It is time for access to amenities and infrastructure in Fort St. John to reflect the city's large contribution to the province's purse, the local Chamber of Commerce told Naomi Yamamoto, B.C. minister of state for small businesses, yesterday.
Pat Pimm, Peace River North MLA, joined Yamamoto to hear Chamber members' concerns and ideas for improvement. The talk focused on increasing the appeal of Fort St. John to encourage more long-term settlement in town by skilled workers.
“We're basically brainstorming on ways that would make Fort St. John an attractive place not just to come bank a paycheck and move on, but to come up and stay here,” said Brad Brain, Chamber of Commerce director. “Not just a place with a good quality of life, but also a place where you can raise a family and spend your days. Not just knock off your two-weeks-on, one-week-off shift, but make it a viable community.” He said the town's lack of more metropolitan amenities was partly to blame for employers' perpetual need of staff in the service industry and other roles.
Chamber members' ideas for solutions included extending a tax credit to those relocating to the north for work, waiving the provincial one per cent property sales tax, improving internet and cellular service, and demanding a commitment from resource extractors to build permanent infrastructure.
“Leave the place better than you found it. That's it in a nutshell,” Brain said. “Here we've got people coming in who are able to extract great wealth from the North Peace, and what we'd like to see – we're not trying to ransom them or anything – is just leave the place better than you found it. Be a good neighbour.”
However, the meeting was not a first step to implementing any new policies at the provincial level. Rather, Brain said, chamber members were glad to “feel like [Yamamoto] was there to listen.”
When questioned by reporters later, Yamamoto said residents of northern B.C. get more back from investors than they might realize.
“I think that if you live in the North and you see all these resources that are adding to our GDP and not feeling like you're getting the infrastructure back here, I can understand that. And you look at the huge geographic area and the low density, it's hard to sometimes rationalize sometimes where resources are placed.” She said people have trouble understanding how amenities could be so limited in a region so wealthy, with so low a population to consume them, but the benefits do exist.
Pimm agreed, pointing to Fort St. John's new $300 million hospital as proof. He said the government contributed two-thirds of that amount.
“People think they don't get the investments, but actually, we do get a fair amount back in this region,” Pimm said. “We have FairShare in the Peace country, that's certainly a big number that we get back. Northern Rockies, we're working on one for them, hopefully we can do something there as well. And we do get a fair amount in this region compared to other areas of the province.”
Brain said FairShare does not do enough to ensure the City of Fort St. John will continue to benefit from the area's resources. FairShare, an agreement with the province started in 2005, guarantees at least $20 million a year for the Peace River Regional District. In the region, investment properties often fall outside the jurisdiction of the towns whose resources bear the bulk of the strain from related activity, such as increased traffic. FairShare expires in 2020, essentially leaving the town at the government's mercy without new guarantees, said Brain.
Yamamoto's mini-tour of the Peace Region also includes a stop in Dawson Creek today.