Hendry: On LNG, Victoria cutting the North out

As I See It

If the LNG industry that the province has been touting for the last several years is supposed to be so huge and so great for B.C., why is the provincial government trying to cut the North out?

For anyone not paying attention, the provincial government was in the process of renegotiating the Fair Share deal it has with the Northeast. A deal that’s not supposed to expire until 2020. By my math, that means we shouldn’t even be bothering with this for another five years.

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And yet, here we are.

The negotiations have hit an impasse, at least for the North Peace. The province wants to throw the original deal out the window, despite the premier stating during the last election that she would extend the deal to 2030.

As our mayor has been quoted throughout the media, “the exploitation of the North has begun.”

Victoria is exploiting the North, but is that really surprising? British Columbia has exploited its North for decades, knowing of the vast wealth to be made up here with no desire to actually live here and work the land, so to speak, in favour of living in the Lower Mainland or on the Island. Because the important part of B.C. ends after Hope, don’t you know?

Which begs the question: Just how much faith does the province have in the LNG industry?

Yes, oil and gas is in slow down mode at the moment. So in a way, I can see why the province wants to reduce how much coin it’s giving back to this nearly "uninhabitable" corner of the province.

Keeping its coffers full is an important priority for any government, but this new Fair Share deal would inevitably screw the North over if the great wonders of LNG actually come to fruition. The wear and tear on the Peace Region would leave it in ruins after a decade of heavy industry activity if we don't have the funds to keep making the necessary improvements needed when a region experiences that kind of growth. Those funds being what the province wants to take away — or at least significantly reduce.

And if they take those funds away, guess who gets to pay for it? The local taxpayer. It’s already expensive to live up here — not Vancouver expensive, but still not cheap — so a tax increase like that is the last thing any of us want.

Cities like Fort St. John are the reason working up here isn’t completely terrible. If we didn’t have all the things that Fair Share has been paying for — infrastructure upgrades, parks, road maintenance, building upgrades and so on — no one would want to move here. Rather than moving their families here, people world fly-in and fly-out – like they used to do. And from what I’ve heard from a lot of families in that situation, it completely sucks.

This is probably Christy Clark's strategy: Expecting FIDs to come down the pipeline in the relatively near future, Clark is embarking on Fair Share negotiations now because doing so after any FIDs would cost her more money.

Ms. Clark, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we need Site C to power industry and then deny the money that industry in this area is producing because industry is struggling at the moment.

The honest thing to do would be to negotiate Fair Share after any FIDs come in — closer to 2020 — when the current deal is set to expire. Only then will we have a clearer picture of what impact natural gas development will have on municipalities in the North, and that's why Fair Share exists in the first place.

 

Aleisha Hendry is a proud feminist writer who loves cold weather, her cats, roller skates and righteous indignation. She was a finalist at the 2014 BCYCNA Ma Murray Awards in the Columnist category and took home the silver. Follow her on Twitter at @aleishahendry

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