012 from 2,545 in 2009, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced.” from the Nov. 2 issue of the newspaper.

Can we ever catch up and actively participate? The answer is yes. But what we need is our elected leadership at all levels to ensure that the huge projects being developed truly provide the sustainable jobs and business opportunities to the people whose back yards are being affected.

If our elected leadership acts now the people moving away from the northwest can be stopped.

I cannot for one moment believe that with all of the resources the province has at its fingertips, that it has taken a change in leadership at the government house and three and a half years, to come up with a plan like this.

The government knew what was going on in the energy sector. Our elected and governing leadership should have known what it needed to do a long time ago but apparently did not foresee the situation we are now in.

We need to ensure that our interests are captured in legislation and policy that is specific to our region. The resources that will create success need to be invested so we participate in the opportunities now.

A good place to start is with an exercise similar to the 1949 Industrial Development Act, the piece of provincial legislation which laid the foundation for what is now the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Kitimat.

Only this time legislation needs to be specific to resource development being sustainable and some of the wealth staying in our homes.

Royalties from all of our resources can be used for the establishment of our own Heritage Trust similar to Alberta’s to be our safety net for those economic down turns when bottom-line outweighs our interest.

Steve Wilson is a former chief councillor at Kitamaat Village. He is now an economic development consultant.

 

 

 

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