Chairs of three northwest B.C. regional districts will soon meet with the new provincial government in the hope of beginning negotiations to achieve a shared revenue agreement for the region.
The regional district chairs will hold separate meetings with B.C. premier John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in mid-August.
Bill Miller, Chair of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, explained that these meetings will aim to familiarize the new leaders with what the Northwest B.C. Resource Benefit Alliance (RBA) is proposing.
“Andrew Weaver didn’t know what the RBA was during the election,” said Miller. “That meeting will aim to explain our position so he has a better understanding.”
During the provincial election, Horgan was the only major party leader who committed to start negotiations for a revenue sharing agreement with northwest B.C. by September 2017.
“What we’re hoping to do here is to set some timing on when we can start the negotiations,” said Miller. “What we’re really looking for is to open that conversation.”
However, Miller said he understands that the province and many local governments are now focused on the emergency response to all the wildfires across the province, and that he doesn’t expect formal negotiations to begin immediately.
Miller explained that once negotiations formally start, they will include the presence of government staff and lawyers. The RBA has also been working with the newly elected northwest MLAs to maximize its potential.
“We’ll try to get our MLAs together so we can strategize a bit how we are going to approach the new government,” said Miller. “It’s really important that we have a united alliance.”
“What we’re after ultimately is a reasonable and proportionate amount according to what economic stuff is going on in our region,” he added.
Formed in 2014, the RBA represents 21 local governments in the regional districts of Bulkley-Nechako, Kitimat-Stikine and Skeena-Queen Charlotte. The RBA estimates that current infrastructure needs in northwest B.C. total $600 million.
Earlier this year, Miller said it’s important to educate the provincial government on how much revenue is generated in the northwest and what residents currently see in return.
“They [province] see us as a burden, which doesn’t make sense at all because at the end of the day we’re the ones that are producing the dollars that pay for their highways,” said Miller. “We are revenue generators.”