Stewart Muir: Natural resources debate needs balance in B.C.

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      Recently, a young man in Vancouver gained overnight notoriety with a crude video game enacting a massacre in the Main Street SkyTrain station. When television news caught up with him to find out why, he reeled off a list of frustrations he claimed led to him making the game.

      Among them: natural resource development and an inadequate transit system.

      For city dwellers who relate to this sentiment—if not the alarming and deplorable method chosen to vent it—there is a growing disconnect in there that should concern anyone who cares about green, sustainable jobs in the city.

      We hear a lot of talk these days about how the technology and green sectors are overtaking old-school natural resource jobs in this province. This claim is simply not true. As in its first 150 years, today British Columbia’s resource sector remains a significant economic driver—with an interesting twist.

      It’s very good news that there are more technology and green jobs for city dwellers today, and the rejoicing we hear about that is justified.

      But ask yourself: a young technologist uses advanced 3-D software to figure out the best path for a natural gas pipeline to cross a stream, so the impact on the environment is minimized.

      A First Nation wants to create jobs on its traditional lands so its people can choose to come home and make a decent living. The LNG project they are partnering to build will disturb the land, maybe burial sites too, so archeologists are called in to apply their advanced techniques to understand the situation.

      What kind of jobs are these?

      Green—tick. Technology—tick. Natural resource—tick.

      It’s all three—that’s the twist. Labeling them green or tech jobs without acknowledging the resource dependencies creates confusion.

      Similar things could be said of many other jobs in diverse, high-paying fields like geographic information systems, robotics, real estate, finance, and education. This includes many high-quality union jobs. In other words, the people using SkyTrain every day.

      Based on recent economic research by the non-profit Resource Works Society, some 160,000 Lower Mainland residents are in this kind of employment as well as direct natural resource jobs.

      A resource-related job in British Columbia—whether you are talking about the iconic logger or someone who works in a downtown office—produces nearly double the value of other jobs.

      Natural resources—forestry, mining, energy, fishing, agriculture—drive a widespread service economy and create direct government revenues used to pay for things we need.

      The protest movement would be wise not to disregard where the general public stands on this. A recent Resource Works-Ipsos Reid poll found that 56 percent of Metro Vancouver residents disagree that natural resources will become less important to the economy over the next 10 to 20 years. Fully 75 percent told us they would be concerned if the sector were to go into decline.

      But suppose the broad democratic will of the people was thwarted and through activist efforts, B.C.’s natural resources sector did wind down.

      Today, people should be asking themselves this question: what am I prepared to give up if we give up on natural resources?

      We heat our homes with natural gas, take our cars to go camping, and we enjoy our iPhones. The list goes on.

      Ironically, if Canada is forced to significantly trim back its natural resource industries, no one has been able to show how we would be able to afford costly green investments like urban transit.

      Many people have long had a sense that we have lost balance in this conversation. At the municipal level, resource projects on the drawing board are too often seen as consequence-free opportunities for politicians to capitalize on public anxiety.

      There is strong public interest in the economic facts. We should retain skepticism about industry claims but also realize there are pros and cons to everything.

      A starting point for moving forward is to ensure as many people as possible have access to good information. The result will be a more informed conversation about the future we invent.

      Comments

      9 Comments

      Boris Moris

      Aug 26, 2014 at 1:12pm

      With staunch right wingers like ex BC Liberal cabinet minister, Geoff Plant, and Harper Con cabinet wanker/democracy destroyer, David Emerson acting as advisors or board members for this latest climate change denying dog and pony show, one could argue that there is no balance here. Especially when you employ Harper's go to push polling firm, Ipsos Reid.

      Muir talks about "access to good information". Good for who? Polluters and watershed destroyers?

      Papa Hemmorhoid

      Aug 26, 2014 at 1:20pm

      Some website they've got, this, "Resource Works Society". There's nothing there. Obvious astroturf advocacy. Who is paying for it?

      Stewart Muir

      Aug 26, 2014 at 2:31pm

      Resourceworks.com was down for 20 minutes earlier this afternoon - sorry for any inconvenience. We are supported by 16 community leaders from academia, science, First Nations and more, with a broad range of views - see their stories right here: http://www.resourceworks.com/advisory-board.html

      Bob Turecki

      Aug 26, 2014 at 3:46pm

      A long overdue article. Everyone on the environmental bandwagon, including First Nations, should be cautious what they wish for. Without the natural resource industries we are fortunate to have in this Province where will the revenue come from to keep us from being a have-not Province, let alone a bankrupt Province. Until we turn into a communist state, I have not heard one realistic or verifiable alternative from the aforementioned groups on where needed revenue will come from without violating their lofty ideals. At the same time, numerous individual of both these groups want more money for health care, education and tax exemption.

      Diversifcation

      Aug 27, 2014 at 6:42am

      A strong economy is a diverse one and not one dependent largely on one thing. Every country, province, region, and city should diversify, scale back and service local constituents.

      Hazlit

      Aug 27, 2014 at 7:16am

      This article conflates organic agriculture (e.g. someone who grows hothouse tomatoes in their backyard) with industrial mining (e.g. the tar-sands horror). The two are not the same. Mr. Muir mistakenly suggests that we "need" resources and that we couldn't power our iPods without it. What he really means is that hothouse tomato growers can go to hell, but the extractive resource industries are "necessary."
      He's right, we do need extractive industries, but that doesn't mean we need to like them or support them with government policy. I hope Mr. Muir is well versed in the "resource curse" argument. Until he persuades me that resource extraction results in proportionally more money devoted to green jobs (with an aim to eliminating extractive industries) his argument will fall on deaf ears.

      Jess Wundrin

      Aug 27, 2014 at 7:52am

      Is Mr. Muir married to anyone who might be close to Christy Clark? Bridesmaid, say?

      Destiny Ashdown

      Jan 13, 2015 at 2:23pm

      The trouble with callin it 'clean energy' is that it is perpetuated in and of itself. The economy is more than its fuel and energy resources. It depends on conservation, innovation and regulation in a number of sectors.
      Take for instance Earthship Biotecture and the advancements that have been made in passive home design. If government were to implement policies to require new home builds that don't require so much infrastructure for fuel or power it'd reduce huge amounts of taxes and other expenses for the people.
      If government held reverence for food security and offered incentives for residential food production THATd reduce demand for fuel.
      The trouble with all this "oil is good, oil is clean" rhetoric is that people arent dumb enough to buy into this idealogical justification of exploiting out of 'need'.
      Reduce our taxes (not corps), increase our buying power, and slow down development. Then the people can truly not be so desperate for a paycheq that they buy these stupid sales pitches "act fast supply is limited" "for just 12 hours a day you can surrender public services and programs for bigger paycheques so we can take more taxes and fees from the working class!"

      Its BS. Brainwashing. Stigmatizing free time like its shameful to have it. Creating this idea that constant labour and big pay are what a man makes.

      This economy is volatile, not reliable, destructive environmentally and economically and is detrimental to a better future. Hyper-stratification. Growing infrastructure faster than tax bases in industrial-heavy towns and regions where docotrs dont want to live. Partnering with educators to funnel disadvantaged kids into the labour pool.
      No amount of FairShare or tax grants can mitigate the damage that an overbearing LNG, Bitumen, or Tarsands economy causes on local and regional economies.
      Change is needed now, before the monopoly strongholds the last of the peoples freedoms.