B.C.’s economy is at a stage to make it or break it, said BC Chamber chief executive officer John Winter.
Speaking to the Williams Lake and District Credit Union, Winter said the province has a strong foundation on which to build lasting prosperity.
Gleaning from the Agenda of Shared Prosperity, a program the BC Chamber launched with the B.C. Business Council, Winter said the program is designed to look at creating a prosperous B.C. where all citizens benefit in economic growth and development.
“B.C. has abundant natural resources, a highly skilled and educated workforce, a diverse and accepting society, safe, healthy communities, access to the world’s major markets and stable government institutions.”
The province faces its challenges, which risk undermining its potential. Many British Columbians face a high cost of living and stagnant wages, he said.
“Young people are increasingly disenfranchised. The province suffers an unacceptably high level of child poverty and British Columbians are growing increasingly dissatisfied and distrustful of the institution.”
Quoting B.C. Business Council president Greg D’Avignon, Winter said B.C. has a culture of polarized debate and collective paralysis characterized by the inclination to say no to change:
“We need to resolve these issues and we need to engage in a respectful productive dialogue that’s based on a shared fact base. We can no longer afford entrenched debates characterized by a zero-sum mindset where one side must lose in order for another side to win. A growing number of energized and capable regions around the world are fighting to capture emerging economic opportunities and we in B.C. will need to harness all of our resources to stay competitive with them.”
At the BC Chamber’s 2013 annual general meeting in May, members adopted 32 policies and 19 of them will go forward to the Canadian Chamber’s AGM in the fall.
One of those is a policy on supporting Canada’s responsible resource development.
“It’s very broad reaching and covers the entire resource sector, whether it be forestry, mining, agriculture or energy. It will encourage government to provide a much more expedited process,” Winter said. “We call for one project and one review process.”
The BC Chamber is asking for new opportunities for forestry and mining and calls for government to step forward and address the continued challenge presented by uncertainty regarding First Nations and continued opposition to resource development often based on information that are “downright lies,”Winter said.
In 2012, the chamber developed policies related to every government ministry in Victoria.
“We’ve moved far beyond having policies on economic issues that are about taxation, regulation and things that are about economic drivers to policies that are about social policies such as homelessness, crime and those kinds of things that are important to businesses.”
Crediting the influence of the chamber on government policies, Winter said the government has moved from its public policy agenda focus toward the resource sector.
“This is in no small part due to the work of our own chamber movement, whose policy platform has been leading focused action on what is B.C.’s true resources potential.”
Pointing to the recent election and its increase in Liberal caucus members, Winter said rarely has the province been better represented by caucus members outside the Lower Mainland.
The BC Chamber applauded the appointment of Bill Bennett as Minister of Energy and Mines, Steve Thomson as Minister of Forests and Lands, John Rustad as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Christy Clark’s challenge for him to “get on with the treaty process,” and the Mary Polak as Minister of Environment.
“We see Mary Polak in that role will facilitate economic development in a responsible way.”
Winter said there was relief among the chamber membership due to the outcome of the election on May 14.
“While the chamber is not a political organization, concerned only with advocating policy perspectives on behalf of its members, we knew that working with a free enterprise government had significant advantages over advocating pro-business perspectives to a government with a more broadly based policy framework with much less focus on the economy.”
The next four years will be hard work, he said, adding the election campaign revealed the differences between the major parties.