Real talk with the mayor of B.C.’s “Energetic City”

With a population of 21,000 and growing, Fort St. John is the second largest city north of Kamloops in British Columbia. Its nickname – “The Energetic City” – reflects its rich resource base, as well as its youthful population.

Lori Ackerman has lived in Fort St. John for 33 years and was elected mayor in 2011. Mayor Ackerman is one of Canada’s leading energy advocates and is known for her work balancing responsible resource development with her growing community’s needs. Her work in this area earned her the title Canadian Energy Person of the Year in 2019.

Mayor Ackerman joined us for this week’s blog to discuss the challenges and opportunities that come with managing and living in a resource-driven community.

 

What is the relationship between the City of Fort St. John and the pipeline companies that operate there?

 

To get a picture of why we understand pipelines in Fort St. John, all you have to do is look at a map of B.C.’s pipeline infrastructure. More than 90 per cent of the province’s pipelines are in northeastern B.C. We get it. We understand the industry, and that is why we’re able to live and work here.

We get updates from pipeline companies on a regular basis, and they are very engaged in the community. They sponsor events and teams and provide donations to different organizations – whether it’s the hospital foundation, women’s resource centre or child development centre. A lot of contributions are made in the area.

Pipeline companies understand engagement in the community. There are other industries that may not value the community as much as the pipeline industry does.

What opportunities have those relationships brought to your community?

 

We have a lot of folks who come up here to kickstart or restart their career. Many of them end up falling in love with the place and stay. I personally am on “year 41” of my two-year plan to live in the north. We have significant opportunity for people to look at the industry in an innovative way and really bring ideas forward. Because if it will work up here in our climate, it will work anywhere.

We have also had the chance to share our knowledge of pipelines and energy. We hear so much in the news about how you can’t trust pipelines. Once you get the actual information out to people, they’re able to look at it and do their own research. Then they can decide how they feel for themselves about pipelines.

What challenges does your community face due to its close relationship with pipeline companies and the energy industry?

 

As a resource community, we do see an impact whenever there is a significant shift in the markets. It’s a challenge but there is an opportunity as well. One of our values is innovation and thinking beyond the here and now. Taking advantage of economic opportunities while not diminishing our grandchildren’s ability to do the same.

While we have a significant reliance on the industry, we still demand responsible resource development. We know that is happening. These are our children and our neighbours working in the industry and we see what they’re doing.

What improvements would you like to see from pipeline companies?

 

While I see significant knowledge in technology and safety, I feel there is still a need to focus on educating employees and contractors on the history of First Nations in Canada. This was not part of the curriculum when I went to school. I’m taking every opportunity to educate myself. I see people make comments that are uninformed, and they are uneducated on the realities. I think that is something that might help to shift the culture of the industry and beyond.

How is the shift to a diversified energy future playing out in Fort St. John?

 

It’s an interesting conversation. Locally, we are looking at how we can make some shifts to net-zero emissions. For example, we’re building a net-zero RCMP detachment. But in B.C. we have energy production policies that are holding us back and preventing us from taking full advantage of these opportunities in a more robust way. We need to make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. Local municipalities must be able to build infrastructure in a way that brings a return on investment to our taxpayers.

Special thanks to Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman for her time and contribution to this article. For more, read this 2016 open letter Mayor Ackerman wrote to British Columbia citizens about “energy, pipelines and our natural resources”.