Ackerman to Ottawa: downturn in Northeast B.C. grows more dire by the day

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman says she brought a "dire" message to federal officials Ottawa last week, hammering home the impacts the latest oil and gas downturn is having on Northeast B.C. 

At Monday's council meeting, Ackerman reported on her two-day trip to Ottawa April 18 and 19, where she, along with five other regional mayors and representatives, met with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi, and Opposition Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, among a handful of others.

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The meetings were aimed to promote a liquefied natural gas industry in B.C. and urge a speedy decision on Pacific Northwest LNG, the $36-billion initiative being spearheaded by Malaysia's Petronas and its Canadian subsidiary Progress Energy. 

"What we took to Ottawa was the story of us," Ackerman said.

"The environmental and the technical aspects of these (LNG) programs is already well understood. It's the story of us … the story of teachers that are taking extra sandwiches to school because there are kids that are not taking sandwiches right now."

"There are 70 per cent of some of the bank files at risk, our non-profit organizations are seeing their fundraising dollars diminished. It was really about the community and how that's just not sustainable."

Decisions on major projects such as Pacific NorthWest LNG must be made in "a timely fashion," Ackerman said. Though Statistics Canada reports regional unemployment at 9.7 per cent, she believes the number is likely higher as many local entrepreneurs who are out of work aren't captured in the stats because they don't qualify for employment insurance. 

"The situation in the northeast is getting more dire every day, so that's the message that we took," she said.

The trip was arranged and hosted by MP Bob Zimmer. The group also met with François-Philippe Champagne, the parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, and Opposition infrastructure and communities critic Dianne Watts.

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