Mayors from across northern BC are meeting today in Prince George at a roundtable event co-chaired by the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA) to discuss issues of common concern.
‘Mayors and Chairs’ is the first time in the organization’s 62-year history that such an event has been held.
On the agenda: economic development, the environment and social responsibility.
“These three focuses are ones that really impact all of us and they’re so intertwined, says Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall, who is also co-chairing the event. “You talk about economic development and it really impacts things you do from a social responsibility perspective and also an environmental stewardship perspective. They’re so connected.”
Hall says it’s a critical time for the region to come together and establish priorities on these issues and he hopes the roundtable will lead to closer collaboration between communities.
“What I would like to see happen is that we do more advocacy work, that we work closer together as an organization and we just have a concentrated approach to both levels of government to say that we as a group want to and need to be heard.”
The communities and regional districts of the NCGLA make up 70% of BC’s land mass but contain just 7% of the province’s population.
Hall says there’s a lot that northern communities can learn from each other.
“Smithers, for example. Mayor Bachrach and his council, they tie the economic development of their community into the environment and social responsibility issues and they’re doing that very well.”
Bachrach says he tries to take a holistic approach to development issues.
“My big focus has been, how do we integrate those so that we’re not thinking about them as separate parts of our community but rather doing things in ways that support all three of those themes.”
Bachrach hopes integrating economic and social development with environmental considerations will help insulate the north from boom and bust resource cycles.
“We see more and more that the fates of our communities are tied to international commodity markets, to decisions that are made a long ways away from our communities. So the big question in my mind is how do we protect ourselves from that?”
Adding more uncertainty to the mix is climate change. Bachrach says Smithers has already seen an impact.
“Two of our main industries, tourism, around fishing and skiing and forestry, are really affected dramatically by a changing climate. So how do we make sure that we’re looking at things in an integrated way and make sure that we’re doing things in a way that is supporting the kinds of trends that we need to see.”
Bachrach says Smithers Council has been working to dovetail economic and environmental interests to ensure the diversity of the town’s economy.
Hall says that unifying their concerns and identifying shared priorities, northern communities can send a clearer, louder message to the provincial and federal governments.
“Here are some of the concerns and some of the things that we’re doing well, some of the things that we want to have your involvement in and here’s the list.”