Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance

 

On Saturday, August 15, 2015, the 21 Local Governments in the Northwest B.C. Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA) gathered for their first summit in Terrace, B.C. The morning session consisted of the following:

    • expert briefings on projected provincial revenues from economic development in the Northwest over the next 25 years,
    • identification of immediate community infrastructure needs,
    • discussion of possible revenue-sharing frameworks, and
    • approval of the 2015/16 Action Plan.

The Alliance then formalized its commitment to working together by signing the NWBC RBA Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and established its executive. At the summit, the Alliance was advised that the Province has the necessary financial resources to address the many community impacts of economic development. Under a moderate economic development scenario, Perrin, Thorau & Associates Ltd. forecasts that 49 major projects in the RBA’s geographic area will generate $35 billion in new provincial revenues over the next 25 years.

A three percent (3%) revenue share would equate to $1 billion to address pressing community needs. An example of these needs is infrastructure. Urban Systems reported that RBA Local Governments have immediate infrastructure needs of well over $500 million.

“The summit resulted in the development of three priorities: addressing infrastructure needs, mitigating social impacts, and developing a legacy fund so that we can look forward to a sustainable future,” says RBA Chair, Stacey Tyers.

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The genesis of the the Northwest BC RBA is found in past failures in the regional economy. Sectors such as coastal forestry and commercial fishing are battered and bruised—possessing nothing of the scale and vitality they once had. Economic downturn meant population loss, community stagnation, social impacts and seeming disinterest of senior government. We did not or could not invest in our communities. “We” are all levels of government, local, provincial and federal, and we are not ready for growth.

The turnaround is unprecedented--or at least the promise of turnaround. And it is not just a story of exporting liquefied natural gas. The future of this region may include bioenergy, new forest products, port development, mining, petroleum processing, manufacturing, hydroelectric projects and electrical transmission lines. Communities in the northwest want to support economic expansion but already see capacity strained, growth-related social issues and distortions in areas such as housing prices and rental vacancies.

The Resource Benefits Alliance was formed to seek a share of revenues that will flow to government from future development. This revenue is to enable communities to address current impacts arising from major resource development, to address service and infrastructure deficits in communities and to leave a legacy. The northwest region must be left better off from this next phase of development. This legacy could be in form of physical assets such as recreation facilities or something less tangible, such as a better educated workforce or more vibrant retail sector. The ideal will be financially sustainable communities, a far more resilient regional economy and in all its meanings healthier communities.

Local governments cannot achieve what it needs to achieve relying simply on property taxation and service fees. Property taxes are especially problematic in their delayed presentation and equity issues. Meanwhile much of foreseen development in this region is built on a fly-in/fly-out workforce scenario. Major investments need to be made to facilitate employment; yet many workers will never be resident in the northwest.

For the last two years the ask of the provincial government has been to commence revenue sharing negotiations with communities in the northwest. Despite the sharing of benefits being offered by the Premier and Ministers before, during and subsequent to the last provincial election, our request to begin negotiations has been denied.  Whenever the topic arises for the province it quickly becomes confined to a discussion about LNG. We feel the region’s development will occur in numerous sectors. Therefore the matter of revenue sharing needs broad discussion, and for the provincial government it crosses several ministries.

The RBA began in 2014 as alliance of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and its five member municipalities. But we soon found our neighbours were considering similar strategies to address similar challenges facing local government in the region and expanding the Alliance quickly gained ground. On Saturday, August 15 in Terrace, in the doldrums of vacation season, the Resource Benefits Alliance held its first Summit for elected officials and senior staff. The objectives were to develop an Action Plan for 2015/2016, starting with preparation for UBCM 2015. By now, the Resource Benefits Alliance had expanded to all 21 local governments in the Bulkley-Nechako, Kitimat-Stikine and Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional Districts. Demonstrating unity and a very strong sense of purpose of its members, all 21 members were represented at the Summit--19 attending in person--to make this first Summit potentially a historic gathering for the northwest. We are ready to negotiate with the province and look to meetings at UBCM for signals that the province recognizes local government as an essential partner in BC’s economic future.

More information on the NWBC Resource Benefits Alliance is available at www.rdks.bc.ca