Trent Ernst, Editor
While nowhere near to being written in stone yet, The Northeast BC Resource Municipalities Coalition (NEBCRMC), which has shrunk to three members in the last year as nearly every community in the Northeast has withdrawn, says that Northern BC communities stand to lose a total of over $70-million if they were to accept the current Fair Share offer from the government.
As a result, they are calling on the Premier to halt the current Fair Share negotiations.
“We are calling on the Premier to immediately halt the current process to impose a new Fair Share agreement on municipalities in Northeast BC,” says Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman, one of three remaining communities in the NEBCRMC. “We are also requesting that she convene a meeting of all parties for the purpose of developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will guide the parties towards development of a new Fair Share agreement that will start in 2020 when the current agreement expires.”
On March 21, the Provincial Negotiator tabled a position that, says Ackerman and Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser, “is completely unacceptable to the District of Taylor and the City of Fort St John.” Even worse, the negotiator isn’t allowed to negotiate outside the fundamentals of the tabled proposal.
The proposal, say the mayors, would effectively break the Fair Share deal currently in place, and cost the city of Fort St. John over $32-million in lost payments over the next five years.
Currently, the deal is indexed to the growth in oil and gas revenues. As the province makes more money in taxes, the municipalities make a percentage of that, too. But the offer on the table is to cap Fair Share off at $40 million a year.
This year, the Peace is looking at a Fair Share payment of $46 million, unless the new deal goes through.
According to calculations supplied by the NEBCRMC, Tumbler Ridge would lose $731,343 this year and over $5-million by 2020 if the deal were struck today.
The Provincial offer, says the NEBCRMC, completely removes the industrial tax base from Peace Region municipalities. This is something that has not happened in any other area of the province. In fact, they are doing the exact opposite, argues the NEBCRMC. In places like Port Edwards, Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Quesnel, the government is working with municipalities to incorporate industrial tax bases or encourage community benefiting agreements with industry.
“Our position [is] the current process and offer from the Province is unacceptable in every way. It is a slap in the face to municipalities in the Northeast and in our view sets a very dangerous precedent for British Columbia,” says Ackerman. “The current Fair Share agreement provides an annual grant-in-lieu for municipalities who do not have access to the industrial tax base that includes an indexing formula directly linked to the rate of economic growth. We will not abandon this principle for the sake of a ‘political quick fix’ solution that will penalize our citizens for decades to come. Our citizens and taxpayers are ready to help build the Site C dam project and BC’s new LNG industry and they deserve safe, sustainable municipalities with paved streets and modern water, sewer and other infrastructure in which to raise their families.”
Fort St. John and Taylor continue to support the NEBCRMC, which all but self-destructed last month as Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd and Pouce Coupe joined Dawson Creek in leaving the Coalition. Hudson Hope never joined in the first place. The third surviving member of the NEBCRMC is the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality.
Some municipalities, says the NEBCRMC, are focused on a ‘political quick fix’ solution that has resulted in regional disharmony. Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser says that these municipalities are “acting on short-sighted advice.” He says that any changes to the current Fair Share agreement requires the unanimous consent of all signatories including Fort St. John and Taylor. “We want to be crystal clear with our communication today, that those municipalities will not receive our consent to make any changes to the current Fair Share agreement.”
Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead says he can’t really comment on the whole issue, as the negotiations are currently happening and the final shape of the proposal could be different by the time negotiations are finished. He says he’s leaving that in the hands of Blair Lekstrom, who has been hired to represent the Peace River Regional District and a number of its constituent communities, including Tumbler Ridge.
“Blair has a huge amount of respect in our community, as former Mayor, as former MLA, as a Cabinet Minister,” says Bumstead. “We feel he will best represent us at the table. We’re going through a process of negotiations. For me, it’s unfair to be commenting on parts of negotiations that he has been hired to do.”
He says that, at least for Dawson Creek, they will let Blair negotiate, and when the government makes the final offer, then Council will have the discussion as to whether they accept the deal then. “It’s happening very quickly for all of us when the province sends a message in mid-March saying we’ll have this done by the end of April,” says Bumstead. “So, let’s hear what they have to propose. It’s happening quickly, and we’re not driving that bus. My hope is that they come to the table with a reasonable proposal that will benefit all the communities.”