'We think it's our turn': Northwest B.C. wants its own Fair Share

Weeks after Northeast B.C. mayors and the province signed a deal that will pump $1.1 billion in oil and gas revenues into the region, Northwest B.C. local governments are saying they want their fair share.

On Wednesday, local governments in three Northwest B.C. regional districts called on Premier Christy Clark to begin negotiating a revenue sharing agreement to give cities, towns and rural areas in the region funds from industrial operations.

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Such a deal would put even more pressure on a provincial government trying to move liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects over the goal line.

The regional districts of Skeena-Queen Charlotte and Bulkley-Nechako announced Wednesday that they would join Kitimat-Stikine in a Resource Benefits Alliance to negotiate a deal with the B.C. government. In all, the alliance has 21 member governments, said Stacey Tyers, a Terrace councillor and chair of the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District. Tyers said local governments in the region kept a close eye on Northeast B.C.'s Fair Share negotiations.

"We were definitely paying attention," she said. "The bottom line is we think it's our turn. We're 25 years behind everyone else, but resources have been moving through our area for just as long."  

RELATED STORY: Premier, mayors sign scaled-back, $50 million Fair Share deal

Like in Northeast B.C., Clark promised to begin resource revenue sharing negotiations with local governments in the Northwest during the 2013 election campaign. Tyers said the group would seek three per cent of revenues from industrial projects — including mines and LNG plants.

That revenue is badly needed in a region where work patterns are changing, Tyers said.

"A lot of this [development] happens outside municipal boundaries, but we bear the infrastructure problems and social problems that come with it," she said, adding that worker camps and fly-in, fly-out schedules have gutted tax bases in some communities.

This round of Fair Share negotiations showed local governments in the Northwest some of the difficulties of negotiating with a tightfisted provincial government. 

"We wouldn't have this expectation of tens of millions of dollars from projects that might not necessarily go ahead," Tyers said of asking for a percentage instead of the annual payments under Fair Share. 

While Peace Region leaders hailed Fair Share when it was signed in Dawson Creek May 29, some said the deal was as less than ideal. It will pay out around $50 million to local governments every year, but removes a clause that tied payment to growth in the industry. During negotiations, the province called the existing deal "unsustainable" amid falling oil and gas revenues.

Fort St. John loudly protested the end of the so-called indexing clause.

"Although this agreement is not the agreement Fort St. John envisioned for the community, it does represent a commitment by the province to provide consistent funding to the community for 25 years," Mayor Lori Ackerman said in a release.

Northwest B.C.'s discontent over Fair Share has been percolating for some time.  Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead spoke about some of the regional tensions at a public meeting in April.

"[Fair Share] is a very unpopular agreement in the rest of the province — Northwest B.C., the Cariboo, places that are facing tough economic times," he said. "Each [MLA], when they go home to their ridings, they're hearing 'what about us?' There's no other jurisdiction in the province that gets a deal like this."

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