Regional body must answer to locals

Northwestern B.C. alliance to share resource benefits a good idea

Establishing the Northwest British Columbia Resource Benefits Alliance was a good move by the region’s local governments.

Their news release announces that one of its first priorities is to negotiate a revenue sharing agreement with the province. It argues that communities need access to new long term sustainable revenue sources to fully address infrastructure deficits and needs, both now and into the future.

Local governments would certainly benefit from gaining access to a new and sustainable revenue source linked to major resource developments. Local governments know what is needed; they have the capability and the capacity to identify, develop, and implement infrastructure projects which are essential to their communities.

It is difficult, however, to understand the alliance’s reference to the Columbia Basin Trust as a model of what should be established in this area. The trust was created 19 years ago by provincial statute. The legislation’s preamble announces that “the government desires to include the people of the Columbia Basin in decisions that affect their lives and determine their future”.

To that end the legislation states that the trusts’s purposes are to contribute to the social well-being of the residents of the region, the preservation, protection and enhancement of their environment, the economic development of the region, and “any other prescribed purposes.” However, the range of these objectives is limited by the stipulation that nothing in the stated purposes “relieves any level of government from any obligations it might have with respect to the region.”

The trust is free to spend money on anything the board of directors may agree on as long as it does not relieve local governments of their obligations. But relief with respect to government obligations, specifically a new source of revenue to help pay for local infrastructure, is precisely what the alliance wants.

The trust is governed by a 12-member board of directors. The five regional districts within its area and the Ktunaxa-Kinbasket Tribal Council are each invited to submit a list of one to four nominees for consideration re appointment to the board of directors. The Lieutenant Governor in Council – in effect the provincial government – selects and appoints one person from each of the six lists submitted.

The remaining six directors are appointed by the government at its own discretion. The efficacy of local representation is diminished by a provision that allows the government to “decline to appoint any of the nominees provided by a nominating body.” When that happens, the affected nominating body may submit a second list of nominees. If none of the names from that second list are acceptable to the government, the government proceeds to appoint a director of its choosing.

To preserve the appearance of local representation, a director appointed under these conditions “is deemed to be appointed from nominees of that nominating body.” The bottom line is that persons who are objected to by the premier will never serve on the trust’s board of directors.

The legislation’s preamble declares that the government desires to include the people in decisions that affect their lives, but a close inspection of the legislation reduces that desire to an illusion. The trust is a crown corporation with its own administration, and the province is the sole shareholder. Its structure makes the organization accountable to the provincial government. As much as the government and the trust extol the latter’s local accountability, the trust is not accountable to local governments, much less to their citizens.

The trust funds many worthy projects in the Columbia Basin; however the cost of staff remuneration amounts to $1 for every $5 spent on community projects. The cost of the trust administration amounts to 25 per cent of its annual expenditures. The trust legal mandate does not allow it to provide the kind of local government assistance the alliance wants.

Our region does need new and sustainable revenue sources to address current and future infrastructure deficits and needs. What we do not need is one more crown corporation accountable to the provincial government to decide, on our behalf, what we receive.

Retired public sector administrator Andre Carrel lives in Terrace, B.C.