Fort St. John and Taylor want talks for a new memorandum of understanding with a 2020 start date when the current agreement expires.
They also argue any changes to the current agreement require the unanimous consent of all signatories – although there appears to be some confusion about that.
“Certainly that was the case in 2005, the agreement required unanimity on behalf of the signatories by the province – but the province is driving that bus,” says Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead. “They’re the ones that are going to be the ones that’ll put the conditions around the agreement and how it’s going to be reached, and so I can’t assume that’s going to be the case in this set of negotiations because the province hasn’t had that conversation – that I’m aware of.”
Mayor Bumstead is speaking for The Peace River Regional District jurisdictions, which have withdrawn from the coalition.
Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm has long dealt with all aspects of this issue, dating back to his days on Fort St. John City Council.
“The Peace River Regional District is a signature on the agreement and every municipality is also a signature on the agreement,” MLA Pimm explains. “And in order for it to be opened, it has to be opened unanimously – that’s written into the agreement.”
MLA Pimm adds, “So in order for the agreement to be actually opened, somebody would have to break the agreement and the only people that could break the agreement would be the province”.
Rather than allow the grant to grow at the rate of the oil and gas industry, the government has capped it at $40 million, and this year alone, that’s $6 million less than what’s been anticipated.
MLA Pimm says this disagreement could possibly end up in court.
“I don’t know if that’s where anybody wants this to go – I don’t think that’s where anybody wants to go,” says MLA Pimm. “But at the end of the day, there are a few things that could happen and that could be one.”
While Fort St. John and Taylor continue stand firm on their call for an immediate halt – with Mayor Ackerman calling it “a slap in the face” for Peace Region communities, Mayor Bumstead is also standing firm – albeit from an opposing perspective.
“The representatives from Fort St. John and Taylor are obviously feeling that it’s unrealistic for the municipalities to come to an agreement by the end of April and that’s their position,” explains Mayor Bumstead. “I respect that; I get that – I understand that – we’re all concerned about what it’s doing but to me, we got to stay at the table with the province to try to ensure that we try to get to an agreement at some point for the long-term benefits of our community.”
For those new to the area, each year the province gives eight Peace Region jurisdictions some oil and gas sector revenues in lieu of property taxes on facilities, which are located outside municipal tax boundaries but are staffed by those who live and use facilities and infrastructure within those communities.
MLA Pimm concedes the local jurisdictions are doing themselves a negotiating disservice by failing to approach the province with a united front.
“I could tell you one thing, the province just kind of snickers a little bit,” MLA Pimm concludes. “It’s when you take a strong position together, that’s when it’s harder for the province to deal with things.”
“But when you’re fractured – it makes it much, much easier for the province.”
There are several stories within this story and you can expect more reports on this issue next week.