Published On: Thursday, 06 July 2017

Mining Recovery Not Enough to Revive Northeast BC’s Economy

Mining Recovery Not Enough to Revive Northeast BC’s Economy

- Ben Sander, FCPA, FCA is a senior partner at Sander Rose Bone Grindle LLP. The CPABC Regional Check-Up report is available at www.bccheckup.com.

NORTHERN BC - Despite a challenging year for Northeast BC’s economy in 2016, the recovery of the mining industry has offered some optimism in the region’s communities.

According to the CPABC Regional Check-Up, an annual economic report by the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia, the reopening of the Brule and Wolverine coal mines coincided with a rebound in coal prices towards the latter half of the year, and began the revival of our mining industry.

The reopening of the Brule mine southwest of Chetwynd in September 2016 and the Wolverine mine just west of Tumbler Ridge in late December 2016 added almost 400 jobs to the region.

These two mines were among a handful in Northeast BC that were shut down due to a decline in coal prices two to three years ago. With the expectation that the Willow Creek mine will reopen this summer, the three mines are expected to employ a total of 700 people.

The reopening of these three mines is good news, however, our economy is expected to face another challenging year in 2017 due to slower activity in the oil and gas sector and increased uncertainty over the future of this industry in BC.

Almost 60 per cent of the total value of major projects in the region are still in the proposal stage, with the majority being LNG-related. Major project investment in our region fell by 2.8 per cent to $37.4 billion last year.

As a result, according to Regional Check-Up, our region saw a net loss of 1,000 jobs in 2016, with approximately 60 per cent of the jobs lost occurring in the goods sector. This was one of the worst years in the past decade for employment in Northeast BC.

In addition, the fate of the Site C project is uncertain. Construction activity at and around the Site C project is one of the key contributors to our economy. According to BC Hydro, the project has put 1,811 people to work as construction and non-construction contractors, with 80 per cent of them being BC residents and 36 per cent living in the Peace River Regional District. Should the Site C project be put to halt indefinitely, it will further hamper potential economic growth for the region.

Overall, a recovery in commodity prices should recuperate some of the jobs lost last year. In addition, big LNG players like Enbridge are committing additional funding for exploration and production, which should also produce additional economic activity. However, it may be a while before our economy fully bounces back, as uncertainties continue to loom over our region’s biggest projects.