Moira Stilwell: B.C. needs right leader for knowledge economy
I believe British Columbia’s future is limitless if we maintain our sensible policies on investment and taxation, and focus on strengthening job opportunities so that all British Columbians can participate fully in their society. Over the past 10 years, the province has had a strong and growing economy based on policies that have encouraged investment and innovation. I want to be the next premier of B.C. so that I can enhance those policies and ensure that our province continues to prosper.
As a physician with more than 30 years of experience in medical practice and healthcare management, I have always been aware of the importance of knowledge and training, but it was as minister of advanced education and labour market development in the provincial government that I came to understand how a knowledge-based economy could help address many of the fundamental social and community challenges we face in B.C.
We have the means to further develop a knowledge-based economy in a way that will lessen our dependence on the resource sector, provide rewarding jobs to young graduates, provide a more inclusive role in the economy for northern B.C., and attract leading-edge technology firms that need skilled employees and an investor-friendly economic environment.
For example, poverty has long been one of the most difficult issues facing governments at all levels in Canada, not least of all B.C. To help people escape from poverty requires a combination of government social programs and sensible policies that promote job creation and growth.
As one measure to help alleviate poverty, I support an increase in the minimum wage in B.C. to $10 an hour, phased in over a two-year period with 50 cent an hour increases every six months. B.C. has not increased the minimum wage for nearly 10 years and it is currently the lowest in Canada. We need to bring it into line with the rest of the country.
But that’s just one step to help some British Columbians. The bigger picture is the need to maintain and increase economic growth through investment and job creation. We know that a strong economy helps all British Columbians by providing jobs to people who need them and revenue for the government to provide services and support to our most needy residents and develop programs to lift them out of poverty.
But to really take advantage of the benefits of a knowledge-based economy, our longer-term strategy must focus on encouraging more young people who have a basic interest in science and technology to study those subjects at university. Yes, developing and growing our own skilled knowledge base to serve a knowledge economy will take time, so we also need to look at ways to attract qualified science and technology workers to B.C.
I have some ideas on how to do that, but I also want to consult with business leaders to better understand what they require to grow their businesses and continue to support the economy.
To attract new investment to B.C. we need close cooperation between the federal government, regions within the province, and business—particularly the technology sector—to develop a set of incentives and policy measures that will appeal to entrepreneurs from both outside and within B.C. and allow them to flourish.
Earlier this in my ministerial capacity, I participated in an event to proclaim the 2010-11 school year the Year of Science in B.C. It was far more than just a symbolic gesture. In fact, it has everything to do with my commitment to building a knowledge-based economy based on a new kind of literacy—in sciences, math, and engineering. But to achieve this objective we first need to convince young people that science and math and engineering are among the best opportunities for well-paying and stable jobs in the years ahead.
There’s no doubt that workers with skills in these subjects will be in high demand over the coming 10 years and beyond, not only in B.C., but around the world. The projected shortage of workers in these categories means we need to ensure that our universities here in B.C. are providing the skilled people we will need to drive the new economy.
A recent labour market report by B.C. Stats forecast a 26 percent increase in science-related occupations in the province by 2019 and concluded that British Columbians studying natural and applied science will have the best future career prospects in B.C.
The report also showed that in 2009, the average worker in B.C. earned $801 a week—but people in natural and applied sciences earned an average of $1,199 a week.
So that’s where we stand: on the brink of a promising economic future that’s ours for the taking if we have the right leader and the right policies to get us there.
Moira Stilwell is the MLA for Vancouver-Langara and a candidate for the leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party.