Pieces of prospective pie

The B.C. Prosperity Fund is still holding at zero 18 months after it was announced, but billions of the dollars that are expected to flow into it are already committed.

Which raises the spectre of a slight problem. There are a lot of people with valid claims eyeing a fund that is already theoretically committed. Most of the revenue from prospective liquefied natural gas projects is earmarked for the fund, and the No. 1 priority is to eliminate the provincial debt.

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And the provincial debt is growing by several billion every year. So the fund will be used in an effort to reduce a mountain that continues to grow substantially.

That doesn't stop groups outside of government from figuring out ways to get their hands on some of the money. The latest concentrated effort appeared this week in the form of the creation of the Northwest Resource Benefits Alliance.

It's a collection of local governments in the Kitimat-Stikine region who pronounced themselves "ready, willing and able to engage in revenue-sharing discussions and negotiations promised by Premier Christy Clark."

When the fund was formally announced in February 2013, the estimates of the LNG windfall were a staggering $130 to $260 billion dollars over 30 years. The higher range seems to have been scaled back in the past 18 months with acknowledgments that only a handful of the dozen or so proposals in the works will be built.

The operative number lately is $100 billion in new revenue to government, which is still formidable.

Revenue would flow from royalties on natural gas, corporate income taxes on the industry and the new LNG tax, which is still a work in progress.

But it's remarkable how fast you can make $100 billion disappear.

The dreams-of-glory news release announcing the fund envisioned capital and operating improvements in health care, better education and job training, and "additional supports to make life more affordable."

Clark even raised the prospect of eventually eliminating the provincial sales tax, which raises about $5 billion a year.

The striking thing is that the total provincial debt was $56 billion when the fund was announced. Today it's $61 billion and scheduled to keep rising.

Nonetheless, the new alliance has now filed their entry on the ledger. Their opening bid sounds modest. "A revenue share of only three per cent would generate $3 billion to invest in northwest B.C. communities of the future," the group said. Regional rep Bruce Bidgood said they've been working closely with provincial officials in following up on the premier's promises.

"We don't expect them to say: 'Oh good, people are asking us for money,' " he said. But the province is well aware of the work they've been doing and has been actively preparing for it, he said.

He stressed they don't expect their share to come from industry, as that would lessen competitiveness. They're expecting it to come from the province in some fashion.

The ask is based on the premise that the booming northwest is hosting all manner of economic expansion at present and needs a significant revenue-sharing boost to invest in building sustainable communities over the long term.

Any number of First Nations are also looking for a major LNG revenue-sharing boost. There are two minor deals in the Prince Rupert region already signed, but that's just a bare start. The First Nations buy-in on LNG is an aspect that has changed very much in First Nations' favour with the Supreme Court of Canada's T'silhqot'in decision.

Local bands are involved in the sites for some the plants.

But the bigger issue lies in the pipelines that each one of the plants requires.

There are numerous pipeline proposals on the drawing boards. They cross vast tracts of claimed land and First Nations have a lot more clout when it comes to negotiating arrangements than they did two months ago.

Getting their approval and co-operation was already an important component of the approval process. Now it's absolutely essential.

Even on the multibillion-dollar scale of the Prosperity Fund that is imagined, it will be interesting to see if there's enough to go around.

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