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D'Avignon Op-Ed: Trade deals, infrastructure, national climate framework key for B.C. business (The Hill Times)

Canada is a small, open economy that depends on trade for much of its prosperity. Given our modest population, geographic location, and vast landmass, we must work collaboratively, innovate, and be more competitive for capital and talent if we hope to maintain a thriving national economy in the future.

With collaboration and the future in mind, today, some 40 business, First Nations, and community leaders from British Columbia are in Ottawa with the Business Council of British Columbia. We are here to contribute to B.C. and Canada’s potential, and we need support and smart policy from the Canadian government to help tackle a number of persistent challenges and opportunities.

British Columbia, by virtue of its geography, environment, demographics, and history, has always been a complex jurisdiction, albeit one that has made many contributions to Canada’s success. B.C.’s connection to the federation has often come through innovative and entrepreneurial ideas, like the transcontinental railroad; through hosting global events that bring the country together, like the 2010 Olympics; and through the province’s commitments to environmental sustainability.

B.C. arguably has the most diverse economy in the country in terms of sectors and markets. We have the most Asian-centric population in North America, with more than 40 per cent of Greater Vancouver residents hailing from East Asia and South Asia. Vancouver International Airport receives more than 85 flights a week from China, the most of any city on the continent, making it easy for people from Asia to visit, invest, or live in and contribute to our country. Coupled with our proximity to Asian markets and to the dynamic U.S. West Coast, B.C. is well positioned to lead the country into what, hopefully, will be an era of sustained growth.

Our ports, including Canada’s largest marine port of entry, serve not just the country, but North America, with imported goods shipped up to five days faster to Toronto and Chicago from Asian markets. These efficiencies also support the movement of Canadian exports to growing markets for commodities and manufactured products such as pulp and paper and auto parts, all done within a supply chain with a strong environmental performance.

B.C. is known for an entrepreneurial business climate, for our ability to attract global talent, and for an academic and research community that nurtures innovative business start-ups. Whether in genomics and personalized cancer treatment, infectious disease research and care, environmental services, or clean technology, B.C. is driving innovation and helping to change the world for the better.

We have always been committed to sustainability and have acted on that ethos. Today, more than 37 per cent of B.C.’s land base is under some type of conservation designation, with 4.6 million hectares set aside for agricultural use. The B.C. carbon tax is the most comprehensive in North America, and 97 per cent of the province’s electricity comes from renewable sources—one of the highest shares in the world.

B.C. is home to one-third of Canada’s First Nations communities, many of which are taking steps to expand their participation in the economy through government-to-government agreements and a growing array of business partnerships and commercial ventures. The province now boasts more than 1,100 aboriginal businesses, with the number increasing every month.

But there is more to do.

Like Canada as a whole, B.C. needs to become more competitive, spurring investments and adoption of technology to make us more productive. We need to be best in class to attract innovators and job creators from around the world and step up investments in education, particularly in languages, science, technology, engineering, and math.

We would benefit from a comprehensive Canadian approach to branding and a commitment to pursue trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership to gain greater access to growing markets elsewhere. Further investments are also needed in our gateway infrastructure to accelerate the efficient movement of goods, people, ideas, and capital. Part of this calls for partnering with the federal government in a comprehensive marine-protection and spills response strategy that includes First Nations and other B.C. coastal communities.

Lastly, we need a national framework for energy and climate. This must include access to markets, through B.C., for Western Canadian energy and other commodity products. Oil from Saskatchewan and Alberta, natural gas from B.C., and new clean technology solutions all have a place in Canada’s emerging export mix. If we fail to get Canadian resources to global markets, foreign customers, particularly in Asia, will get them from other suppliers that often maintain lower environmental and regulatory standards than we do. The result will be that Canada loses the opportunity for reconciliation, jobs, and economic growth that can help to provide the wherewithal for new, cleaner industries and the technology solutions for a lower carbon future.

Greg D’Avignon is president and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, June 1, 2016 12:00 AM - The Hill Times