On September 22 and 23, the Broadbent Institute hosted Progress Summit BC to chart a progressive path forward for the province in this critical election year.
In a marquee panel on the future of BC's economy, panelists were asked to answer the following question: What must change to ensure BC’s economy in 2030 secures shared and sustainable prosperity? Below are excerpts from each panelists' remarks.
Iglika Ivanova, Senior Economist and Public Interest Researcher, BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
British Columbia can do better. We can build a province that works for all of us, no matter if we’re young or old, no matter what we look like, who we love, where our parents came from or how much money we have in our wallet.
One of the fundamental things that needs to change to make this possible is how we think of the economy, and government’s role in it.
Conventional economic wisdom says that our primary focus should be on growing the proverbial economic pie rather than worrying about its distribution; that it’s more important to get the economy working than to ask who it is working for. This model sees social programs as luxuries we can afford only after we’ve achieved desirable levels of economic growth as though they are not part of creating a strong economy.
In fact, the opposite is true. Social infrastructure is the foundation upon which our economy is built. It is impossible to build an inclusive economy without a more-equitable redistribution of resources and power. And an economy that’s not inclusive cannot be sustainable.
The research is clear: A healthy society is more productive, and a more equal society is healthier and better educated. We need the talents, creativity and experience of all British Columbians to build the kind of province we all want to live in.
And yet, poverty and social exclusion are destroying human potential and undermining economies not just in far-away countries but right here at home.
One of the biggest opportunities I currently see for British Columbia is to tap into the potential of recent immigrants, Indigenous people, women with young children who have no child care options, and other groups that face barriers to full participation in our economy and society.
To expand access to the job market for these groups, we need public investment in the $10-a-day child care plan, universal access to paid sick and family leave, diversity pay equity strategies and better access to higher education, including tuition-free high school upgrading courses for adults and ESL courses for immigrants.
Child care policy is economic policy
We can no longer separate economic policy from social policy. For example, easier access to affordable, quality child care will allow parents – primarily mothers – to return to work, boosting the economy immediately. In addition, children will benefit from quality early learning and care programs, setting them up for success to develop their full potential. This will benefit to our economy going forward. In other words, child care policy is economic policy.
We can’t just make BC great again because the truth is we’ve never had an economy than included everyone. We can, however, build a great BC. To do so we must change the rules of the game to offsets the rising concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few. We must empower workers by strengthening their voices in the workplace. This requires policy changes that make it easier to unionize, proactive enforcement of labour standards and higher penalties for employers who break the rules. It also requires making the minimum wage high enough to ensure than no full-time worker lives in poverty.
These are just some of the changes we need to consider if we want to build a dynamic and resilient economy that meaningfully includes all of us.
Taleeb Noormohamed, Tech entrepreneur, formerly Vice President of Strategy and Partnerships at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics
In contemplating the economy we want to build as we head to 2030 – and the role that innovation and the technology sector can play - it is important to situate these reflections within two guiding principles. First, that government and the private sector need to find ways to build a strong partnership to create the right environment to cultivate innovative new companies. And second, that there is an important role that these companies then need to take on, of being conscientious contributors to the communities in which they are located.
The challenges that the tech sector in British Columbia (and in Canada more generally) faces comes in three key forms: a lack of access to capital driven by a tax and regulatory environment that dis-incentivizes entrepreneurial risk, a lack of governmental willingness to be a substantial partner or investor in helping to build these companies, and the resulting lack of access to the talent that is needed to build these companies. What this forces is a hard set of realities for entrepreneurs who must decide whether to hire people or spend in other ways – or to seek capital elsewhere, most often in the US.
Governments can no longer be allergic to intelligent, managed risk when it comes to the innovation economy
So how to solve this? There needs to be an acknowledgment that partnership between the public and private sector, in whatever form suits the local environment, needs to be well thought through, be long-term, and be creatively crafted. In so doing, progressives need to embrace a simple reality — that economic growth and social good are not mutually exclusive, but rather, true catalysts for change. We must accept that wealth creation is essential to creating opportunity and for enabling investment for social infrastructure like health, education and housing and that it can be a powerful driver for building social and human capital that can be directed towards an economy that benefits everyone.
Governments can no longer be allergic to intelligent, managed risk when it comes to the innovation economy. Rather, they should see it as a catalyst for building companies, products, technologies, for social change, for increasing incomes, reducing income inequality, and creating educational opportunities for young people.
If we are able to do this, we will join other countries, regions, and states that have nurtured a powerful balance of innovative technology companies, and comprehensive support for social empowerment, education and human development.
Ross Beaty, Executive Chariman, Alterra Power Corp
Growth growth growth. It’s been the dominant economic model in our lifetime. It’s created the society we have now, and what’s wrong with people living healthier, longer lives with better living conditions?
The problem is that it’s not sustainable. Sustainable in the real sense, meaning permanent. It’s been achieved at the expense of our soil and water, rapid depletion of non-renewable resources like energy and minerals, destruction of much of the earth’s land base, potentially catastrophic declines in biodiversity – the very underpinning of human life – and potentially existential threats to human life in terms of changes in atmospheric CO2 and ocean acidity.
Our global economy today is five times that of 1950. At current rates of population and economic growth – assuming people have the same affluence as Canadians do today, the global economy will be fifteen times today’s size by 2050. This isn’t possible, as we don’t have the resources to achieve this. So change is inevitable.
Our choice is whether this change happens by design or disaster. One solution is to have governments recognize that juicing economies with more and more debt isn’t working anymore and unfairly burdens future generations. Stop the blind obsession with GDP growth and focus more on quality not quantity; on better not bigger.
Stop the blind obsession with GDP growth and focus more on quality not quantity
There are many ways to do this and hundreds of thousands of British Columbians are working every day in their own way to build a more sustainable economy. They are pushing change from the bottom up, but it would sure help if all levels of government got on side more.
I’m pretty proud of what we’re doing in Vancouver. I see a lot that’s going right, driven by a very enlightened Mayor and Council. I see how my children are living and their friends, what their transportation preferences are and how they look at consumption for example.
On the other hand, I see a lot of places in BC that don’t get it and aren’t making necessary changes. They’d be better off copying successful examples of more beautiful, less stressful, more “human” towns and cities that exist all over Europe for example. Places where walking and biking are preferred over cars (for example in nearly every single urban center in Europe there are car-free streets.) Where there are better farming methods, longer-lasting infrastructure, less urban sprawl, less waste, and better building design – just to name a few.
One amazing change happening today is in renewable energy. Really, we are living in an energy revolution as profound as the move from wood to coal in the early 1800s, or coal to oil. The big difference this time is that we are transitioning to truly sustainable energy sources. I’m in the middle of this with my clean energy company Alterra Power, which produces electricity from wind, solar, hydro and geothermal sources. We produce 850 megawatts today, about enough to power a city the size of Vancouver. It’s really incredible what innovations and cost reductions I’ve seen just in the last six years, in power generation, transmission, storage and end use. There is a lot to be optimistic about. Going to a 100% renewable energy economy is absolutely possible by 2050 and maybe even 2030.
In my future we will use fewer non-renewable resources like minerals and fossil fuels. But don’t point your finger at mining or oil companies – all they are doing is responding to demand, and that is set by human preferences. Less demand, fewer mines and oilfields. Yes this will hurt some parts of our economy, but there will be offsets elsewhere such as a bigger recycling industry and a more dynamic circular economy.
We need to change our direction and change it quickly. The result might be less choice, less speed, less stimulation and less stuff. But it will result in a more healthy, more happy and more prosperous province. Prosperous in the biggest sense. And truly sustainable, for the long term benefit of my children and their children and so on.
That’s my vision of BC in 2030 and it is achievable!
Prem Gill, Chief Executive Officer of Creative BC and Vice-Chair of the board of directors for the National Screen Institute
I share Creative BC’s vision for change, and that vision is one of fluidity and collaboration, with a focus on clients and intellectual property. The creative sector is changing as rapidly, if not perhaps more rapidly, than any other sector at this time. This stands to reason as creativity, and the disruptive technologies it embraces, are unpredictable, inspired, sometimes even spontaneous. For the creative content industries that we at Creative BC champion (motion picture, music and sound recording, books and magazine publishing, and interactive and digital media), a successful economy in 2030 will be made possible by both uniting and building adaptability into every plan and every strategy we develop.
A successful economy in 2030 will be made possible by building adaptability into every strategy we develop.
An approach that supports us to more quickly identify shifts, then collaborate to make adjustments and leverage shared capabilities toward joint economic wins, will open the future up to us in BC. Together, we will shape creative and economic prosperity.
We'll be featuring content from Progress Summit BC over the coming weeks. Check out our Summit website for more.
Image via Lethere_belight under CC BY-NC 2.0