Friday, 10 October 2014

We need a wider vision of Vancouver's economy

As published in the Vancouver Province today (October 10).

A friend asked me what I thought the ballot-box question will be in next month’s civic election in Vancouver.

It’s a great question.

The emerging narratives of the two principal contestants do not really intersect.

Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver trumpets its Greenest City agenda.

So far, Kirk LaPointe’s NPA seems mainly focused on tapping into Vision resentment; more a complaint about process than substance, perhaps, but a resonant complaint nonetheless.

Any government seeking a third term will have done something somewhere along the way to annoy just about everyone. And Vision politicians have not always been very good about including the rest of us citizens in their policy journey, so there’s a lot of grumpy folks out there.

Are there enough for the NPA to displace Vision in city hall? Is that enough of a vision to kick Vision out?

The Vision campaign is single-minded in its focus on the Greenest City agenda. I actually agree with much of it. Yes, even bike lanes. Most of them, anyway.

But here’s the rub.

Vancouver’s prosperity is, in fact, largely dependent upon the provincial resource economy.

You will not see any acknowledgment of that reality in Vision’s plan. When it comes to the economy,

Vision talks about the city it wants Vancouver to be, and ignores the city that is.

This disconnect is not trivial.

The resource economy has been the foundation of our city’s prosperity for generations and still is. In GDP terms, B.C.’s natural resources were worth $5,200 per resident in 2013.

Vancouverites know our economy still depends upon quality, high-skilled, well-paying jobs in forestry, mining, oil and gas, engineering, construction, electricity generation and more.

A new study from Resource Works will show the profound impact resource-company spending has in the Lower Mainland.

The so-called green economy — the film studios, social media companies, free trade coffee roasters, gamers and biotech geniuses — plays an increasing role, but has not taken over yet.

Moreover, resource jobs are often urban, high-tech and green. A flood of job-ready young people goes forward every year to take up work in fields like environmental engineering, geology and all kinds of technical areas.

Innovations in mining and oil-and-gas extraction have meant $258 million in annual research-and-development spending across B.C., easily surpassing such spending in the information and culture industries.

So here’s the point.

Why do we have to choose? Why can’t we have both? Why can’t Vancouver be both a progressive “green” city and one that thrives on responsible development of our province’s abundant resources?

Gregor Robertson looks out at our harbour filled with ships from around the world and sees, oh, I don’t know, relics? A threat?

Or maybe he just wishes they would all go away?

I look out at that harbour and see the Vancouver which is here and now, and the Vancouver that can be our future, along with all the exciting new industries.

Surely there is a vision for our economy that embraces all of these opportunities.

Does the NPA have something to say about that?

Perhaps the ballot box question is this: which civic party has a plan that supports and encourages all sectors of economic opportunity for Vancouver?

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