How do we get to ‘yes’ on projects?
More than 60 people gathered in a classroom at UNBC Monday night with NDP Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen during his Renewal Northwest Tour, adding their input to information he is collecting that questions how big projects acquire the social licensing making them acceptable in northern communities.
While guiding attendees through one of the exercises Cullen explained he is trying to build a citizen’s guide and pointed out at one time a company had an idea to open a net fish farm at the mouth of the Skeena River, one that was nixed by residents.
A plan to drill in the area was also stopped.
Cullen said residents could stop projects over and over again, but though the act of doing so might be empowering, it is also fatiguing.
“But we can’t put food on the table with a protest,” he said. “So how do you say yes?”
He added billions of dollars in investments are coming to the north, and people need to have a concrete idea of what will give them the social licence to operate, so that a project will have the initial and ongoing support to exist.
“I want to know the way you would judge a project. How would you know it was good or not? What questions would you ask?” he said.
Audience members shared a few suggestions, from environmental impact to long-term employment.
Cullen gave them 15 minutes to come up with three requirements per group they would apply in deciding whether or not a project should proceed.
“People get a bit overwhelmed and don’t know who to believe,” he said.
Cullen said he intends to host the sessions 10 times.
“There are already some common themes,” he said, pointing to the two called out, the environment and jobs, before the exercise started.
He said the information gathered will become a citizen’s guide, and it will be provided to three groups of users. First it will be given to residents, then the business community.
Cullen said this will help answer a question often put to him by businessmen, “how do I work with your community.”
Lastly, a copy will go to the federal government. Cullen said this will be the toughest sell considering, he said, the federal Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have a very different view of the world.
He said it seems Harper only listens to a small handful of his closest advisors.
“That can work for a short time in some places,” he said. “But it doesn’t work in Canada.”
However, used properly, the guide will help projects move forward because proponents will know what communities expect, thus avoiding the stringent resistance the Northern Gateway pipeline project is facing, he said.
“This creates great certainty,” he said. “The resource business doesn’t want rules changing every five minutes.”