'We're insignificant to them': Northern B.C. concerned about economic impact of NDP-Green alliance

The NDP-Green agreement is clear on plans to increase to the carbon tax, minimum wage and disability benefits, but doesn't include a detailed plan for job creation in the province's resource-reliant communities.

NDP says it cares about the region and has plans to revitalize the forestry industry

B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan speak to media after announcing they'll be working together to help form a minority government during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, May 29, 2017. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Community leaders in northern B.C. say they're worried about an alliance between the NDP and Green parties, which have promised to scrap or review a number of projects the Liberals said would bring prosperity to the top half of the province.

"They've made it clear that we're insignificant to them," said Shaely Wilbur, president of the North Central Local Government Association, which lists 41 northern communities as members.

That sentiment may be an early example of hostilities that are likely to continue between a new environmentally focused government in Victoria and the resource-rich, jobs-poor North.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver and NDP Leader John Horgan have promised to do everything in their power to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and to hold an independent review of the Site C Dam project, which is currently under construction in the Peace River region.

Horgan has said he is open to LNG projects on a case-by-case basis, while Weaver called it a "pipe-dream" associated with unacceptable greenhouse gas emissions.

Pro-pipeline 

Kinder Morgan's $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline project, which cuts through parts of northeast B.C., has a green light from the provincial and the federal Liberals.

The project doesn't face the same level of opposition in the North as in the South; it's a project Valemount Mayor Jeannette Townsend wants to go ahead without delay.

While she welcomes any new economic activity for Valemount, she also feels the pipeline is the safest way to move bitumen from Alberta.

A ship receives its load of oil from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion project's Westridge loading dock in Burnaby, B.C. The pipeline cuts through parts of northeast B.C. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The NDP-Green alliance's commitment to scrap it makes her nervous about Alberta's bitumen being shipped via truck or rail.

"It gives me great concern because it puts my community in a very hazardous position," she told Robert Doane, host of CBC's Daybreak North.

"I'm a realist and I believe the product will be transported one way or another."

Oil and gas

Right next to one of B.C.'s largest natural gas reserves sits the community of Fort Nelson.

Bill Streeper, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, which includes Fort Nelson, worries his community is out of economic options.

"We're the people that frack," Streeper said. 

In the northeast, unemployment fell from 10.5 per cent in December 2016 to 5.5 per cent by April, 2017, according to Statistics Canada.

However, while that figure applies to the region as a whole, Fort Nelson is particularly resource dependant.

"When I think it can't get much worse up here, it does. We have zero forest industry right now and more reduction in natural gas," Streeper said.

Forestry jobs have taken a hit in Northern B.C. in the past few years. (The Associated Press)

Fort Nelson's forestry industry took a hit with the closure of two mills in 2008, but workers were able to get jobs in oil and gas at the time.

Then the price of gas took a tumble in 2015, taking northern local jobs and business with it.

Enbridge recently announced it would be making cuts to staff at the Fort Nelson gas plant, but said it would not discuss the number of layoffs publicly. 

The NDP-Green coalition has promised an attempt at revitalizing the forestry industry by building public infrastructure and using B.C. wood to do it.

But in a region that didn't make the itinerary for neither the Greens nor the NDP's campaign trails, the promises inspire little hope.

"One of them is not for resources because they're for the environment and one's not for oil and gas. So that pretty well leaves us out of the picture on a lot of things," he says.

Here to help

NDP North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice called the fears expressed by the NCLGA unfounded.

"We understand the importance of the resource sector," said Rice.

When asked how an NDP-Green government would create new jobs in rural areas, Rice championed the plan to build schools and hospitals using B.C. wood.

The NDP says it's committed to creating new jobs in B.C.'s forestry sector. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

That plan is also key to reducing raw-log exports and instead creating value-added wood products in B.C., in theory, creating thousands of new jobs in mills, according to a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

But the bottom line, according to Rice, is the NDP cares about the North and the party is ready to prove it.

"I'm anxious to get to work and demonstrate that we're here to help rural communities, not hinder them."

With files from CBC Radio One's Daybreak North