A new committee representing six Northeast towns is sending a formal invitation to the three local governments that aren’t taking part, in the hope that the region can “move forward in a united fashion" on the Fair Share deal.
Chetwynd Mayor Merlin Nichols made that statement in a news release put out by the NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition on Wednesday, soon after the group had an all-day, closed-door meeting in Taylor on Tuesday.
“The Peace River municipalities and the Electoral Areas owe all of their past successes in negotiating Fair Share with the Province to the fact that we were united,” Nichols is quoted as saying.
According to Executive Director Colin Griffith, the Coalition has already sent out letters asking to meet with Dawson Creek and Hudson’s Hope, as well as the rural directors of the Peace River Regional District.
The letters stop short of asking the three governments to rejoin the Coalition, Griffith said. However, he added that no matter how the membership of the group changes over the years, it is the Coalition’s position that all officials in the region should work together to see Fair Share extended.
“The Northeast has never been successful in dealing with the provincial government when its communities were not united,” Griffith told the Alaska Highway News.
“At this point … the Coalition members would be ready to form an alliance with any other interested parties.”
Fair Share, which began in 1994, compensates Northeast B.C. communities for the impact of the oil and gas industry on the region. A total of $42 million was funneled from Victoria to the Northeast in 2014, according to the Coalition.
The current agreement runs through 2020. Premier Christy Clark has committed to extending it through 2030, but many local leaders would like to see payments increased and/or made permanent. The desire to negotiate Fair Share was given as one of the primary reasons why the Coalition came together last year.
Hudson’s Hope declined to be a member of the Coalition from the beginning, while Dawson Creek joined at first, only to back out in January.
At the time, Dawson Creek Councillor Charlie Parslow said that City Council was worried about “bureaucratic creep” — the possibility that the Coalition was expanding its mandate and one day might act like another “quasi-level of government.”
Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead told the Alaska Highway News on Wednesday that the city was unlikely to rejoin simply because he felt the Coalition was essentially “moot,” and he couldn’t justify devoting potentially “$500,000 in taxpayer dollars” towards what he considered a foregone conclusion.
“The purpose of the Coalition, as it was first explained to me, was to get the Fair Share agreement extended,” he said. “I feel the province has made it clear that they will extend it, and I am confident that they will.”