BC Chamber Op-Ed: Politicking trumps issues in B.C. election

In the News, Op-eds & Commentary

The following op-ed was published May 13, 2013, in the Vancouver Sun.

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

Tackling tough issues isn’t good politics. That, sadly, has been the theme of yet another B.C. election.

It’s unfortunate that after multi-week campaigns, British Columbians will head to the polls on Tuesday without a clear idea of how parties will fund and reshape B.C.’s healthcare system to meet surging demand. Or if and how parties will tackle systemic problems at transportation providers such as TransLink and BC Ferries. Or whether parties have sound plans to deal with B.C. municipalities’ infrastructure crisis. Or a viable strategy to fix B.C.’s flawed education system. Or a workable plan to support the development of needed high-paying jobs.

When it comes to B.C.’s economic future, the gaps in parties’ stated plans are perhaps even more troubling.

Flying beneath many British Columbians’ radar, B.C.’s resource sector remains the powerhouse of our economy – a key source of revenues to fund hospitals, schools and social programs. As such, the sector contributes significantly to British Columbians’ enviable standard of living. These industries also support high-paying jobs for British Columbians, which in turn fuel B.C.’s consumer economy.

From an economic perspective, this sector is our ticket to exporting to flush Asian markets and our traditional trading partners south of the border. Those exports mean fresh dollars in our economy. Without these industries, our exports fall to virtually nil.

Given the pivotal role B.C.’s resource industries play in driving B.C.’s economy and standard of living, it’s concerning how little campaign time the sector has attracted.

While support for LNG has been encouraging and some pipeline discussions have been illuminating, there’s been a notable absence of plans to support B.C.’s resource businesses in the near-term and encourage the high-paying jobs they represent.

Businesses in these industries still face valueless bureaucratic delays during permitting processes. Voters should be hearing about how political parties view these delays – and if and how they plan to tackle them.

But perhaps the central question for B.C.’s resource industries, and for B.C.’s broader prosperity, is how our next premier will show leadership in the face of a growing and dangerous “culture of no” – or as some have termed it, the “BANANA” movement: an acronym for “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone.”

One factor fuelling this culture – and one the BC Chamber of Commerce has been looking to address through the Prosperity Agenda dialogues on how to build prosperity for all British Columbians¬ – is a public knowledge gap. Polling connected with the Prosperity Agenda has revealed that many British Columbians simply don’t know how B.C.’s economy works. As a result, they don’t see the tight link between responsible resource development and funding B.C.’s hospitals, schools and social systems.

Good resource projects, with responsible approaches and top technologies, represent a significant gain for B.C. in both high-paying jobs and public revenues. But as a province, we’ve developed a dangerous reputation for adversarial, interest-group led project discussions.

Voters should have been hearing if and how parties would lead a fundamental shift in that dynamic – or whether B.C. can expect the ever-worsening status quo, and the very real risk of becoming a have-not province.

Even not-so-tough, not-so-politically-dicey issues have fallen off the radar in this election. Ninety-eight per cent of B.C. companies are small businesses. But where have small businesses been in election campaigns? Do any parties have fresh ideas on how to support this sector of hard-working entrepreneurs, and how to help small businesses flourish into larger-sized businesses?

If they do, they aren’t telling.

It’s safe to say that British Columbians won’t get clear answers to all of these questions, if any, before they head to the polls. Unfortunately, we’ll all have to cast our ballots based on what we intuit parties’ answers might be.

But that doesn’t mean these very real B.C. issues will go away.

And once election politicking is cleared out of the way and a party emerges as B.C.’s next government, B.C.’s next premier will have the opportunity – and responsibility – to look at these crucial issues for British Columbians and take careful, considered action. At that point, we’ll hope that our newly-chosen premier and party will reveal sound strategies to tackle B.C.’s weightiest issues.

Because hope is all we’ll have at that point – not votes.