Vigilance needed to maintain fair share push

Local governments throughout the northwest of British Columbia have been keeping an eye on events in the northeast

By Bruce Bidgood

Local governments throughout the northwest have been keeping an eye on events in the northeast because what has happened there will affect residents here.

Those events began this spring with a letter sent to northeastern governments by provincial community development minister Coralee Oakes.

She wanted to arbitrarily renegotiate the Fair Share agreement signed by the province with northeastern governments.

It provides a share of resource taxation to northeastern governments in recognizing that while resource development puts a strain on local governments, those industries are outside of local government boundaries and not subject to local  taxation.

Having decided that the deal was too rich, Oakes and the province wanted to cap the annual amount even though the current agreement calls for annual payments to be based on actual taxation revenue. And this was despite the agreement running until 2020.

The Oakes letter resulted in protests by those local northeastern governments saying a proposed cap would provide far less money than what was called for in the agreement.

Those protests, the cause also taken up by the NDP opposition in the legislature, touched off a series of negotiations which concluded with a new agreement two weeks ago.

A close reading of the agreement now reveals that it will provide far less money for the northeast than did the one it replaced.

While we need to respect the northeastern governments in making decisions as they see fit,  we have to ask why the province wanted to unilaterally ditch the old one in the first place, putting a strain on the northeast.

It’s obvious now the province has a plan of how it wants to treat regions. During the 2013 provincial election, Premier Christy Clark made much of what she called a “rural dividend” to be financed by what she expected would be multi-billions from liquefied natural gas developments.

True to her word, after her 2013 win, Clark created a revenue sharing portfolio and assigned it to Oakes. And there was money the next year for northwestern governments to help plan for growth and infrastructure needs. So far, so good.

Then this spring the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Operations unveiled its new Rural Advisory Council comprised of 14 individuals from across the province, including former Terrace Mayor David Pernarowski.

According to the government press release, “The mandate of the council is to provide input to government policy decisions to best support thriving rural communities…while keeping in mind government’s need to control spending and ensure an overall balanced budget for the province….the council will also advise on the rural dividend.”

It is unclear why the government requires a “new” rural voice, as it has a caucus of rural MLAs which has provided advice to the government for more than a decade.

Is this new rural advisory council meant to rubber stamp any decision reached by the province about revenue sharing?

Also this spring the provincial government formally turned down, at least for now, the idea of a northwestern resource benefits alliance. It did so saying that because there isn’t a liquefied natural gas industry yet to tax, there’s no revenue to share.

The alliance was first launched last August as the North West Resource Benefits Alliance to negotiate a northwestern Fair Share agreement based on the same principles as exist in the northeast.

The turn down by the province is troubling. There’s no reason why the province can’t negotiate a northwestern resource revenue sharing agreement so that it’s ready whenever needed. And there are other industries being developed which could come under the fair share umbrella.

Clearly, when it comes to protecting and promoting northwest interests, we need to be vigilant and persistent in order to receive our fair share of resource taxation revenue.

Bruce Bidgood was a City of Terrace councillor and Chair of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine during the formation of the resource benefits alliance.