Fractastic Fort St. John

Last week I wrote about the stark difference in government policy towards the energy industry in Western Canada compared to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 

Last week I wrote about the stark difference in government policy towards the energy industry in Western Canada compared to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Over 150,000 wells have already been fracked across Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., for example, while these two Maritime provinces are effectively putting moratoriums on the practice.

This divide also plays out closer to home if you look at the differences in attitudes between Whitehorse and Fort St. John. Both are regional centres of about 25,000 people along the Alaska Highway. At the Yukon legislature’s public meeting on fracking in Whitehorse last week, media reports suggested that almost nobody showed up to support the industry. In Fort St. John, on the other hand, Mayor Lori Ackerman seems happy to extol the benefits of the oil and gas industry for her community.

Mayor Ackerman recently gave a lengthy interview for an industry-sponsored section on responsible energy in the National Post. If you read it you’ll quickly see why they opted for “The Energetic City” as their municipal tagline, leaving “The Wilderness City” moniker to Whitehorse.

Fort St. John voters seem to have a soft spot for frackophile politicians. In addition to Mayor Ackerman, the city’s MLA is a member of the B.C. Liberals, who are pushing hard to boost B.C.‘s gas exports to Asia. He won the 2013 election by a wide margin. Before that he was elected several times to Fort St. John city council. And the MP for the region is a Conservative who won the last election with over 60 per cent of the vote.

Partly this is because the energy industry has been working in the region for decades, so it is as familiar to Fort St. John residents as the mining industry is to Yukoners. Economic growth and jobs are also major attractions. In fact, the reason I started to do some research on Fort St. John is because I noticed some Fort St. John businesses advertising job openings in Whitehorse newspapers.

If you look at job websites, there appear to be a lot of openings in Fort St. John. Using job website Indeed.com as a very rough indicator, there appear to be more than twice as many job opportunities this week in Fort St. John as there are in Whitehorse.

Mayor Ackerman is not shy about the economic benefits of the energy business. “This is a community where skilled workers and tradespeople will never be looking for work,” she told the advertorial writers at the National Post. “Ten years ago about 50 per cent of our roads were gravel with open ditches. Now only a handful of blocks remain unpaved.”

She is also looking forward to liquefied natural gas exports, hoping that it will triple or quadruple the industry’s impact in her city.

She says the biggest challenge is the “lack of energy literacy across the country. There are those who pass judgment based on information that’s not always fact-based or balanced. The reality is the energy industry allows us to travel the globe, to power life-saving technology and to fuel our gadgets.”

Whitehorse’s fracking open house last week would have been even more exciting if Mayor Ackerman had showed up to debate the topic.

Although it would be entertaining for newspaper columnists, such a debate is not likely to take place.

Yukoners have seldom showed much interest in Fort St. John, preferring to drive through or even better fly over the place (ask any old-timer how annoying it was when the plane to Vancouver stopped there).

I don’t recall any of Whitehorse’s municipal politicians pushing for drilling around Whitehorse, at least not since a certain colourful politician a few decades ago. Even the Yukon Party government, which makes a big deal about economic development, has banned drilling in the Whitehorse trough. And we shall see if any members of the Yukon legislature’s fracking committee dare to stick their necks out on the topic.

Fort St. John has struck oil and Whitehorse has struck transfer payments. Until one or the other run out, the two cities seem set to continue on their separate paths.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. You can follow him on Channel 9’s Yukonomist show or Twitter @hallidaykeith

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

g
Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Whitehorse RCMP will provide internet safety training due to an uptick of child luring offences. (iStock photo)
RCMP hosting internet safety webinars for parents and caregivers

The webinars will take place on March 23 and 25

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

Most Read