Despite a lacklustre letter from the minister of municipal affairs, the Northwest Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA) is moving forward with optimism after an upbeat meeting with the Premier last week.
The RBA board met with John Horgan at the Union of BC Municipalities conference last week to brief the new Premier and his senior staff on their progress. The RBA stated in a press release the Premier confirmed the government will begin to immediately collaborate on the sharing agreement.
“Yesterday’s meeting was unequivocally the most positive meeting we’ve had with the provincial government since the beginning of the RBA. After four years of empty promises we have finally gotten to the negotiation table,” said RBA Chair, Bill Miller. “The senior government officials understand this type of agreement will not only benefit the Northwest, but the whole province. It is a critical component to enable the northwest region to reach its true potential and contribute to the province’s economic future in a very positive way.”
The RBA consists of 18 communities and three regional districts seeking a share of government revenue from future resource developments. They say it will help transform a “have-not region” into one reaching its full potential. The alliance feels its case is strengthened by the unified support of otherwise politically-opposed regional leaders.
“It is…clear from the meetings this week that our four MLAs, made up of two NDPs and two Liberals, are taking a non-partisan approach,” said City of Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc. “All four MLAs have committed to working together to make sure we get this deal done.”
In August, following meetings in Victoria, the RBA publicly praised the new provincial government for its commitment to start negotiations. But that enthusiasm wasn’t quite reflected in a September 20 letter addressed to the North Coast Regional District, from Minister of Municipal Affairs Selina Robinson.
The minister appeared to downplay the province’s level of commitment, outlining a disproportionate amount of monies the Northwest already receives through existing programs.
“In fact, in terms of Provincial infrastructure received, the North Coast and Nechako economic development regions combined, which include all local governments that form the RBA, received higher per capita funding ($758) compared to the Northeast region ($473) and the Mainland/Southeast ($46),” Robinson wrote.
She added local governments, First Nations and non-profits in the Northwest have also subscribed to the Rural Dividend program, which supports community economic development and diversification, with approximately $3 million in funding being awarded from the first two program intakes. A third intake is now under review with requests for more than $3.3 million from the region.
Nonetheless, following the UBCM meetings, the RBA says it is assured the government will negotiate.
“This agreement will also ensure local First Nations benefit as well, by allowing us to strengthen relationships with the surrounding communities,” said City of Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain. “This will be a win-win for everyone.”
In an email response to Black Press a spokesperson from the ministry of municipal affairs said the office is awaiting the RBA’s business case: “We have commited to receiving and reviewing that business case to better understand the specific nature of the region’s perspective—so we are collaborating effective immediately. We will continue to work closely with the Alliance and its communities.”
RBA leaders are hoping to reach some kind of an agreement with the province within six months. Until then, “John Horgan committed to meet again in December to check in on the progress that has been made,” RBA co-chair Barry Pages said.