A group of local governments, which includes Burns Lake and the Regional District of Buckley-Nechako (RDBN), is asking the province for three per cent of the revenue generated in northwest B.C.
The Northwest B.C. Resource Benefits Alliance was formed in 2014 to achieve “fair revenue sharing” for the region through negotiations with the provincial government. It now represents all 21 local governments in the Regional Districts of Bulkley-Nechako, Kitimat-Stikine and Skeena-Queen Charlotte. The alliance is using the upcoming election to put pressure on the provincial government.
Bill Miller, RDBN Chair and Director of Electoral Area B (Burns Lake rural), said asking for three per cent of the province’s profits in the northwest is what the alliance will “bring to the table to start negotiations.”
“We’re not asking for big sums of money,” he said. “What we’re asking for is a percentage of what goes out – if there’s no development, there’s no revenue flow. So it’s certainly not going to impact their coffers.”
Miller said it’s important to educate the provincial government on how much revenue is generated in the northwest and what residents see in return.
“They [province] see us as a burden, which doesn’t make sense at all because at the end of the day we’re the ones that are producing the dollars that pay for their highways,” said Miller. “We are revenue generators.”
“Can you imagine if our communities had $2 or $3 million coming out of resource generation? What that would do to our budgets… what that would do to our services.”
Local governments estimate that current infrastructure needs in northwest B.C. total $600 million.
“There’s a huge amount of infrastructure deficit that we’re faced with,” said Miller.
“Communities in other regions have a competitive advantage over us because they got a large percentage of their development and infrastructure cost paid by the province through a revenue sharing agreement.”
“This has given us such a competitive disadvantage in our region to attract doctors, to attract professionals, to attract truck drivers,” continued Miller. “We can’t attract those people because, on a service side, we hold our services down, or we start to charge too much taxes.”
“We need to educate everybody, the taxpayer has to understand this, the business owner has to understand this; we have to carry that message to the people in the lower part of the province.”
Miller said the upcoming provincial election will be an opportunity for the public to elect MLAs who support a revenue sharing agreement with the province.
“These people that we elect as MLAs need to be on our side,” said Miller. “That’s the first strategy; if they are not on our side, they shouldn’t be representing us.”
He said the next step will be to use the newly elected MLAs and the “power of the people” to convince the provincial government.
Miller said it has taken other regions such as the Peace Region up to seven years to reach similar agreements with the province.
“We’ve been at it for four [years] and there’s some precedence for it already.”
He added that so far the provincial government has stalled negotiations by tying the possible revenue sharing agreement in the northerst with LNG development.
“Our contention has nothing to do with LNG, it has to do with any development in our region,” added Miller.
Burns Lake Mayor Chris Beach said that from the provincial and federal governments’ perspective, small towns in northern B.C. are “undervalued.”
“Just think about the people that we supply to mines and mills and all the forestry dollars that have flown out of our region,” said Beach. “There’s a flaw that we produce all of this revenue and it goes out to Victoria, and then we have to beg for it back.”
“But we produce it, so it makes sense that we should be keeping a greater share of what we produce.”