Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

British Columbia's future is on the line

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VANCOUVER -- I fear for the future of British Columbia.

Why? First, many of the traditional jobs on which its livelihood is based are disappearing. Second, all the projects on which new work and income could be based are being vehemently opposed.

There are now fewer announcements of new hires and job creation and more of layoffs and cutbacks across all industries.

Even the retail industry, which in the past could be counted on to provide entry-level or part-time work, is being affected. Sears, for example, is laying people off rather than hiring them.

Sure, there is growth in the retail industry. Online retailer Amazon's profits are increasing as customers move their shopping from mall to machines, but there has been no corresponding increase in new jobs.

But advances in technology aren't only affecting how we shop. Canada Post is losing money because of the way we now communicate and will have to cut back on employment to stop bleeding cash.

Even tech jobs such as making video games are falling in Vancouver; Electronic Arts is cutting back its local operations, choosing to concentrate its activities elsewhere.

With so many job sources drying up, the likeliest opportunities for new jobs are major projects, most related to energy and resource development, production and export. Some such projects include the pipelines we need to meet a growing global demand for oil and gas at global prices, several potential new mines, the infrastructure we need to increase capacity at our ports and even a tourism project in the southeast corner of B.C.

Unfortunately, these are the very projects the B.C. NDP party in particular strongly opposes. Adrian Dix, the party's leader, originally and reasonably stated each project would be studied before a decision is made. Now he is Mr. Just-Say-No to any project, whether it is new mines, pipelines, port development or even a tourism project.

Environmental concerns has morphed from NIMBY-ism (not in my back yard) to BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone). Sure, environmentalists may mean well, but they often do not do their homework. Benefits must be weighed against costs. The opposition to coal exports from Vancouver, because of concern for local shellfish, has not looked at the relative advantages offered by the major coal industry in terms of jobs and government revenue, among other things, against the much less significant possibility of harm to shellfish. Technology, regulation and enforcement can allay environmental risk.

To say we can take our time about major projects, continuing as we have in the past selling our energy to the United States, or do them later, is wrong for three reasons.

First, the United States is actively reducing its total use of energy and its dependence on imports, primarily through the use of shale gas. The U.S. will soon require no energy inputs from anywhere -- including Canada -- outside the country.

Second, Asian and other potential customers need our energy and other resources now. If we do not supply them today or in the very near future, they will look to other more willing sellers, even offering the capital investment and infrastructure needed to make these new sources viable.

Third, as time passes, changing technologies -- from new discoveries of conventional energy sources in places such as Africa to the use of unconventional energy from sources like shale gas to the sun -- will make all countries more self-sufficient in energy.

By not building to meet current demand, we hurt not only the British Columbia economy but threaten the long-term future of other provinces as well.

As British Columbians head to the polls, they must consider what their decision will mean for themselves, their province and the country. The immediate effects are important, but so are those over the longer term. Let us not make decisions now that will seriously limit B.C.'s and Canada's options in the future.


Business columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker and can be reached at www.rkunin.com.


-- Troy Media

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2013 A8

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