It’s an open secret that B.C.’s Northwest, with a few notable exceptions, has struggled for years.
We have a chance to change that for the better and that’s why I’m voting ‘Yes’ in the upcoming Northern Gateway plebiscite.
When I first arrived in Kitimat in 1980, the economy was still rolling along pretty smoothly, thanks in part to my old employer Methanex and its construction of the methanol plant in 1982 and the related ammonia plant a few years later.
Alcan was the key employer, and the Eurocan mill was also a significant player, not yet hit as it was later by a global economic slowdown and plummeting US housing starts.
Those dwindling housing starts, in part, effectively shut down several regional sawmills that dried up Eurocan’s residual fibre supply.
The rest is history – and not very positive history at that.
In terms of jobs, those past several years have been very hard indeed.
Just look at the numbers: 535 jobs gone with the closure of Eurocan; 120 more disappeared with Methanex. The modernization of the Alcan smelter has been important, but the workforce will be reduced there as well, moving forward. And as for all those sawmills, the loss of positions in the services sector, and in hospitality, we can assume at least several dozens of job losses, if not more.
I worked in the petrochemical industry more or less for my entire working life, and only recently retired from Methanex after having managed and shipped methanol and ammonia in Kitimat for the past 34 years.
Over that time I’ve seen cycles where the local economy has grown, then foundered. When you’re in the midst of one of those economic low points as indeed we are right now, you tend to look more diligently for an opportunity to turn the corner and move forward toward prosperity. And if it’s prosperity for the long term, then it’s so much the better.
From my perspective, the Northern Gateway pipeline project needs to form a key part of this region’s sustainability for the future. The commitment from the proponents is that Northern Gateway will be built to the most specific, strict safety and environmental standards, and that monitoring and maintenance will be done in the most diligent way. The Joint Review Panel, after rigorous scientific review, has imposed 209 Conditions on Northern Gateway to ensure the project meets its commitments and Canada’s high safety and environment expectations.
How do I know this? Having been a close observer of this project since its inception, I’ve watched how the proposal has evolved through its public engagement and review phases to where we stand today. Every aspect of the proposal has been open to scrutiny and analysis, and nothing has been spared. Further, if you have a question of concern about Northern Gateway, at some point you’ve had the opportunity to ask that question and receive your answer.
When Kitimatians vote in the April 12 plebiscite, we should think about future employment in connection with this project and really consider the significant number of jobs the area could win.
Post-construction, the project will require more than 180 employees in Kitimat alone. These will include electrical and mechanical technicians, tug and mooring operations personnel, emergency response, administration, environmental and land coordination positions and more.
Bottom line? We need this project, and voting yes in the upcoming plebiscite is Kitimat’s opportunity to say that. Now is the time to get out and show support for Northern Gateway and the sustainable jobs it will bring to this region. On April 12, please cast your vote for a strong future.