Whoever forms the next government will face daunting challenges that will set the course for the province’s economic future for decades to come. That person will have to draw on skillsets that define the very best in leadership.
Sitting in the next premier’s in-basket is a stack of projects-in-waiting, all of which could be huge economic drivers and future employers of bright university and trades graduates, setting in motion the economic security of B.C. families.
British Columbia is a province of many small and medium businesses and service industries. According to WorkBC, three-quarters of our economic activity comes from the service sector where nearly four-fifths of the workforce is employed. The province’s labour force consists of over 2.4 million people and in the coming years, health care, services, high tech and retail are expected to drive the economy.
But it’s the resource projects that could be the game-changers. In that in-basket are mining projects, pipeline projects, BC Hydro’s Site C dam, LNG proposals, transportation expansions, and tax subsidies for the film industry. The resource industries come to the table with huge challenges, none the least of which are the logistical and environmental pushbacks from the burgeoning eco crowd. British Columbia does seem to come by its reputation as Canada’s BANANA republic (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) honourably.
To build, dig, extract, flood, or ship – or not to – has been the entrenched argument, isolating people on bitterly opposing sides. The alternative, of course, is sustainable development, eco-efficiency, and corporate social responsibility to drive investment, innovation, creativity, productivity and competitiveness, building on B.C.’s talented workforce toward eco-industrial excellence.
The problem right now is that resource industries have a terrible reputation from past track records and anyone could be forgiven for having a knee-jerk reaction and saying no to any industrial venture.
But saying no all the time isn’t an option if B.C. is going to be open for business, grow its economy, expand its workforce, and secure prosperity for families. Environmental stewardship will be key if B.C.’s GDP is to increase by over 25 per cent by 2017, as predicted by WorkBC. Those who crunch the numbers expect employment to grow by an average 1.8 per cent per year through to 2019 creating some 450,000 new jobs. Then there are those who will retire, opening up thousands more jobs in the coming years. The growth in job openings is expected to outpace graduation rates which will mean that B.C. must continue to enhance its position as a go-to place for immigrants with the right skills.
Governments don’t create jobs. They create the business environment to make jobs happen. Which is where leadership comes in.
The next premier must lead by earning the trust and respect of the people through honesty, accountability and transparency. He or she must be a great communicator yet still have the ability to keep in touch and be approachable with the folks next door. They must have a cool head, be able to make decisions under pressure, and have the determination to make things happen. They must follow through. Election promises are pretty hollow when, once in the driver’s seat, they forget those town hall pledges. And they must have a sense of humour, an ability to laugh at themselves and see the absurdities in moments of relief.
But more than anything, whoever is elected next Tuesday must have a vision for the future of this province that is understood by everyone. They must have a plan that connects the office worker with the fisherman, the logger, the nurse and the construction worker. They must have the conviction to drive this province to prosperity.
Failure is not an option.