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BC budget kicks in $250M to NW Resource Benefits Alliance

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, left, Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen join RBA Steering Committee members Smithers Mayor Gladys Atrill and Terrace Mayor Sean Bujtas in Victoria for the B.C. Government’s 2024 budget announcement. (Contributed photo)

The B.C. government has earmarked $250 million in its 2024 budget for the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA). The funding is set to be distributed over the next five years among its members for the planning and construction of essential municipal infrastructure projects that are critical for supporting new industrial development and creating livable communities for the workforce.

The RBA Steering Committee, comprising Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond, Terrace Mayor Sean Bujtas, and Smithers Mayor Gladys Atrill, travelled to Victoria for the formal announcement. While the $250 million is welcome, it falls short of establishing a formal agreement on regular revenue sharing.

“It is not enough money for [the region] to get our infrastructure deficit on the right side of things, but what this gives us is a foot in the door,” Bujtas said. “It gives us the ability to prove to the government that we can spend this money responsibly on much needed infrastructure inside our communities. And I think it will be a very easy decision for them in five years to not only extend this agreement, but to actually increase it.”

“This funding is a gamechanger for all our communities,” Pond said. “It allows us to fix, replace and build basic infrastructure that all our communities rely on… without the heavy financial burden being placed on our residents.”

Future discussions will determine how the money is divided.

READ MORE: Premier reaffirms support for Resource Benefits Alliance

Formed in 2014, the RBA is a coalition of 18 communities and three regional districts, spanning from Vanderhoof to Haida Gwaii. It aims to secure a fair share of government revenue from future resource developments, aspiring to transform a “have-not region” into one that reaches its full potential.

The alliance is predicated on the understanding that small local governments are unable to tax large-scale industries and projects within their areas, as these are typically located outside local government boundaries, but are nonetheless burdened with the financial pressures of providing essential services.

In 2022, the province entered into a memorandum of understanding with the RBA to examine the effects of historic and current industrial development on the infrastructure and livability of member communities.

A working group, co-chaired by the RBA and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and including staff from the Ministry of Finance, found in its September 2023 report that nearly 74 per cent of all major projects related to mining, oil and gas, wood manufacturing, and petrochemical manufacturing recently completed or underway in B.C. are situated within the RBA region.

A separate report by the RBA in 2019 identified 222 local government infrastructure projects totaling $1.33 billion, with service costs of $113 million annually over 20 years.

Atrill noted the money signals continued momentum for the group.

“To all the RBA members who have been working on this initiative for the past 10 years—your good work has not gone unnoticed.”

That work began paying off in 2018 when the BC government allocated $300,000 to the RBA for the development of a proposal for a provincial revenue-sharing model. The following year, the province issued the RBA a $100 million grant for infrastructure projects, further cementing the partnership between the government and the RBA. It followed with another $50 million in 2020.

— with files from Rod Link

About the Author: Quinn Bender

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