Outlook 2018: Big challenges, big opportunities for B.C.

This past year has been a world on fast-forward. From Donald Trump to self-driving cars to Vancouver’s ceiling-less property market, the ground is shifting beneath our feet. Such times offer us an opportunity to embrace a bold vision to confront the challenges before us head-on. In doing so, we can spark the innovation required to succeed amid the monumental shifts happening around us.

With the world’s five most valuable companies all in technology, knowledge has surpassed fossil fuels as our most valuable resource. This presents challenges, such as job loss due to automation and a departure from traditional work structures as trends like the gig economy take hold. But it also brings opportunity: B.C.’s growing tech job force is bigger than mining, oil and gas and forestry combined.

How do we ensure that the benefits of these opportunities are a net positive for British Columbians? Tech jobs are concentrated in our cities, which are unaffordable for young workers. Some are leaving the province altogether, but I increasingly hear that their migration to places like the Kootenays and Vancouver Island is accelerating crises in those communities too.

This constitutes intergenerational inequity. Millennials are faced with an economy that starkly disadvantages them. As Generation Squeeze notes, despite our much-touted gross domestic product growth and job creation, B.C. is Canada’s poorest-performing economy for young people.

We must keep all options on the table to address this mounting crisis. The value of B.C. real estate is approaching 20% of our economy. Some argue that cooling the housing market would cause a shock. But what about the costs of losing our creative class, our young people and people who are invested in their communities? Our goal should be a truly healthy economy in which people can live where they work, have time to volunteer and be with their families, and have discretionary income to fuel local businesses.

We can modernize government so that it is considerably more responsive to technological innovation. Six years since ride hailing attempted to enter our market, we are still stuck with fewer options than every other major city in North America. Our Emerging Economy Task Force, which will help government respond to changes on the horizon, is being implemented as part of the BC Green Party’s agreement with the BC NDP, but there remains much work to be done.

Automation threatens to elimininate millions of Canadian jobs in the next 10 to 15 years. We need innovative policies, such as basic income, to ensure that all British Columbians are supported as our economy changes. And we must ensure that northern and rural communities benefit from innovation by making investments in value-added resource products, increasing broadband access and championing local entrepreneurship.

Wildfires, which scientists agree are becoming more frequent and severe, have cost our province $750 million this year. From sea level rise in the Lower Mainland to temperature fluctuations in the agriculture-rich Interior, climate change is having implications provincewide.

Countries as disparate as Germany, China and Saudi Arabia are investing heavily in renewable energy as we all strive to reach our commitments under the Paris treaty. We must approach climate change as an opportunity to become leaders in alternative energy as well. The excess supply of power anticipated from Site C leaves no market for alternative energy in this province. We must optimize BC Hydro and all government initiatives to spark growth in the industries of the future.

All this will require us to focus on policy rather than tearing each other down. In 2018, British Columbians should expect better behaviour from their leaders, and politicians should remember that we serve the people, not our partisan self-interest. 

Andrew Weaver is leader of the BC Green Party.