Discord among British Columbians is harming province’s economy

British Columbia has long been known as a polarized province, where public debate and discourse is characterized by everyone seemingly having opposite views on many things.

But a new study by two major business groups suggests that continued approach will spell disaster for the provincial economy, and that the two solitudes had better start listening to each other if we want the province to prosper.

The report, entitled “The B.C. Agenda for Shared Prosperity,” was completed after a year of study by the Business Council of B.C. and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. It contains 60 recommendations on how to improve the economy, but its central theme is that groups that are normally locked in combat have to start working together.

Another key point the report’s authors make is that the disconnect that exists between many people who live in the Lower Mainland and their counterparts in the Interior and the North when it comes to economic issues has to be addressed.

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Greg D’Avignon, the CEO of the Business Council of B.C., says too many people who live in heavily urbanized areas like the Lower Mainland fail to realize just how much the size of their paycheque depends on economic activity elsewhere in the province.

And much of that economic activity is in the natural resource sector. Yet, as is typical of the polarized debate in B.C., that sector has become increasingly vilified by those who are dead set against many of the projects that are (or are planned to be) part of that activity.

Projects such as the Northern Gateway pipeline, the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the Prosperity Mine, the Jumbo Glacier proposal, LNG plants and any number of other projects are potentially lucrative for the province’s economy, yet are vehemently opposed by many who are more concerned about any potential impact on the environment.

Many of us are rightly concerned about our reliance on fossil fuels and the effects of climate change, but simply putting an immediate full-stop on all economic projects that perpetuate some of those problems is a recipe for economic disaster in B.C.

Incomes for many have already stalled and the province’s productivity is lower than the national average. Putting blinkers on and pretending that we don’t need mining or energy projects displays a complete ignorance of how our provincial economy functions, and is a good way to shrink the size of your paycheque.

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If we take the “BANANA” approach (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone), the price of all those lattes at Starbucks may begin to be beyond the reach of so many of those who take the view natural resources should stay in the ground, and not be sold.

The answer, of course, is the proverbial middle ground. It’s not always attainable in this province, but as the business community’s report makes clear, it is vital that we strive to achieve it. The alternative is by no means attractive.

Now, let’s all get along, shall we?

The controversy over Premier Christy Clark’s “sudden” announcement at the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities that a bridge would soon replace the aging George Massey Tunnel isn’t surprising, given the passions that surround transportation decisions in the Lower Mainland.

Critics, who include a number of local mayors, say there are other, more pressing transportation needs that should be addressedaheadofreplacing the tunnel. However, they are missing the point that this project is in many respects a classic example of blacktop politics.

For example, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wants a rapid transit line out to UBC. But the election result has likely knocked that project far down the priority list as far as the provincial government is concerned.

The city of Vancouver has, for the most part, turned its back on the B.C. Liberals. Of the city’s 11 ridings, seven are held by the NDP.

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As I’ve noted here before, much of the B.C. Liberals’ political strength in terms of the voting population in the Lower Mainland lies south of the Fraser River.

So it’s not a particular surprise to see a big project like the Massey Bridge suddenly get the green light from a government that knows where its base lies (and everyone evidently “forgot” that Clark made her original announcement about replacing the tunnel at last year’s UBCM).

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