Local governments across the Northwest reiterated their commitment to negotiating a larger piece of the province’s revenue pie at an historic meeting in Terrace recently.
Representatives from 21 local governments across Northwestern BC – including the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako and the Village of Burns Lake – met Aug. 15 in Terrace for the first summit of Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA).
At that event, RBA members formalized their commitment to negotiating a revenue sharing deal with the province by signing the organization’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and establishing its executive. The MOU not only makes a case for revenue-sharing, but outlines the guiding principles for future negotiations with the province.
“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,” Stacey Tyers, chair of the RBA, said in a media release Aug. 17.
The RBA is seeking a share of provincial revenues from BC’s multi-sector economic boom to address infrastructure and servicing deficits in the North. The province predicts that current and proposed projects throughout the region will generate billions of dollars in economic activity during the next few decades, but RBA members are quick to note that these projects will also strain local government services.
Urban Systems, an inter-disciplinary professional practice that provide strategic planning, engineering, environmental science, and urban design services to private and public sector clients in Western Canada, has calculated that RBA local governments need more than $500 million to address immediate infrastructure needs.
Summit attendees were told that the province has the necessary financial resources to mitigate the impacts that large-scale economic development in this region. According to the consulting company of Perrin Thorau & Associates Ltd., under a moderate economic development scenario, 49 major projects in the RBA’s geographic area will generate $35 billion in new provincial revenue over the next 25 years.
Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance members say that even a modest three per cent share of these revenues will generate $1 billion to address pressing community needs. Revenue sharing negotiations with the province are intended to address these priorities, say RBA officials, and leave member communities with a lasting legacy similar to that created by the Columbia Basin Trust.
“It is important not to confuse revenue sharing with planning grant programs such as Northwest Readiness or other small-scale programs such as the proposed rural dividend,” added Tyers, who also serves as chair of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine. “We want to be at the table to negotiate our share.”
Tyers says the RBA’s proposal is receiving support from industry. Bill Miller, vice-chair of the RBA and chairman of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, hopes that support translates into assistance at the bargaining table.
“We are hopeful with the signing of the RBA MOU that industry will come to the provincial table and help us as well,” said Miller recently. “An RBA revenue sharing agreement will make industry more competitive with the advantage of having community infrastructure in place. Industry is definitely going to benefit.”
Formed in July 2014 by the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and its member communities, the RBA now includes representation from every local government in the region.