It was not a rah-rah tone that Premier Christy Clark took when she spoke at the BC Natural Resources Forum on Wednesday.
She co-hosts the annual Prince George trade show and convention dedicated to the combined industrial sectors, and her yearly address sometimes takes on a firebrand mood. Not so this year.
Times are hard. Low commodity prices and a weak Canadian dollar are hurting many forms of mining, petroleum, forestry, agriculture and their related sectors like construction and transportation.
She didn’t try to blow past those hard realities.
However, she also didn’t want to downplay the fact British Columbia led the nation last year in job creation, consumer confidence, and businesses that held on here while others failed in other jurisdictions.
“America is doing better, which is great, but we see across the country lots and lots of uncertainty,” she began.
“One thing we know, though, is although the world will change and British Columbia’s economy will continue to diversify, we will always, in British Columbia, depend on the resource sector as the basis of everything we do.”
Then Clark started to reveal what kind of a mood she was really in, underneath it all: a fighting mood.
Not a belligerent mood, but square-shouldered to the challenging winds of a softwood lumber agreement that needs to be negotiated with the United States, an oil industry that likely won’t be bouncing back anytime soon, a neighbouring province that is economically ill and others in Canada also gasping on fiscal fumes we are forced to ingest in our jurisdiction, and even a sentiment of opposition that doesn’t just seek to hold government accountable on environmental concerns or policy concerns but would prefer no industrial development at all.
“I’m not prepared to take advice from people who say we should halt all raw log exports, or put a moratorium on LNG (liquefied natural gas), or stop Site C (hydroelectric dam) in its tracks, or do everything we can to make mining tougher to do,” she said.
“I take the opposite view. And I don’t have any quibbles about saying I’m someone who’ll stand up for the resource sector. Absolutely we should have a diverse economy in B.C. and we do, but we should never ever forget what we depend on, the fundamental bedrock of British Columbia, and Canada, and what it is today, and that is the work that you do.
“Because as our neighbours struggle, now is not the time to say ‘no.’ It’s not the time to put on the brakes. It is certainly not the time to start fiddling around with the fundamentals that have built Canada.
“You are the ones who are going to keep us on top. Fifty-thousand new jobs last year was no accident. It was purposeful. And it happened because of you.”
This message was eagerly received by the hundreds gathered for the forum, almost all of them somehow involved in those industries she was lauding.
She told them her intention as premier was to defend their interests against unfair critics, train a labour force for their projects, set up tax structures and regulatory regimes that didn’t overpower them, provide access to abundant and affordable electricity, etc.
However, she also reminded the audience a number of times that safety protocols, environmental protocols and First Nations inclusion in their activities were non-negotiable demands of the public and thus the government.
She pointed out, especially for the Members of Parliament who were in attendance, that a 10 per cent increase in B.C.’s natural resource output would amount to $4.5 billion for the national economy.
This time last year, Clark was hopeful the LNG industry would be up and running by now.
It was a disappointment to her that this sizable sector was not yet delivering natural gas from the northeast to shipping terminals on the northwest coast.
“We know the low prices in LNG made us slower in moving forward than we anticipated, but that’s OK because British Columbia was not founded by quitters,” she said.
“Just because it’s going to be hard to get LNG up and running doesn’t mean we should not be doing it.
“To all those critics out there who say we should just forget about natural gas, we should just let the northeast dry up and let those jobs go somewhere else, I say forget it. Here in British Columbia we don’t stop because something is hard. You elected your government to lead; you didn’t elect your government to quit.
“As natural gas prices continue to recover – and they will – demand is going to grow: emerging middle class in India, emerging middle class in China, and a world that increasingly insists on clean energy.
“Natural gas is the transition fuel from things like coal. British Columbia is in a unique position to be able to solve the world’s (greenhouse gas emission problem, as natural gas is about one-third less harmful than coal and the like) by making sure our natural gas is available and clean up the air we all depend on.
“It’s not about where prices are today, it is about where prices will be in five, 10, 50 years from now and we really have built that foundation.”
She also said out loud, for those in the north and other rural corners of the province, that these resource sectors in play across the B.C. landscape were indeed the way things in urban B.C. were paid for.
“We are a fair and just society because we have resources to share, and those resources come in large part from northern British Columbia,” she said.
“Supporting career opportunities for people, providing the revenue we need to pay for everything from schools, to some of the leading cancer treatment in the world, the solutions to HIV treatments that are happening in Vancouver… all those things have arisen because we have the money to pay for it.
“Our healthcare system exists in Canada, and particularly in B.C., because of our resource sector. That’s what makes it possible.”
The B.C. Natural Resources Forum continues today at the Civic Centre with an array of keynote speakers, panel discussions, and trade show exhibitors all talking about different aspects of the industrial activities that drive the northern, and provincial, economy.