Intense industrial activity is underway throughout Northeastern BC — from expansion of natural gas production, to new mining operations, to Site C hydroelectricity generation and more. As the region prepares for more growth, the NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition is here to bring communities together to plan, collaborate and embrace opportunities that protect and enhance the quality of life and services for all residents, now and in the future.
The Northeast: Engine of BC’s Sustainable Future
Northeastern British Columbia encompasses over 204,000 square kilometres, bordered by the Yukon and Northwest Territories to the north, the Rocky Mountains to the west, and Alberta to the east. This is a vast, remote and beautiful area of mountains, foothills, forests, lakes and the Peace River valley – nearly a quarter of the provincial landmass and home to over 60,000 people.
New initiatives in the oil and gas, hydro-electricity, mining and forestry sectors in the Northeast are critical to the provincial economy, in addition to tourism, agriculture and other economic activities.
Over the past 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in Northeast natural gas development. The discovery of substantial shale gas fields has triggered a decade of unparalleled development, and the Province’s plan for liquefied natural gas processing is further driving production. Industry has invested over $62 billion dollars, and gas production has increased 70% over the decade. The impacts on Northeastern communities are equally dramatic. Some, such as Fort St. John, have been growing at 3% per year.
Shaping our Future — without the Boom, Bust & Fizzle
The communities of the Northeast are the heart and soul of the region, offering stability and essential services related to land, transportation, utility systems, recreation and cultural facilities. These communities will grow. How they grow matters greatly to the people who live there.
Experience from Alberta shows that rapid growth related to oil sands development was accompanied by significant environmental degradation and deficiencies in housing, waste treatment and health care services in some communities. This has a ripple effect and makes it difficult for industry to attract key personal, especially those wanting to settle in the area.
In the Northeast, we can write a different story. Communities have an interest in fostering sustainable development and diversifying the economy sufficiently to outlast downturns in commodity prices. Residents – current and future – deserve to live, work and play here knowing it is possible to weather economic storms, such as those that have rocked so many resource communities in Canada and around the world.
There are big opportunities, and also big challenges ahead. The Coalition can help communities plan through collaboration.
Let’s Move Forward Together
Provincial Infrastructure Funding
Since the advent of the oil and gas industry in the mid-1950s, the most significant challenge for municipalities and rural communities in Northeastern BC has been overcoming the lack of access to the rural oil and gas tax base. The municipalities and regional districts addressed this disconnect from the industrial tax base they serviced through a series of innovative agreements with the Province of BC, under which the Province provided offsetting grants in lieu of access to the industrial tax base.
The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and the Province agreed on an infrastructure funding agreement in 2013 that runs through to 2035.
The Peace Region Fair Share Agreement was negotiated in three parts, starting in 1994 and concluding in 2015. A new Peace River Agreement, which is in place for the next 20 years:
- provides an annual conditional grant to Peace Region municipalities and electoral areas
- is not indexed to the growth of the industrial tax base and the economy
- requires local government signatories to prepare annual and long-term development plans, which must be based on the projected level of resource development in Northeastern BC.
If Northeastern BC experiences overlapping substantial growth in natural gas, forestry, mining and hydroelectric development, the capacity of the municipalities and rural communities to meet the costs of growth may need to be re-examined.
Empowering Communities through Collaboration
Communities are now focused on local plans and priorities, including much-needed investments in infrastructure, programs and services.
It is timely to consider the issues we have in common. How can communities collaborate for mutual support and efficiency? How can we create new partnerships with other orders of government, including First Nations, and with the business, industry and not-for-profit sectors?
The City of Fort St. John, District of Taylor and Northern Rockies Regional Municipality are renewing their commitments to the NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition. The Coalition believes that all municipalities and rural communities must be consulted and directly engaged in the planning and development of the natural resources of the region. And we believe everyone is stronger when we move forward together. Senator Richard Neufeld has offered his support to this approach as an honorary member of the Coalition, and we look forward to talking to everyone who is interested in the Coalition.
The Coalition is wide open: we welcome all municipalities and rural communities of the Northeast to join us in a renewed commitment.
The NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition is committed to these goals:
Goal 1: Protect and enhance existing resource municipalities and rural communities of Northeastern BC
Goal 2: Mitigate negative impact of development on resource municipalities and rural communities
Goal 3: Maximize local supply of labour, goods and services provided to resource industries
Goal 4: Increase the proportion of workers and their families that will take up permanent residence in the Northeast resource municipalities and rural communities
Goal 5: Ensure that all resource municipalities and rural communities are involved and consulted in all resource development decisions that impact them directly or indirectly
Goal 6: Protect the environment
Goal 7: Collaborate and build partnerships with First Nations
Goal 8: Address the impacts of worker accommodations on municipal services and infrastructure.
Strategic Opportunities and Challenges
Natural resource development should sustain communities and provide citizens with a high quality of life through the provision of services that ensure safety, education, health, economic vitality and a healthy natural environment.
Members of the NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition plan to advance common interests through education, research and analysis and monitoring industrial development and associated impacts in the Northeast.
Here are some ideas for pooling our energy and resources, in a manner complementary to existing planning processes. We want to hear from you:
- Education and dialogue on the status and trends in resource development across the region
- Identification of cross-boundary sustainability issues for Northeast communities
- A cumulative impacts assessment flowing from resource development
- A regional economic diversification strategy
- Protocols, agreements and best practices for community-to-industry relations
- Research, strategies and additional investments needed to advance such issues as:
- Recruitment, retention and training of workers
- Building a resident workforce
- Health of the air, watersheds and environment
- Human health issues, addictions and medical care
- Traffic, rural roads and transportation safety
- Policing and emergency services
- Disaster planning
- Social issues