Yesterday, what is being heralded as a “monumental agreement” between Northwest B.C. municipal leaders was signed.
The Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA) brings together mayors and other municipal leaders in a unified front to negotiate a deal with the province that would see dollars allocated for infrastructure and services needed due to pressures of industrial expansion.
Similar alliances have been forged between municipalities and government in the Northern Rockies, Peace and Columbia Basin districts.
“It’s like signing a northwest Magna Carta, it’s of that kind of importance for us who have lived through boom and bust for such a long period of time,” said Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine chair and Terrace city councillor Bruce Bidgood before making the announcement to a packed room Tuesday afternoon.
The list of signatories who attended the ceremony included Bidgood, Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski, Hazelton mayor Alice Maitland, RDKS directors Linda Pierre, Ted Ramsey and Dave Brocklebank; New Hazelton mayor Gail Lowry, Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan and deputy mayor of Stewart Billie Ann Belcher.
The first order of business for the alliance is to present the provincial government with a detailed plan for how revenue sharing could work, including formulas and timelines.
The ongoing development surrounding pipelines, LNG plants, numerous mines, the Rio Tinto Modernization Project and the expansion of the port in Prince Rupert are cited as industries driving growth that threatens to outpace the regional infrastructure’s capacity.
A document released as a backgrounder for the negotiations states that the agreement would apply to communities with a 100,000 square kilometre area of the northwest and provide “(a) for good government of their communities, (b) for services, laws and other matters of community benefit, (c) for stewardship of the public assets of their communities, (d) fostering the economic, social and environmental well-being of their communities, and (e) ensuring that major resource development does not put the long-term sustainability of communities at risk.
“In order to obtain social licence for major resource development, the provincial government, federal government and major resource companies must share the benefits of major resource development with RBA communities,” the document continues.
Bidgood said the RBA is gunning for a deal to land three per cent of the money that the government takes in from industry in the region, a figure from $500 million to $3 billion over several years, similar to long-term deals forged in other districts.
The alliance said the partnership needs to happen soon to build on the $1 million already provided this year by the provincial government for planning through the Northwest Readiness Project.
Maitland said another aim of the money would be to lower the historically high illiteracy and child poverty rates in the northwest.
By signing a revenue sharing agreement with the province soon, the alliance hopes to have infrastructure such as a new Haisla Bridge in Kitimat in place before construction of one or more LNG plants begins.
Bidgood said that each community would pitch ideas internally for different projects according to its needs.
“We are not asking for a handout, but to be a partner in growing the local economy. We provide all the services that the people who will be here will require,” he said.
The alliance will also be reaching out to other municipalities such as Prince Rupert and Port Edward, however no officials from the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional district are part of the current grouping.