The North Coast Regional District and its encompassed municipalities are joining the fight against the province to bring benefits created by industry in northwest communities back to those same communities.
Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain brought up the issue at the April 24 city council meeting after a delegation from the Northwest British Columbia Resource Benefits Alliance spoke to the regional district (NCRD) in Sandspit last month.
The alliance was started by local governments in the regional district of Kitimat-Stikine area in 2014, and then joined in July 2015 by the NCRD and the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District. All together, 21 local governments make up the alliance.
“The Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA) is a group of local governments committed to achieving fair revenue sharing for the region through negotiations with the provincial government,” the RBA’s website details, adding that the benefits to the province created by forestry, commercial fishing, mining and hydro-electricity industries have generated wealth for B.C., yet a significant disadvantage for the region exists because a lack of revenue sharing to the northwest has created a $600 million deficit, despite a cited $500 million added to provincial revenues from development activity in the area.
“The current system in place is that we are communities supporting those industries, however sometimes those industries are operating outside municipal boundaries – our regional district boundaries – but are still impacting the area and are not required to pay taxes,” Brain said.
“Us, as communities up here in the north, have to compete with each other for infrastructure grants, for attention from the province, for a share of the money that we’re generating essentially on their behalf.”
A new agreement would take pressure off municipalities to bear the burden of infrastructure upgrade costs alone, and the mayor said the city is asking MLA candidates in the riding what their position is on a regional revenue sharing deal.
A poll conducted by Insights West found that 85 per cent of northwest residents believe it is important to have a revenue sharing agreement, and 75 per cent believe provincial financial support for facilities and services in their own region is worse than in the Lower Mainland. The poll surveyed 502 adult B.C. residents living in the three northwest regional districts with a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.
RBA vice-chair and NCRD chair Barry Pages added that after the province has met the organization at the table, then a formula can be struck on how each community can collect revenue.
“Despite a promise dating back to the 2013 election and public commitments in ministerial mandate letters and the best efforts of the RBA, there have been no negotiations … Once we have a firm commitment to begin negotiations, the RBA members representing every community in the northwest will come up with a formula that will ensure an equitable share of revenue sharing for every community taking several factors into account,” said Pages last week.
Rupert coun. Barry Cunningham added that Fort St. John has completed a multi-million dollar paving program that costed the taxpayers nothing, because of a fair share agreement with the province. RBA states that northeast B.C. and the Columbia Basin regions have received a share of resource revenue for years. Fort St. John received approximately $21 million for its budget in 2015 from a Peace River Agreement, about 22.5 per cent of its total revenue. The agreement was signed in 2015. The amount of funding for the grant is determined by aligning agreement funding paid to the area with industrial property assessments. Rising assessments creates greater funding.
“What we’re going after is something other parts of the province already have,” said Cunningham.
Pages said that the Peace River Agreement provides the northeast disricts with $50 million per year, increasing by two per cent per year beginning in 2020, and another arrangement includes the Columbia Basin Trust, which has the province providing benefits to the Kootenays for payments received by B.C. from Washington state’s access to Columbia River.
RBA is seeking control over distribution of contributions in its own agreement and looking to start negotiations with the province by Sept. 9, 2017.