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Opinion: A strong energy sector means strong communities, especially in the North


Opinion: A strong energy sector means strong communities, especially in the North

Written by: Lori Ackerman for The Province, January 15, 2014

Pipelines have played a key role in developing this province, especially for the robust energy economy of B.C.’s Northeast. I expect that positive relationship not just to continue but to grow. As an example, the Joint Review Panel has recently recommended approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline with conditions.

While the economic benefits of a pipeline project to local and regional governments might vary, provincially those benefits — including taxes and other measures — are significant and welcome.

Sure, we need to examine how those substantial funds can better reach the local level through enhanced agreements with regional districts and the province. Yet even without such agreements, residents are deriving positive impacts from pipeline construction and operations in several ways.

Take my community of Fort St. John as an example. Here in northeastern B.C., we’re beneficiaries of a very strong oil and gas industry, including a responsible and active pipeline sector — that contributes greatly to growing this region and supporting the communities within it.

At the provincial level, think about corporate taxes, fuel taxes, motor vehicle taxes, property taxes and provincial sales taxes. Should the Northern Gateway project be approved and built, those taxes would amount to $1.2 billion for B.C. over 30 years. It’s a sizable sum and could go a long way toward supporting B.C. health care, education and infrastructure.

But in addition to tax revenues, large oil and gas companies provide significant sponsorships that directly support our quality of life and our quality of place. From youth development programming to arts and culture to a strong and durable social network, these companies regularly make significant commitments to supporting our crucial social programs.

In our community, industry-sponsored programs include our Women’s Resource Centre, our Salvation Army Homeless Shelter and Transition House, our Child Development Centre, our Ducks Unlimited programming and our Firefighter Burn Fund, to name just a few. For each of these, the oil and gas industry plays a key role in our community.

In Fort St. John, we know it’s also about a lot more than just the large energy development companies who operate in our region and who contribute to the B.C. tax base in support of designated regional services such solid waste management and the like. It’s also about those many smaller businesses that provide services to the larger ones and, in so doing, contribute directly to our community services.

If you live in rural B.C., it’s easy to recall the plight small communities faced after the pine beetle disaster, the softwood lumber fights and the downturn in the U.S. housing market, all of which combined very nearly to kill off many towns.

The fact is, it was the small businesses and the citizens themselves who learned to adapt to the new conditions, develop energy expertise and find work in the resource industry either here in the Northeast or in Alberta that made the difference to those towns. Some might say against all odds, today those communities still exist in large part because of a strong and growing energy sector.

Whether or not they commute each week or two to Alberta, those employees and business people continue to own their B.C. homes, pay their taxes and buy their groceries in those hometowns. Further, for there to be a strong, healthy sense of place in those towns, there’s a continuing need for doctors, nurses, teachers, services, utilities and the rest.

The bottom line for me is simple: Our entire society, no matter where you live, is based on energy. Without a reliable, affordable and safe supply of continual energy, we would have neither the standard of living nor the quality of life we enjoy today.

But for our society to remain healthy, durable and livable in every sense, we need all our resource industries to be able to complete approved projects safely, responsibly and within a reasonable timeline. That will then help our businesses remain competitive so that they can, in turn, employ our citizens, spend their money throughout our local economy and participate fully in the life of our community.

Our future in this province is in knowing we can have both a world-leading energy sector, and one that is more efficient, effective and leaves a lighter footprint. Safe, responsible pipelines are part of that important picture.

Lori Ackerman is mayor of Fort St. John and a director of both the Peace River Regional District and the Northern Development Initiative Trust.


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