A fundamental shift occurred when Premier Christy Clark announced her job plan.
She placed British Columbia’s economic future squarely on the shoulders of unsustainable resource-extraction industries, while diminishing the role sustainable resource sectors will play in job creation.
Ultimately, mining and oil and gas extraction are unsustainable activities. Ore bodies play out and gas and oil wells dry out.
As soon as the first shovel is put in the ground at a new mine, or the first turn of the drill occurs at a new well head, the clock starts ticking down towards the end of those operations and the end of the jobs associated with them.
Depending on the size and quality of the ore body, we might get a couple of generations’ worth of jobs out of a mine. That’s not likely with oil and gas wells.
This shouldn’t be the case with B.C.’s sustainable resource-extraction industries: forestry, agriculture and fishing.
The jobs and benefits from these sectors should always be available because the resources they depend on, if managed sustainably, should never “play out” or “dry up.”
However, there are reasons why the premier diminished the role of B.C.’s sustainable resource industries in favour of unsustainable ones.
First, in a resource-limited world in which China and India are still ramping up demand, mineral- and oil and gas- extraction represent easy money for government. The initial job-creation potential of these sectors is also large and it falls within the short-term time horizon of the four-year election cycle (if the government can fast-track the permitting process).
Second, creating jobs and revenue flow in the immediate term from unsustainable industries buys the government some forgiveness for not tackling the much more complex issues associated with getting our sustainable industries back on track.
It also diminishes the pressure on government to invest now in our forest and agricultural land bases and to try to resolve the complex problems associated with restoring our fishing industry.
In short, creating well-paying jobs and generating revenue for government can buy a lot of forgiveness for a political leader, even if those jobs are not sustainable in the long term.
However, the premier’s desire to bring all of B.C.’s known major mineral reserves into play at the same time (eight new mines and the expansion of nine more by 2015) while accelerating the development of B.C.’s shale gas takes the unsustainable nature of her job strategy to a whole new level.
If she can meet this timeline, we will extinguish a large share of B.C.’s mineral and fossil fuel resources in a single generation, with many of the jobs created being filled by a transient workforce.
The province’s resources will likely also flood the market (as other jurisdictions are similarly rushing to develop their resources to meet China’s demands) forcing British Columbians to accept minimal financial benefits from our resources.
If we are going to extinguish a large share of the province’s limited resources in such a short timeframe, then the premier, the government and every MLA in B.C. has a responsibility to use the economic benefits of the current mineral and fossil fuel boom to reinvigorate our wilting sustainable sectors.
We owe it to future generations to re-establish the primacy of B.C.’s forest, agriculture and fishing sectors because that’s where the truly sustainable family supporting jobs are.
Bob Simpson is the Independent Cariboo North MLA.