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 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

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

A pedestrian passes by an offsales sandwich board along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Oct. 22. NDP MLA Liz Hanson raised concerns Oct. 21 in the legislature about increased hospitalizations due to alcohol consumption that correlate with an extension in the hours alcohol can be sold in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Alcohol-related hospitalizations rise after off-sales hours extended

Reduced hours for off-sale liquor establishments likely part of Liquor Act spring reforms

Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys) speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. The Yukon government has announced $2.8 million in tourism relief funding aimed at businesses in the accommodation sector that have already maxed out existing funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tourism relief funding offers $2.8 million to hotels and overnight accommodations

$15 million in relief funding is planned for the tourism sector over the next three years

The Whitehorse sewage lagoons photographed in 2011. With new regulations for wastewater anticipated to be introduced by the federal government within the next decade, the City of Whitehorse may soon be doing some prep work by looking at exactly what type of pollutants are making their way into the city’s wastewater. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Pondering pollutants

City could spend $70,000 looking at what contaminents are in waste water

Most of Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 graduates. The former students were welcomed back and honoured by staff at the school on Oct. 14 with a personalized grad ceremony for each graduate. (Submitted)
Individual Learning Centre grads honoured

Members of the Whitehorse Individual Learning Centre’s class of 2020 were welcomed… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Evan Lafreniere races downhill during the U Kon Echelon Halloweeny Cross-Country Race on Oct. 16. (Inara Barker/Submitted)
Costumed bike race marks end of season

The U Kon Echelon Bike Club hosted its final race of the… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Most Read