The North Matters, a group advocating for resource development in northern British Columbia is seeking to draw new members in Burns Lake.
“We’re trying to include Burns Lake in the Bulkley Valley, so that we have Burns Lake, Smithers and Houston all as one group,” Houston-based member Tom Euverman told Black Press.
It held its first meeting in Smithers in January.
The North Matters was started a little more than a year ago in Kitimat by Dave Johnston, an electrician who has worked on several resource development projects in rural areas.
“The first thing we did before we became an association was we organized a town hall meeting with [Skeena MLA] Ellis Ross and the theme was current issues facing our region….The main reason for starting it here was promoting and fighting for LNG in Kitimat. The more we talked the more we realized it’s not just about Kitimat, it’s about all northern communities and all resources,” Johnston explained.
“Our mission statement is strengthening northern communities by aligning and creating opportunities for its residents. Every community in the north is a resource community and our voices are stronger together.”
The group is active on social media through its Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #TheNorthMatters.
Its physical groups have spread to Prince Rupert, Quesnel and the Bulkley Valley (Smithers), with that chapter being the most active.
“The Smithers one has had multiple meetings,” Johnston said. “They’re getting pretty organized now. They’ll be voting in all of their board of directors soon. There’s going to be a CEO, secretary and CFO.”
There are plans to open more chapters in Prince Rupert, Terrace, Fort Nelson, Williams Lake and Kamloops.
So far the organization’s main activity has been with networking and information sessions, such as a “LNG: Facts, myths and benefits” event held in Kitimat, where Vancouver-based writer Vivian Krause spoke about the financial links between anti-pipeline activism and foreign investors.
It was some of that activism, which irritated Johnston and spurred him to form The North Matters.
”It seems there’s a massive following of activists that are trying to stop those opportunities in our communities. All that messaging [is] propaganda and misinformation and a lot of it is outright lies trying to deceive the public into following their agenda. What we believe drives their agenda is the funding, all coming from the USA. All that messaging is a smear campaign against BC resource extraction. It doesn’t matter if it’s forestry or mining or gas or aquaculture. It seems it’s an all-out attack on resource development.”
Through his networking with The North Matters, for which he has invested large amounts of his own money, Johnston has made new connections with people who are seeing the bigger picture of the benefits of resource development.
“It’s the silent majority that’s starting to wake up to how we’re being deceived,” he said.
Johnston pointed out that his organization’s pro-development stance is not at the expense of the environment.
“We’re asking to meet with Shell Canada quarterly to make sure they’re meeting their promises, their social responsibility and environmental promises to see that there’s accountability there. We’re not blanket pro-industry. We want accountable and responsible companies to develop the resources.”
Back in Houston, Euverman said The North Matters is all about bringing more prosperity to the region, particularly through the LNG pipeline.
“One of the main objectives other than the jobs is making sure our resources get to tide water. If we don’t, we lose millions of dollars a day. Those dollars pay for our social structure, our education and health systems,” he said.
“I feel this pipeline will be good for everybody, including the natives. It brings economies of scale to the region. The population of the Bulkley Nechako region has gone down. I feel like this region needs a boost and I feel like the majority of people are in favour of this. Without an economy our region won’t grow at all.”
The Coastal GasLink pipeline is projected to run south of Burns Lake and Houston and west to Kitimat. Camps for pipeline labourers are scheduled to be built next year just north of Tchesinkut Lake and south of Houston.
Euverman acknowledged the concern that some First Nations groups felt the consultation with them over the pipeline project was insufficient.
However, he noted that resource companies have negotiated with Indigenous bands and hereditary chiefs and that The North Matters is trying to build support from all communities for the pipeline.
“We do have members of the Indigenous community that have come out to our meetings and are in favour of our position. They support the pipeline and development of natural resources, the responsible development and the jobs that come with this,” he said.
“To get 100 per cent on-side is not realistic but I think we’ll get a huge number of native people and environmental people on side and i think that’s the key to moving forward.”
The next step for the Bulkley Valley chapter is a truck convoy and public meeting in Houston planned for March 23.
The convoy “will come in from the Morice River Road and travel through town and bring awareness to our program…We’re going to have guest speakers there from the native community, the provincial government, and elected members of the north.”