B.C. vote a ‘plebiscite on prosperity’
On May 14, British Columbians face Hobson’s choice in their provincial election: Liberal leader Christy Clark is in trouble in her own riding and the NDP’s Adrian Dix is wobbly in polls and should be.
But voters must hold their noses and re-elect the Liberals (who are actually Conservatives) because it’s the only pro-development party on the ballot. The NDP, everywhere, is a coalition of vested interests, posing as a party with broad appeal, and without free enterprise smarts. Anywhere this party runs, voters must reject it out of hand.
This is no time to get even for the B.C. Liberal sales tax fiasco or to send a message to Ottawa. This is an unusually important vote for this province and for all Canadians. In fact, this is an “existential” moment for Canada.
If the NDP wins power in such a strategically important and rich jurisdiction such as this one — a keystone within the Canadian resource economy — B.C. voters will have chosen economic decline. This is as important as was Quebec’s referendums and yet this has not been acknowledged in the lead up.
British Columbia and Vancouver (and Canada) would find itself, if anti-development attitudes become its governance model, bypassed in terms of future growth. New pipelines and railways carrying oil, commodities and freight can be, and will be, diverted through Seattle, eastward or up to Valdez if necessary. The world does not owe British Columbians a living, and the world isn’t providing much of one for the province either at this point.
The province lists and economy is moribund.
Some talk about the future prospects of Vancouver’s Hollywood North or Silicon Valley North, but these are myths. The place has only three sustainable economic upsides, apart from operating nursing homes for its disproportionately senior population: the development of energy resources, the development of mining resources and the expansion of its critical logistics role and sector. B.C. has the infrastructure and geographic good luck to be where imports and exports transit via pipelines, airlines, ships, rail and roads.
Vancouver’s financial services head offices left with the closure of its stock exchange and the city has fewer head offices than Calgary with less business travel.
Instead of talking about how to maintain living standards, or improve them, much of this electioneering has been petty and a contest between which oil and natural gas pipeline proposals and which port enlargements are unacceptable. Political correctness here has become how to forestall or avert economic opportunities, not how to grab them with the least environmental impact and greatest public good.
The place is going from NIMBY, not in my backyard, to BANANA, build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone. Politicians and other interest groups just pile on against any means of transporting the oil sands through the province. Next, one can expect, will be a pile on against the transport of wheat, potash, nickel, beef, soybeans and manufactured goods.
This has resulted in B.C. per capita incomes of $47,579 in 2011 versus Alberta or Saskatchewan’s of plus $70,000 a year.
The NDP opposition’s economic development model consists of turning the place into a gigantic, empty park populated only by those retirees who can afford to buy the most expensive real estate in North America. The Liberals, who should make a solid case, have stumbled and bumbled along.
But the economic issues at stake on May 14 are important to understand:
1. Energy in general, and Alberta’s oil sands in particular, are the single most important cornerstone of the Canadian economy, bigger than autos, manufacturing, mining, forestry, tourism or financial services. Planeloads leave B.C. every day to take workers and suppliers to lucrative jobs in its oil sands.
Landlocked Alberta needs a pipeline or two to the Pacific coast, a railway to Valdez, or all of the above. If voters are worried about shoddy work, or Chinese oil tankers off the coast, then the debate should be about how government can insure against risks, not how to stop such projects. If voters are worried that Alberta is getting all the money, then government should insist on revenue sharing. If First Nations are upset their claims are still in limbo, then government should settle because trillions of dollars are at stake in economic activity.
2. B.C.’s biggest upside is natural gas reserves if they are monetized. To do so, requires the building of up to four pipelines, plants and port facilities to gather and liquify the stuff for export around the world. The province could become the Norway of Canada and only a government solidly committed to making that happen should be elected. Mining must be a priority.
3. British Columbians must disavow themselves of any notion that there are alternatives, or that their beautiful scenery and tourism will become their growth story in future. Tourism has collapsed across Canada and, even if it could be kick-started, the sector is as energy-intensive as heavy industry. Cruise ships, ski lifts, fishing camps, over-heated hotels in Whistler, ferries, cars, buses, luxury private ships, rail links and fishing boats rely on gobs of Alberta oil.
4. B.C.’s biggest shadow export industry — marijuana and other narcotics – is also in trouble. By 2002, its revenues were larger than forestry exports and grown to the point where Pentagon drones patrol the region in an attempt to intercept truckloads or planeloads of narcotics that take off from northern runways or from drug centers like Trail or Nelson.
(In 2006, the RCMP’s “Drug Situation Report” estimated that marijuana production was between 1,399 and 3,498 metric tonnes. At $8 million per tonne street value today, that totals up to $27.98-billion, more than vehicle and auto parts exports in 2011.)
This industry faces disaster, not because of drones, but because the neighbors and customers – Washington and Oregon – voted in 2012 to legalize marijuana.
5. Retirement havens have been big business but this will disappear because of high taxation and excessive real estate prices in British Columbia. Property values, pushed artificially by hot money from Asia, are also why the number of head offices shrinks every year. Few can afford to relocate there.
That, in a nutshell, is the B.C. economic landscape and is why the May 14 election will not be a vote so much as a plebiscite on prosperity versus poverty.
Hopefully, the majority will vote Liberal and hopefully that party’s leadership will stiffen its resolve, then take principled stands to create wealth for all and execute the process with integrity, efficiency, responsibility and smarts.