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Resource Communities in a Globalizing Region: Development, Agency, and Contestation in Northern British Columbia

By Paul Bowles and Gary N. Wilson, Editors

Review By Hereward Longley

May 10, 2017

BC Studies no. 194 Summer 2017  | p. 227-228

From the Northern Gateway Pipeline Inquiry, to the Tsilhqot’in land claim decision, to the proposed Site C dam, northern British Columbia has made regular front page news appearances in recent years. In Resource Communities in a Globalizing Region, Paul Bowles and Gary Wilson present a collection of essays that dissect the political economic legacy and future prospects for resource based development in northern British Columbia. The book is divided into ten chapters that analyze the impacts of development on settler and Indigenous inhabitants, changing global resource economies, political power, and environmentalism. It is situated in literatures addressing globalization and neoliberalism, Canadian provincial norths, and the staples thesis. Resource Communities provides an important framework for approaching the closely interconnected contemporary and historical problems associated with primary resource extraction in hinterland regions.

Northern British Columbia has long been economically and politically oriented towards exporting minimally processed primary resources, which has prevented economic diversification and linked the region to primarily US and more recently Asian markets. Reliance on global markets has exacerbated the spatial and temporal inconsistency of labour. MacPhail and Bowles show that jobs are often far from population centres, filled by people flown in from the south, and fluctuate with commodity prices. Appurtenancy, the linked value-added activities associated with processing primary materials, such as milling lumber, has been consistently eroded throughout the region’s history, weakening employment. Infrastructure is often oversold by proponents and has not benefitted the region it should. While hub communities have grown and benefitted from infrastructure, Summerville and Wilson found that small communities fail to see the benefit. Railways, for instance, have tended to act like above-ground pipelines: trains roll through towns without stopping and fail to create trade opportunities.

Indigenous communities have long been exposed to global markets and suffered dearly from being alienated from their lands by British colonization. Jim MacDonald argues that Indigenous rights are gaining power, most recently with the duty to consult (Haida v. B.C. [2004]) and the 2014 Tsilhqot’in land claim decision. However, MacDonald also argues that the Tsilhqot’in decision limits the potential of land claims by stating that development can supersede in certain situations Indigenous rights. Bowles and Veltmeyer argue that the anti-Enbridge pipeline protests represented a new level of opposition to industrial development that has emerged out of a firmer legal footing for First Nations, a galvanized environmental movement, and a greater sense of place among the non-Indigenous population. They argue that while in some ways the Northern Gateway opposition was unique, and that there has been less opposition to liquefied natural gas pipelines, the protests represent a civil society demand for developers to earn a social licence to operate.

Resource Communities covers a lot of ground in a very big and diverse region and from a variety of perspectives. Resource development issues are complex, interlinked, and need to be comprehensively examined. Although the perspectives and histories of Indigenous communities are consistently and effectively addressed throughout, the book would have benefited from original interviews with Indigenous peoples to further substantiate Indigenous views of development and change going forward.

Resource Communities seeks to effect change in the way the region relates to the rest of the province, country, and world. The authors care a lot about how the region has developed and want to see future growth conducted in a more measured, democratic, and equitable way that is informed by the needs of both Indigenous and settler residents of northern British Columbia. Resource Communities should be required reading for policy makers, business people, and academics involved in or studying the diversity of issues associated with industrial development in northern British Columbia.

Resource Communities in a Globalizing Region: Development, Agency, and Contestation in Northern British Columbia
Paul Bowles and Gary N. Wilson, editors
Vancouver: UBC Press, 2016. 312 pp. $95.00 cloth