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Resource Development Dating Game

By Sarah Artis of SNCIRE

This opinion piece was published in several newspapers around Northwest BC and the Lower Mainland, including the Vancouver Sun, this past summer.

Suitor-ShutterHere's what's happening in Northwest B.C. right now. We (residents) are suddenly the belle of the natural-resources ball. Many suitors (LNG, mining and oil companies) are vying for our hand (social licence and support). We're interested in being courted because relationships come with many benefits (jobs, skills training, tax revenue, etcetera).

But we are overwhelmed by the attention and don't know exactly how to deal with it.

First, it's really hard to get to know each suitor and understand what they are all about—especially when many look the same from the outside.

Then, when we start to talk to the suitors and get to know them, we aren't sure whether to believe what they say. We're slow to trust because we know from previous relationships that people can make big promises and fail to deliver.

We're also a little uncomfortable with the suitors' wooing techniques, which are a little different from what us small-town girls are used to. While they are trying to impress us with shiny gifts (swags and sponsorships), catered parties (open houses), and fancy clothes (literally dressing up for business meetings), we'd prefer to have them over for a home-cooked meal and simple conversation so we can get to know them better.

Also, instead of talking to us directly, many are going through our guardians (councils and economic-development offices). Sure, these people are our family and know us pretty well, but they don't know exactly what we want.

Anyway, we want to have our say. This is our life and our future we are talking about.

Like anyone in the beginning of a relationship, we want to be heard and understood. We want suitors to see us as real people, not just prizes to be won. And we definitely don't want them to tell us not to worry, that they've got it all figured out. That only makes us worry more and trust less.

Everyone in our region seems to understand we are now in the dating game. Some are excited about the prospects. Others are afraid. Many are simply overwhelmed—and common reactions to feeling overwhelmed are procrastination and tuning out.

So instead of enjoying all the attention we are getting, many of us are reluctant to engage with these suitors, let along enter into a serious relationship with them. It's risky and much easier to turn the other way. Even worse is when you do take that risk and then feel that you're in over your head because you don't know all the rules of the game (details about each project, how the projects fit together, government policies surrounding natural-resource development, environmental-assessment processes, etcetera).

Realistically, though, no one has a complete picture at this time. The amount of development proposed for Northwest B.C. right now is unprecedented. Combine that with thousands of residents with different thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the situation as a whole and each project, and it's even more complicated.

Something needs to change so that interested regional residents can and are encouraged to take an active role in this dating game. Maybe all the suitors from the same industry need to look beyond competition, present their information together, and aim for a well-suited match instead of simply winning.

Or maybe a higher power (provincial government?), with or without industry's help, should fund and facilitate a process, body, or person that allows Northwest B.C.ers to scope out a vision for the region's future, decide what kind of suitors we want, and assess those suitors accordingly.

Or maybe it's simply up to regional residents and communities to overcome their differences and talk and listen to each other—no matter their stance—and figure out what would benefit the region as a whole. Then we could approach industry and government with our demands as a powerful, united front.

Either way, we all know that healthy relationships are built on certain foundations: honesty, a willingness to understand the other parties and their needs, and to try to meet those needs and, at times, put their needs before our own.

We shouldn't expect a fairy-tale ending where everyone lives happily ever after. However, if we and our suitors are willing to work within the confines of these foundations, we may just be able to get to know and understand each other, work together, and develop meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships.

Because we all know relationships can be a lot of work but, if done right, are worth it in the end.

Sarah Artis lives in Terrace, B.C. She works for SNCIRE, a nonprofit that identifies, develops, and promotes opportunities to build a resilient and sustainable natural-resource economy in the Skeena-Nass region. She feels excited, afraid, and overwhelmed by the development happening in Northwest B.C.