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April 3, 2017 | ELECTION PREVIEW: There’s No Denying the Importance of Responsible Resources to British Columbia

Stewart Muir is founder and executive director of the Resource Works Society, a Vancouver-based group open to participation by British Columbians from all walks of life who are concerned about their future economic opportunities. He is an author, journalist and historian with experience on three continents including a financial editor of The Vancouver Sun responsible for mining and markets coverage. Since Resource Works was established in 2014, the group has gained international recognition for its practical approach to the public challenges of responsible natural resource development and use.

In 2017, the high-tech natural resource sectors – forestry, mining, energy, and the essential support activities for these pursuits – remain the economic drivers of the British Columbia economy. Here’s why.

Aspiring to ever-better environmental practices is a shared value among the resource people I’ve been encountering around British Columbia and Canada over the past three years since Resource Works launched with a mission to improve knowledge and understanding.

I’m so enthralled by the story of innovation in the natural resource sector that at Resource Works, we launched the Naturally Resourceful series showcasing some of the companies leading the way in this regard.

At the same time, I’m discouraged that some people, including candidates for public office in the upcoming provincial election, are campaigning on propositions that require more than a simple suspension of disbelief.

Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to meet the Green Party leader, Dr. Andrew Weaver of Oak Bay-Gordon Head, a couple of times. He is man of accomplishment and integrity, yet his vision to eliminate tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in infrastructure investment is disturbing and poorly thought through. Far from being a fix to our real environmental challenges, it is a recipe for poverty and ecosystem degradation.

We know that natural gas is the bridge fuel to a low-carbon future, yet Dr. Weaver opposes it. The evidence that electricity from hydroelectric generation is a desirable part of the clean-energy mix cannot be disputed, yet Dr. Weaver’s party does dispute it and in fact opposes the largest investment in Canadian clean energy currently underway, Site C. I once heard him claim that the Canadian brewing industry creates more jobs than the oil and gas industry, and therefore we could easily dispose of it. He has told me that we should stop producing oil in Canada and get all of ours from Saudi Arabia until they run out at which time we won’t need any more because we’ll have a different energy solution. That’s probably why he also thinks it is a smart idea to oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which when expanded will bring Canadian crude oil to new markets in an environmentally sound way.

At a time when indigenous leaders are working incredibly hard to create economic opportunities in territories located mainly on the rural land base, influential non-aboriginals with romantic visions of how First Nations ought to live are fighting hard to suppress these advances.

Many people might wish the green movement’s prescriptions to be viable, and in principle they certainly can sound appealing. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to lofty goals that require resolute determination – goals like transitioning to a low-carbon economy. But tanking our economy to meet unachievable goals will actually be terrible for the environment. Policies that simply export environmental impacts to jurisdictions with lower environmental standards are no solution at all. Dr. Weaver’s energy policies will be great for Donald Trump when Canada suddenly has to start importing much more of its oil and gas from south of the border, not so great for Canadians.

The economic price of removing British Columbia’s natural resource industries will be incalculable hardship for millions of residents. If you’ve read this far, you probably don’t need any convincing of that. The problem is showing that to others effectively. We have to live in the moment and work through our political and economic systems and cultural traditions if responsible resource development is to remain a force.

In 2017, it’s a bit of a cliche to say the answer is to connect on values, not facts. Which is quite a challenge now that “fake news” is not just a catchphrase but rather a new political currency.

The resource denial movement can expect to gain plenty of traction with its plethora of non-factual claims spread under convincing-sounding headlines. There is no apparent accountability or price to pay for spreading nonsense this way to an often credulous public.

For the professionals I’ve encountered in building the Resource Works movement, participating in such fake news is a non-starter: it’s unseemly and ethically unacceptable. On our website, there is a now a lot of solid, verified information that we’ve been working hard to research, develop, and make accessible. I’d encourage those who share my concerns to browse our material.

I’m going to share some words from a great Canadian thinker, Brian Lee Crowley. He delivered them when we invited him out to his home province to speak a couple of years ago:

It goes without saying that we are exceptionally lucky as Canadians to have our fantastic endowment of natural resources, including water and agricultural land as well as minerals, coal, oil and gas. But the real reason Canada is lucky, and the reason why the world beats a path to our resources, is not chiefly due to the resource endowment.

What makes that endowment almost uniquely valuable in the world is that it exists within another vastly more important endowment of rules, institutions and behaviours.

Consider that the world’s wealthiest societies, be it Switzerland or Japan or Singapore or Taiwan or Germany or many others I could name have no natural resources to speak of.

On the other hand, economists often talk about the curse of natural resource wealth because many of the societies that are blessed with such wealth do not know how to control it. Like many a lottery winner they are ruined by their good fortune. Just think of Nigeria, Venezuela, Indonesia, Angola, Algeria, Russia or Saudi Arabia and ask yourself if you think life is better there for the average person than it is in Canada. I am pretty sure the answer is no.

What makes the difference? It is all chiefly due to that endowment of institutions and behaviours I talked about. In Canada we have the full set of institutions and behaviours that as a matter of empirical and historical fact confer economic success. Many of these Harvard historian Niall Ferguson summed up in his book Civilization as the six killer apps of western democracies.

I will tell you what I think it entails: the rule of law, independent judges and reasonably speedy and reliable resolution of disputes, the enforcement of contract, robust democratic institutions, respect of human rights, the absence of corruption among government officials and the police, respect of private property, moderate, predictable and stable taxation and regulatory burden, a stable currency that keeps its value, responsible public finances, freedom to trade both domestically and internationally, a well-developed work ethic and a refusal to resort to violence to resolve political disagreements. That is the greatest endowment that we have.

This week, I’m going to be in India speaking to a global gathering of resource leaders. Our host country is sending federal cabinet members and some of the world’s most successful and influential mining executives will be on hand. My speech will be about disruptive innovation and the amazing example that Canada is setting in all the ways Brian talked about. Our technological, institutional, industrial and cultural innovations really are the special thing about how we do resources.

The knowledge that Resource Works has gained is out there for everyone to access, and I hope it will be part of creating a better informed conversation as democratic decisions are made in 2017.

Stewart Muir is executive director of the Resource Works Society. Got a question or comment? Drop him a line directly to [email protected]

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April 3rd, 2017

Posted In: Resource Works

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