Cross-government revenue sharing

Even a three-per-cent share of those revenues, they point out, would collectively give northwest communities billions of dollars.

The regional districts of Bulkley-Nechako and Skeena – Queen Charlotte have joined the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA), a consortium of local governments hoping to negotiate cross-government revenue sharing with the province.

Bill Miller, chairman of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), and Barry Pages, his counterpart for the Skeena – Queen Charlotte Regional District, made the announcement in a joint media release issued June 17 by the RBA.

Formed in July 2014 by the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and its member communities, the RBA is seeking a share of provincial revenues from BC’s multi-sector economic boom. The addition of the Bulkley-Nechako and Skeena – Queen Charlotte regional districts boosts the RBA’s membership to 21 local governments representing approximately 100,000 people in 185,000 square kilometres of Northwestern B.C.

The RBA says its members need a share of resource-related revenues to address infrastructure and servicing deficits in the North. The provincial government, they say, estimates it will realize more than $100 billion from the development of B.C.’s Liquefied Natural Gas industry alone.

Even a three-per-cent share of those revenues, they point out, would collectively give northwest communities billions of dollars.

“The once-in-a-generation multi-sector economic expansion now underway across Northwest B.C. impacts all of our communities, from Vanderhoof to Masset and from Stewart to Kitimat,” noted Miller. “It’s not just about LNG, and it’s not just about LNG terminals. This economic expansion is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a bright, prosperous future for rural resource communities across the Northwest.”

Premier Christie Clark promised to negotiate revenue sharing during the 2013 provincial election, and reaffirmed that commitment at the September 2014 Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conference. RBA officials say that in January 2015, Dan Doyle, the premier’s chief of Staff, repeated the commitment.

Yet despite these assurances, the RBA is finding it difficult to get revenue-sharing discussions off the ground.

Adding to the frustration is a letter the RBA received in April from Brian Hansen, assistant deputy minister of natural gas development, and Jay Schlosar, assistant deputy minister of community, sport, and cultural development. Although the Hansen/Schlosar letter has not been made public, a document released recently by the RBA suggests the province may be back-tracking on its 2013 and 2014 revenue sharing commitments.

In a letter to Premier Clark dated May 20, 2015, Miller, Pages, and Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine chair Stacey Tyers indicate that Hansen and Schlosar have rejected the idea of revenue sharing.

“The Hansen/Schlosar letter is deeply concerning because it is contrary to the May 2013 B.C. Liberal commitment to revenue sharing discussions in Northwest BC, our meeting with you at the September 2014 UBCM convention, and the January 2015 commitment made by Dan Doyle, chief of staff, on your behalf,” wrote the RBA officials, who also requested an urgent meeting to discuss the matter.

The RBA’s plea didn’t engender much response from the premier. “Thank you for your letter regarding a framework for the negotiation of revenue-sharing in Northwest British Columbia,” she stated in her June 4 follow-up. “I appreciate hearing from you and I see that you’ve also copied your correspondence to ministers Rich Coleman and Coralee Oakes. This is just a note to let you know that Minister (of Community, Sport and Cultural Development) Oakes will follow up on your concerns directly on my behalf.”

As of June 17, the RBA had still not received a commitment from the province to meet.

Despite recent developments, RBA leaders aren’t about to let the issue of revenue sharing die. The organization is now calling on the premier to make revenue-sharing a priority.

“For the past 11 months, the Northwest B.C. Resource Benefit Alliance has been ready and willing to engage in revenue-sharing discussions and negotiations promised by Premier Christy Clark,” said Tyers in the RBA’s June 17 release. “Now more than ever, the Premier needs to give these negotiations a ‘kick start’. Agreements reached with industry, individual local governments, and First Nations prove that it is possible to be proactive when it comes to the negotiation of revenue sharing for the multi-sector economic expansion now underway across Northwest B.C.”

“The RBA offers the best way to work collaboratively with Premier Clark and her key ministers to secure access to significant revenue sharing to ensure the long-term sustainability of all our communities in the Northwest,” added Pages. “The Northwest is about more than fly-in/fly-out camps and Band-Aid solutions. This time, Northwest B.C. communities must be provided access to significant revenue sharing so we can invest to build sustainable communities for the long-term.”

The RBA’s 21 local governments will gather Aug. 13 in Terrace to review and approve the organization’s 2015-2017 action plan. Representatives of industry and the provincial and federal governments will be invited to attend.