Northern Development business model showcased in Peru

Waterfall berm

Fort St. John City Manager Dianne Hunter talks about sustainable community planning and the Trust during a recent trip to Peru.

Dianne Hunter, Fort St. John’s City Manager, was recently in Peru as part of a Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) delegation to assist communities impacted by mining. The delegation was part of the Sustainable and Inclusive Communities in Latin America (CISAL) program, which mobilizes Canadian municipal experts from resource communities to work with their counterparts in Colombia and Peru. Together, they work to find innovative solutions to help local governments build more sustainable and inclusive communities in areas where mining activity is taking place. During her time in Peru, Hunter was asked to provide expertise about not only how Fort St. John was charting a sustainable future, but also how Northern Development’s innovative approach to economic development could serve as a model for communities in Latin America.

Q: What’s happening in Peru and what type of work were you doing there? 
A: Mining has really exploded in Peru in the last 10 years. This is an emerging industry for them. They have always had small family and artisan mining operations but nothing of this scale. So mining in Peru is setting the entire country on a new course, which makes programs like CISAL particularly valuable to them. The communities in Peru have been mandated by the state to develop a 30-year plan for their communities. This is the first time communities have had to develop such plans so we acted as a resource for establishing priorities and the strategic planning process.

Q: What lessons from Fort St. John did you share that might help communities in Peru?
A: During my first presentation I touched on our distance from Victoria, how as a city we are surrounded by industry and have such small borders. In Peru, there is no unincorporated land so everything is always within someone’s borders. I talked about the importance of managing expectations especially the notion that ‘industry will solve all our problems.’ Local government needs to manage expectations and sometimes money doesn’t solve your issues. I also talked about the importance of having conversations with industry as a coalition instead of individual communities.

Q: As a part of your trip you were asked to talk about Northern Development’s sustainable approach to economic development. Why were local government officials in Peru interested in Northern Development’s model?
A: During my second presentation I discussed how a model similar to Northern Development Initiative Trust could be beneficial to the leaders of small rural communities – especially from the perspective of pooling resources and managing them collectively to build capacity, and allowing them to grow and leverage that capacity for sustainable growth.

Q: How could the Northern Development model support positive change in a country like Peru?
A: Local government representation is key to the success of Northern Development – it helps the Trust understand local issues from a community perspective while at the same time remaining independent of larger political cycles. As well, a huge part of the Trust’s success has been its sustainable approach to fund management. This is a key best practice that could be applied in Peru. It’s important for there to be strong financial policies around the resource revenue communities in Peru are accessing, which would allow them to leverage additional resources to build a diversified and sustainable economy for future generations.

Q: What happens next?
A: Mayor Lori Ackerman will speak to the group again at FCM in Winnipeg in June, where 16 Mayors from Peru and Columbia will attend. There will also be tours of mining communities in Manitoba. Lori is speaking on revenue sharing. Namely, the Fair Share agreement, the Community Measures Agreement with BC Hydro and the public engagement process regarding Site C.

Q: What was your main takeaway from this experience?
A: What really struck me in Peru was the fact that their strength rests is their strong ties with their culture, history and traditions. It provides them with a unique strength, roots and social context that we sometimes overlook in Canada. I also noticed a strong sense of citizenship in these small communities – residents really want to be involved in their community and pitch in to assist with long-term planning. It was refreshing and something we could do more of here in Canada.