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Andrew Weaver: 20th century solutions won’t solve 21st century challenges


Andrew Weaver is leader of the Green Party of British Columbia.


Rafal Gerszak / Postmedia News

Despite the Trudeau government’s mantra that “the economy and the environment go hand in hand,” its public policy on fossil fuel projects like Kinder Morgan still suggests we must trade one for the other. The federal climate plan, for example, fundamentally hinges on a quid pro quo of fossil-fuel development for climate action. By perpetuating this notion, Canada is missing out on the opportunity to truly unify our economic and environmental objectives, by pairing innovation in the resource sector with our climate targets.

Over the past several decades, resource jobs played a critical role in building a strong middle class. However, the world is changing. Many resource sectors are seeing long-term jobs decline. Meanwhile, the world is struggling to address the threats posed by climate change, spurring a major technological revolution. Future economic growth lies in bringing these two paradigms together — harnessing the climate crisis to drive innovation and new, more efficient technologies in the resource sector.

Efficiency in B.C.’s resource sector means two things. First, we must “internalize externalities” — account for the impact of our industries on other vital factors for our wellbeing such as our air, water and climate goals. This is how the carbon tax works — it incentivizes emitters to reduce pollution and become more efficient. This global drive for efficiency creates economic opportunities. For example, Vancouver-based MineSense’s technology saves mines between $20 million to $200 million per site, while also reducing electricity and water consumption by 20 to 25 per cent and tailings by up to 40 per cent. B.C.’s economy grows by creating the technology that enables others to make this same transition.

Second, efficiency means ensuring B.C. is getting the maximum value for our resources. The last two provincial budgets reported job losses in forestry, fisheries, mining and oil and gas. My caucus and I hear a common theme from resource businesses, industry groups and local governments — the economic value of B.C.’s natural resources does not remain in our communities.

In forestry, sawmills close as raw log exports persist. In fisheries, quotas become concentrated in the hands of a few companies, pricing young fishers out of the market. Seafood caught in Canadian waters is shipped to Asia, where it is processed, and then shipped back here to be sold. The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion seeks to export diluted bitumen, which must be refined abroad before it can be of any use to consumers. Every time we ship a raw commodity overseas, we forgo opportunities to create well-paying jobs and grow our economy. There is no need for this — B.C. also has a highly educated workforce, a strong entrepreneurial spirit, world-class research institutions and is a beautiful place to live.

In every corner of the province, innovative British Columbians are using these strengths to generate economic prosperity. After the Midway Mill closed in 2007, the town raised capital to invest in a technological overhaul and reinvigorate the mill. At the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George, students learn how to bring design, technology and forestry products together to develop innovative high-performance wood products. The centre was built using value-added wood products from Structurlam, a highly innovative Penticton-based company whose products have been used in award-winning buildings all over the world.

We will not solve the challenges of the 21st century by chasing 20th century solutions. But we can turn these challenges into opportunities if we have a forward-looking vision, an evidence-based approach to policy and political leadership that thinks beyond a four-year election cycle. Most importantly, we must reject politically motivated attempts to pit the environment against the economy. Doing so will only shortchange resource-dependent communities by justifying the race-to-the bottom economics of raw commodity exports.

Andrew Weaver is leader of the Green Party of British Columbia.


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