Mayor’s Column – January 31, 2018

January 31, 2017

 

The fifteenth annual Premier’s Natural Resources Conference did not fail to entertain as well as inform. Be assured that I am not referring to entertainment that might have come with the gala dinner on Tuesday evening – or was it on Wednesday evening? I didn’t attend. My patience for that type of entertainment is pretty thin.

Now that I have made my confession, I can get down to the real entertainment – the pontificating of the economists who rarely agree each with another and occasionally disagree with themselves. To describe the economists as pontificating is overdone (slightly) because none were absurdly solemn or dogmatic (Webster’s definition of the verb to pontificate). In fact, on most subjects they were more tentative than dogmatic and certainly not absurdly solemn.

That said, I leave you to decide if their conclusions are right, wrong, or important.

The world needs natural gas. The economists told us so. I don’t disagree. We have gas. Why aren’t we passing it on to the world? That is the 20 billion dollar question. We have gas in great supply; we have the skills; we have the regulations; we have the human potential to do the job right. Why aren’t we doing it?

Consumption of natural gas will rise dramatically over the next 25 years (economist’s prediction); so will ability to produce it; so will ability to load it on boats – all of that in places like the Gulf States, the United States, and Australia as we wait for our ship to come in while vaguely wondering what to do next. British Columbia’s staying out of the market will not reduce world demand or consumption of natural gas. It will only reduce our GDP and our ability to build hospitals, schools, roads, parks, and fund charging stations for electric cars.

Maybe this bleak picture is too bleak. Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe our ship has already docked and we just don’t know it. But we had better sharpen our senses; while we argue about cumulative effects and other things the hull may rust and sprout barnacles or the captain may just up anchor and silently sail away to Arabia.

But it is important to discuss cumulative effects – extremely important as long as we are not satisfied with mere discussion. Of course, I am including discussion of the cumulative effects of bureaucratic mishandling of opportunity. The impediments to growth, or even to holding our own, when compounded by the dual bureaucracies of Ottawa and Victoria are enormous.

Imagine this scenario: Victoria has come to a decision, at last, just as there is a change of government in Ottawa. By the time that change has sorted itself out and officials are in a position to rule on a decision, the government changes in Victoria and provincial officials are in limbo for months creating a faulty institutional memory during which investment projects drop out of sight while the competition goes full power ahead.

It all makes sense to the competition.

We are behind in British Columbia in no department except decision making. We have world-class safety regulations; our oversight of environmental issues is second to nowhere else; the skills of our trades workers are also world class; workers earn top incomes. What lack we yet? Some will point out a number of answers to this question of lack. But I think cumulatively we have the will to find the answers to those answers just as soon as governments move on the question.

Having completed my rant, let me direct your attention to the slowness of local government bureaucracy. What improvements can be made in the way local governments do business? Is it possible to make the processes less burdensome while maintaining the life styles and values we cherish? It’s worth a look.

By the way, here’s another proverb from about 3000 years ago that has present relevance: “hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Do our ancestors have something to teach us in the Age of Natural Gas?

 

Merlin Nichols, Mayor