BC Chamber Op-Ed: Pipeline fatigue? Here's why you should care

In the News, Op-eds & Commentary

The following op-ed was published June 12, 2014, in the Vancouver Sun.

By: John Winter, president and CEO, BC Chamber of Commerce

In beautiful British Columbia, it’s eerily easy to miss the big economic story. Walk through sunny, summertime Vancouver and you see tourists, film sets, shops and restaurants. Visit Okanagan wineries, Tofino seascapes and Richmond eateries and you’ll enjoy some of B.C.’s premier attractions and some of our smaller industries.

But unless you look hard, you’ll miss B.C.’s economic heartbeat.

And that’s dangerous.

Here’s what too many of us miss: While the tourism and film industries are important, our resource industries are still the powerhouse of B.C.’s economy. Those downtown Vancouver office towers? Filled with mining companies and the professional service sector that supports them. The Vancouver Harbour waterfront where the cruise ships dock? Canada’s largest port, driven in large part by coal exports.

The implications of that are huge. The wealth that B.C. counts on and takes for granted — money that builds our schools, hospitals, roads and social programs — is directly correlated to the mines we approve, the terminal expansions we support, the pipelines we build.

The flip side is ominous. With every New Prosperity mine that gets turned down, with every port terminal expansion that gets blocked, and with every pipeline project that hangs in limbo because of uncompromising environmental activism and municipal politicking, we actively sacrifice our standard of living and say “no, thanks” to well-paying jobs, crucial social programs and critical community infrastructure.

That’s why, as B.C. faces opposition to pipeline projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Northern Gateway, the BC Chamber of Commerce and our 36,000 represented businesses across B.C. are throwing our collective weight firmly behind these pivotal projects.

As part of this, in late May, delegates at the BC Chamber’s annual policy-building convention voted to express support for the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project, which would twin an existing oil pipeline between the Edmonton area and Burnaby.

Our new pipeline policy, which joins a 2013 policy backing the Northern Gateway project, urges the B.C. government to continue to support a responsible framework for resource development.

It also calls on the provincial government to lose no time in providing greater detail about its “five conditions” for supporting oil pipeline development in B.C. This would provide the certainty, predictability and stable regulatory environment that any jurisdiction must maintain in order to attract capital investment in resource development.

We’ve passed these two pipeline policies because both the Trans Mountain expansion and Northern Gateway would inject billions of dollars into our economy, during construction and in the long term.

And that’s a big deal for our economy and B.C.’s standard of living.

Significantly, increased oil pipeline capacity to the West Coast opens new opportunities for trade in the Asia Pacific at world prices. Right now, North America’s domestic oil market pays Canadian producers much less — sometimes more than $30 per barrel less than the world price. We need greater pipeline capacity to escape the bottleneck.

And to be clear, while we’re talking about Albertan oil, this bottleneck isn’t just an Albertan problem. It’s a Canadian problem and a British Columbian problem.

Here’s why: At current oil prices, without needed pipeline capacity to the West Coast, the federal government is losing billions in lost tax dollars. For B.C., that means we’re getting a slice of a smaller federal pie that could go to critical funding sources, such as the Build Canada infrastructure fund. And as our local municipalities face aging infrastructure, that’s a big loss for us.

Speaking of losses, this is what B.C. forfeits if the Trans Mountain project doesn’t go forward:

  • An $8.5 billion GDP boost for construction plus 20 years of operation;
  • $1 billion in B.C. taxes; and
  • $2.1 billion in federal taxes.

So we have a lot to lose if this project doesn’t go ahead.

We’re urging British Columbians to take a closer look at how B.C.’s economy works, and to look at how projects like pipelines will contribute to our province’s prosperity.

B.C.’s future is up to all of us. And we need to decide: Do we want jobs for our neighbours today and for our kids tomorrow? Do we want money for health, education and social programs? Do we want economic growth?

Because if so, we need to vocally back our resource industries and their top-tier projects, to enable our province to keep moving forward.