B.C. Premier John Horgan announced $100 million grant for northwest communities in Terrace on Feb. 16.
The Northern Capital and Planning Grant will go to 22 municipalities and four regional districts including Fraser Fort George, Bulkley-Nechako, Kitimat-Stikine and North Coast to address long-standing infrastructure needs that could not keep up with resource development.
The premier was joined by Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen and mayors from municipalities including Smithers, Terrace, Prince Rupert, and Vanderhoof.
“The message was abundantly clear, for too long the resources in the North have been feeding the people in the south and there has not been a rapid turnaround of benefits coming back to the region,” said Horgan inside Coast Mountain College’s trades building.
“They need services, and they need to ensure that their infrastructure is up to the task, not just for the new people, but for new investment and new industry.”
The 22 municipalities will get $83.7 million, and the four districts the remaining $16.3 million.
Local governments with populations of more than 10,000 people will receive between $6 million and $9 million, municipalities like Smithers, Telkwa and the Hazeltons with populations fewer than 10,000 will receive between $1 million and $6 million.
They can use the grant to meet immediate infrastructure needs, save it for a future opportunity, or leverage to secure other sources of funding. The need was raised through discussions with the province and Northwest B.C. Resource Benefits Alliance, a coalition consisting of 18 communities and three regional districts seeking revenue from future resource developments.
“Whether it’s mining or forestry or natural gas, the North has been the breadbasket for British Columbia for many, many decades,” Horgan said. “But for too long those resources were not staying in the community, they were going elsewhere. The result is aging infrastructure that doesn’t meet the needs of people nor the needs of the industry; and almost everywhere you look, there are opportunities for renewal.”
Cullen said to hear the premier acknowledge the inability of smaller northern communities to reap the benefits of resource development in the North is “huge.”
“This is shifting that dynamic,” Cullen said, speaking on the funding agreement between local, provincial and federal governments for grant opportunities.
He said smaller, northern communities are often stuck behind that funding formula, whereas larger municipalities like Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria have a tax base large enough to cover their one-third portion.
Several northern B.C. mayors shared the same sentiment.
“This is the largest grant the City of Terrace has ever received, and it represents one-third of our annual budget,” said Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc in a press release. “It gives us the chance to address some of the many outstanding projects we would like to tackle.”
Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain said the Province listened to concerns raised by northern municipalities with the financial injunction, which “will help all our communities begin to tackle those challenges as our region becomes a globally significant national trade corridor.”
The money was taken from last year’s provincial budget and will be included in the 2019 budget as the Province finalizes it next week.