John Les presented the Liberal government’s take on job creation to members of the Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce Thursday afternoon.
Les, the MLA for Chilliwack and parliamentary secretary, told the assembled group that the province was mindful of the economic situation south of the border and the current financial crisis in Europe.
“All of that uncertainty is not good for global economic growth,” he said. “It could impact us in a negative way.”
Les went on to explain the government’s strategy for protecting the province’s economy and creating more jobs in the current economic climate including balancing the province’s budget, opening new markets, investing in infrastructure to get goods to market, enabling the creation of jobs and workforce training.
Les told his audience that by 2050 it is estimated that China and India will have a 50 per cent share of the global middle class consumption.
“The American economy in the next 40-year period will grow also but as a percentage of the global economy it will be less significant,” he predicted.
Les was in Williams Lake not only to impart economic wisdom but to seek input on job creation and growing the economy of which the audience seemed happy to oblige.
Walt Cobb suggested a continuation of the reduction of red tape. He expressed concern around the possibility of mill closures due to a lack of government permits.
In response, Les called the province’s recent reorganization of the Ministry of Forests, Mines and Natural Resource Operations a “schmozzle,” and agreed that mills can’t be allowed to shut down under those conditions.
Scott Nelson requested that government “step up to the plate” when it comes to the consultation and approval of mine applications. He suggested appointing a point person for each mine project as well as prioritizing projects. Nelson further asked for greater sums of money to be invested in rural communities in B.C. during tough economic times.
Another person spoke of creating training opportunities for people, particularly for trades training and skills needed by the resource industry.
“We are doing almost nothing for trades training and the Grade 10, 11 and 12 levels,” Les admitted.
Frustration over the permitting process for mines was also brought up as a concern.
“What you consistently hear is a lack of staff resources to review permits for existing opportunities,” said one person.
Les agreed that he, too, has heard that. A question about government process and “hold-up” was also asked.
Les responded by saying from the government’s point of view there is now more clarity around the expectation of First Nations consultation. As “hold up” on projects relates to addressing environmental concerns Les said, “People today expect the environment to be cared for. Other people’s interpretation of that is different so off to court you go.”
He added that signing treaties with First Nations does not always create good working relationships and noted that, “consultation is where you have to start.”
As for Prosperity mine and the process that resulted in the province approving the project and the federal government turning it down, Les said the premier has taken action on the file.
“It’s shameful it’s taken 17 years. Everyone understands how huge that project will be. We want it so bad we can taste it.”
Les predicted that once the concerns of First Nations are addressed the project will go through “pretty quickly.”
To a question about training for First Nations, Les agreed the population is growing and that training for young people must occur to ensure they are “better equipped” for the future.
Les added developing economic opportunities is not a “day-long” exercise but a continuous one.