One of the most important public policy debates facing Canada in the 21st century is happening right here in Prince George. The next phase of the Joint Review Panel review of the Northern Gateway Project begins today and we need to be paying close attention.
The proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline Project is the largest private infrastructure project in the history of British Columbia, worth some $6 billion. Prince George and our surrounding communities are strategically positioned to reap tremendous benefits that will impact our local economy for decades to come.
Northern Gateway plans to spend over $400 million here on goods and services during the construction phase alone. Almost every segment of our economy will benefit from this enormous investment: hospitality and catering, trucking, retail, equipment parts and rentals, construction camps, fuel suppliers, and many more. During the peak of the construction phase, over 1,300 well-paying jobs will be available here.
On a national scale, this project has the potential to add over $270 billion to Canadas GDP over the next 30 years, generate $2.6 billion in local, provincial and federal government tax revenues, $4.3 billion in labour-related income.
Enbridge Northern Gateway is offering aboriginal communities in British Columbia and Alberta a 10 per cent equity stake in the pipeline, representing $280 million in net income over the next 30 years. It also expects aboriginals would form about 15 per cent of the construction work force - producing about $400 million in employment and contracts for aboriginal communities and businesses. Finally, Northern Gateway plans to establish a community investment fund - for all to share estimated to exceed $100 million over 30 years.
There has been considerable support for Northern Gateway since the project was originally proposed nearly a decade ago. And why not? We and our economy rely on the transportation of energy each and every day, we have an oil refinery right in our city.
Theres been an oil pipeline running from Edmonton to Vancouver for decades.
A few years ago I helped found a grassroots organization - the Northern Gateway Alliance - in support of the regulatory review process assessing Northern Gateway. Why? Because too many people were saying no even before the official application was submitted. They dont represent all British Columbians - but they say they do, and as a result get a lot of attention.
I think their outlook is narrow, their anti-economic development views are obvious. They dont like change and have no vision. They dont care about the national interest or understand the links between a growing economy and the tax base necessary to fund health care, education, or other government programs.
Prince George cant afford attitudes like that.
Im a proud British Columbian I have spent my adult life here. I was honoured to serve Prince George as your mayor for 12 years. I fish, I hike - and I love our incredible and unique geography. I would be the last person to suggest we abuse or take for granted the environment of this great place.
Im also a proud Canadian, and I have confidence that Canada can find the right balance between economic development and preservation of our environment. I want to see future generations of Canadians have access to jobs and prosperity.
Thats not going to be easy. Canadians dont have an automatic right to prosperity. We have global competition, we have to work hard for it. To me thats just common sense - but to some people its too controversial, too much risk.
It is frustrating to see years of detailed engineering and environmental studies on Northern Gateway ignored, distorted or buried under misleading rhetoric.
The pipeline industry has evolved, as have all industries, to better protect our environment.
Open public debate is how we come to a consensus in Canada, through careful discussion and rigorous review. And thats exactly whats happening today here in our city.
The Northern Gateway Alliance wants a transparent and detailed public review so that Canadians can be confident that, once a decision is made about the project, no stone was left unturned and no concern left unanswered.
British Columbians are in a unique position. We can be the gateway to the world - for our communities, our province and for our country.
What frustrates me most is the attitude of some that take the view that we cannot risk this pipeline without ever even looking at the application and the science it encompasses.
I have learned that most people in this area are smarter than that. They understand that we wont be successful in the 21st century unless we work together - for Prince George, the North, B.C., and Canada.
Colin Kinsley is the former Mayor of Prince George and current Chair of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Alliance.