Monday, September 25, 2017

NDP government appears to cool towards Northwest Resource Benefits calls for increased revenues

A letter delivered to the North Coast Regional District last week, would seem to indicate that when it comes to the efforts of the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance, any hopes for a quick negotiation with the province and an announcement of cash flowing to the region is going to be a ways off yet.

In the correspondence to Regional leaders, Selina Robinson, the new NDP government's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the cabinet minister responsible for relations with municipal governments first congratulates the collective on bringing the many communities together on the issues related to their initiative.

She then takes aim at the theme of funding that has made for the heart of much of the RBA discussion and offers up a bit of provincial financial accounting that highlights how the region hasn't done all that badly under the current system,.

Reviewing for the RBA some recent provincial funding for projects across Northern British Columbia, taking time to note that the Northwest has received a larger share of per capita funding than other areas of the province.

"We all share in revenues generated provincially, as they are reinvested in health, education, housing, social services, transportation, natural resources, infrastructure and other broad critical services. We are pleased that local governments in the Northwest Region have been successful in obtaining funding from various infrastructure programs like the Building Canada Fund and the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund. 

In fact, in terms of Provincial infrastructure received, the North Coast and Nechako economic development regions combined, which include all local governments that form the RBA, received higher per capita funding ($758) compared to the Northeast region ($473) and the Mainland/Southeast ($46). 

In addition, local governments, First Nations and non-profits in the Northwest are all eligible for the benefits of the Rural Dividend program, which supports community economic development and diversification. 

They have submitted applications that have been awarded funding of approximately $3 million in the first two program intakes and a number of applications in the third intake are now under review ( over $3.3 million submitted)"

And while she looks forward to future engagement with the  RBA, Ms. Robinson makes note of the responsibility of the province "to listen to and balance the needs of all areas of British Columbia" when it comes prioritizing initiatives and maintaining a "positive financial outlook"

The full correspondence that has seemingly caught the Regional leaders by surprise can be reviewed below:

The tone of the letter and indication that the process will take time before the Province delivers any additional stream of funding certainly makes for a different view from what Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain and the RBA had indicated back in August.

"The provincial government will now determine which ministry and senior staff representatives will lead negotiations with the RBA ... The ministers are already familiar with the RBA issues, so we are confident that the right team will be put together quickly"

While the right team may be in place, the pace of resolution to the issues raised by the RBA would seem to be one of cautious review, rather than that of quickly signing any cheques.

Over the last year or so, Mayor Brain and many the city council members have been strong advocates for the Resource Benefits Alliance approach to seeking more financial resources from the province, with the Mayor serving as the co-chair of the organization over the summer.

Some of their work on the issues can be reviewed below:

August 18 -- Northwest Resource Benefits video highlights alliance talking points from Victoria trip
August 14 -- Northwest Resource Benefits Alliance members hail new government's engagement on revenue issues
July 20 -- Mayor Brain offers best wishes to Premier Horgan and MLA Rice
May 8 -- Prince Rupert City Council's election quiz
May 5 -- Resource Benefits Alliance hails NDP leader's support for better arrangement
May 5 -- North Central Government officials wrap up week of convention duties in Terrace today

In her correspondence to the Regional leaders, Ms. Robinson makes note of her time constraints of this weeks UBCM convention, and that she has delegated engagement on the theme to a Deputy Minister in the Finance Department, who will provide a debriefing for the government officials following the municipal government gathering.

If they hope to raise their concerns and seek some progress on the RBA initiative at this weeks UBCM sessions, the North Coast Regional District delegation will have to talk fast.

According to their list of meetings with provincial officials, they have but a fifteen meeting arranged with officials from the Ministry of Municipal affairs that has been scheduled for Thursday at 4:05 PM.

The letter from the Minister would seem to indicate a subtle shift in how the NDP, now that they will be the one's cutting the cheques, may be viewing the RBA push for an increase in funding for the region.

The topic of a better share for the municipalities was a major theme of the recent provincial election campaign for Jennifer Rice, who echoed many of the talking points from the leader of her party John Horgan when it came to support for the RBA's initiatives, a declaration that Prince Rupert council celebrated at the time.

"The BC NDP has always supported the principle of ensuring that resource-dependent communities benefit from economic development in their region.

That's why I am proud to say a BC NDP government will undertake negotiations with northwest communities to ensure that benefits from future economic development stays in those communities . As requested by the alliance, we will initiate those negotiations by September of 2017"

During the campaign the North Coast's incumbent MLA had responded to the questions from Council on the theme of the RBA, offering what appears to be some solid support for their efforts during the course of the election campaign.

May 3 -- April 24 Campaign Forum revisited
April 21 -- Radio debates set the scene for Monday's North Coast all Candidates meeting

With the latest correspondence dampening ambitions for the short term, City Council and Regional District officials might want to pencil in some meeting time with the region's elected MLA and ask her what's up with what seems to now be somewhat of a shift in opinion from the NDP government.

For more items related to the week long events of UBCM see our archive page here.

More background on City of Prince Rupert notes can be reviewed here, while our archive of notes from Regional District can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. The latest response from the Province should not be surprising. The original rationale was that NW municipalities needed revenue from LNG to address the impacts of 'hyper-economic' growth on services and infrastructure. That was a compelling argument that even the last government seemed receptive to.

    Now that LNG has largely gone away, the narrative has changed. Mayor Brain and the RBA want a "fair" share of non-LNG revenue in order to pay for infrastructure deficits. Municipalities have taxation powers to pay for infrastructure. Provincial funding is also available, and according to the minister's numbers the NW has done very well. It's hard to make a convincing case that Prince Rupert and others have been treated unfairly.

    The RBA either needs to come up with a more convincing rationale, or accept that the situation has changed and return to business as usual, which in the case of Prince Rupert probably means a return to previous staffing levels and pay rates.