BY BILL PHILLIPS
Northern Development Initiative Trust has been around for 14, but that doesn’t mean it’s not up to trying something new.
For the first time in the organization’s history, the annual general meeting was held in public. And while annual general meetings of organizations like Northern Development can often be dry affairs, there was some drama at the first-ever public AGM … two elections for board executive positions.
Outspoken Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman and outspoken Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen each contested for the board chair position. When the balloting was done, Thiessen was elected chair by a 10-3 count.
Ackerman then let her name stand for the vice-chair position as did Tom Hoffman, who is the provincial appointee to the board for the Cariboo-Chilcotin/Lillooet region.
Ackerman came up short a second time, as Hoffman won the position by a 9-4 count.
“The trust is in a real place of strength,” said Thiessen. “It’s going to be an interesting time as we go forward. We’re going to build some depth, build some policies that will strengthen the foundational ones we have. We’ll see a strong trust and strong communities is our goal.”
Thiessen succeeds outgoing chair Evan Saugstad who has been involved with the trust since its inception. While stepping down as chair, the former mayor of Chetwynd, will continue to serve on the board for another two years.
Northern Development Initiative Trust was formed in 2004 when the province sold BC Rail to CN. With $185 million in seed money, it’s goal was to stimulate economic growth and job creation in the region that was served by BC Rail. Through investing, it has kept that original $185 million intact while awarding $128 million for 2,636 projects since its inception. An addition $42.6 million has been spent on 179 third party projects.
In 2017, the trust invested $14 million in 458 projects across the North and $2.6 million in third party projects.
“Since beginning, we’ve leveraged $1.37 billion of new investments for the region, with our investments plus investments of our service partners,” said Joel McKay, Northern Development CEO.
McKay said the number of applications the trust receives has increased over the past few years and that has resulted in more approvals.
“Part of this is due to the fact that in 2015 we launched a high volume program, our festivals and events program, as well as our innovation fund program and our consulting rebate program … really took off,” said McKay.
He said in the 14-year history of the trust it has had more than 1,000 unique funding partners.
“The goal that the board of directors established very early on with the trust was that we wouldn’t want to 100 per cent fund anything,” McKay said. “We always wanted to lever other funds into our projects. The original goal was that for every dollar the trust invested, there were would be $2.50 from another source leveraged. Since inception, for every dollar we’ve put in, $7 has been leveraged.”
He added that means the $14 million invested in 2017, $46.6 million was leveraged from other sources.
Eleven per cent of the projects approved involve First Nations, he added.
Also named to the executive at the annual general meeting were Wendy Benyk, who is the provincial appointee for the northwest region, as chair of the finance committee. She will be joined on the committee by Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall and North Coast Regional District representative Michael Racz.
Margo Wagner, of the Cariboo Regional District, was also named to the executive.
The board consists of five provincial appointees and eight municipal representatives from around the region.
“We want to make sure that what we have here, that we’re good stewards of it,” Thiessen said.