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D'Avignon: Collaboration will address BC's competitive challenges so that we realize BC's full potential

By Greg D'Avignon, President and CEO, Business Council of British Columbia

Congratulations to Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals – British Columbians have voted for a strong, stable economy and have given Premier Clark and her team a solid mandate to govern.  The Business Council also extends our appreciation to all of the candidates who put their names forward and to all of the outgoing MLAs for their years of service to British Columbia.

Voters have delivered a clear message that their collective economic future, and that of their children, remains top concerns.  Despite the opportunity to opt for change, voters chose to continue with a party that represents policy stability and that has pledged to pursue the goals of job creation and sound fiscal management.   

With the election now over, it is time for the BC Liberals to return to governing and work to implement their election platform against the backdrop of a fast-changing global marketplace.  The Business Council looks forward to this work.  In the face of growing global competition and conflicting domestic perspectives, the new government needs to work collaboratively to pursue its agenda for building economic prosperity while driving increased economic participation from all British Columbians. As noted by Premier Clark on Tuesday evening, this means continuing to find a common path forward not just with business, but also with  other levels of government, First Nations, and  community and labour groups.

The Business Council believes a collaborative mindset is essential to create an efficient, certain and welcoming investment climate – one that will allow BC to take advantage of the economic opportunities arising from what some analysts now call the “Asian century.”   Our collective success will lay the foundations for a competitive economy that generates employment and the financial resources required to fund important public services. This approach will require listening by all parties, better levering of our province’s strengths, and a commitment to thoughtful consideration of the cumulative consequences of government policy and tax decisions for our economic well-being.  

As shown in this election, the public understands that a competitive private sector underpins a thriving economy that provides the resources to sustain key government programs.  Furthermore, it is our experience that the public is demanding more from all parties, including business and all levels of government, to address the economic challenges found at kitchen tables across the province.  Foundationally, a strong economy is what enables prosperous households and well-functioning societies.

While our province is blessed with many assets, the Business Council has ongoing concerns about the erosion of BC’s competitiveness in an increasingly uncertain global economy. There are several key areas where it is possible to build partnerships that will help our province succeed in the face of change.

First, we need to develop a well educated and skilled workforce.  A balance between educating for the jobs of today and tomorrow will be crucial as the baby-boomers age and as we collectively pursue the  opportunities that lie ahead.  We must also ensure that the conditions exist for more British Columbians to participate in the economy with a job – including First Nations.

Secondly, we must improve our overall productivity. This doesn’t mean working more, but adding more value for every hour we work.  If BC matched the Canadian productivity average, wages would be higher for many workers and the BC government would have $3-4 billion more annually to spend on programs and services – or to reduce taxes and the debt burden.

Lastly, BC needs to be more competitive and innovative.  This is not a race to the bottom, but rather entails identifying and implementing the conditions to attract and retain investment across the major industry sectors that make our economy tick – natural resources, manufacturing, advanced technology, tourism, construction, transportation and the creative sector.  More investment and entrepreneurial activity in these sectors lead directly to job creation, by leveraging our natural resources while sustaining our environment, and by nurturing and building our human talent.  A more competitive and innovative economy also depends on smart tax policy, efficient regulatory processes, and a strong post-secondary education system that is connected to the worlds of work and commerce.  BC business leaders also share a commitment to make our province the leading gateway to Asia for North America.   

The Business Council will continue to embrace a principled, economic and non-partisan approach that assists with the governing process as the renewed BC Liberal government moves ahead with its program to strengthen the economy and achieve BC’s full potential.

Published in the Vancouver Sun on May 17, 2013