Business leaders need to fill wide gap in NDP’s financial expertise

Facts are facts. Business did not come out well in the 2020 British Columbian election.

The party it wanted to win, didn’t; the party it definitely didn’t, did.

No matter the money and messages, no matter the revulsion at taxation and disdain for its deeds, business did not defeat a government it not so long ago thought defeatable. It lost bigly, maybe even was taught a lesson in the process about what British Columbians want.

Still, the concern is palpable that the combination of the pandemic and the government’s agenda will produce a ruinously spendthrifty permanent weight on the economy’s weakened shoulders.

But what next? What now, business community? Continue the critique, sit on the sideline or engage the era ahead?

Out of the October election there is good news and bad news for business.

The bad news is that John Horgan’s government has emerged from his victory with no economist, no business leader, no one savvy to promote commerce in its political ranks. Our next minister of finance will not be a minister from finance. The BC NDP MLAs are drawn from a pool that focuses less on generating equity than in remedying inequity.

The good news is the same as the bad news, which is to say the absence of economic leadership is a gap for business to fill, because even a hell-bent government can’t just rely on its beliefs and bureaucracy.

The question is whether business will lean in or sit out.

In the last mandate, business leaders openly derided the Horgan cabinet, its elementary comprehension of the economy and its unshakable focus on taking funds from those with to provide those without. The business view on the NDP: it got lucky with what the BC Liberals left, couldn’t read a balance sheet, didn’t know the cause-and-effect relationships of the economy any better than high schoolers and had to have basic business principles explained as ministers overseeing hundreds of millions and more.

But 2021-24 is not 2017-20. The conditions call upon business for collaboration.

It has to live with the result, teeth gritted.

It has to consider this government as a partner to soldier through the pandemic and build the province back, counterintuitive as that might be in practice and counterproductive as that might be in politics.

It has a duty to counsel the government on how certain actions have consequences that will not contribute to the longer-term British Columbia everyone wants.

It has to convince government that economic competitiveness helps more than the wealthy.

To do so, it can’t hector and hound, even with evidence. It has to educate without condescension.

The broader responsibility of the business community is to make government better. It can’t do so from outside as it tried in the last term. This term is about behind-the-scenes help and front-and-centre praise when anything good takes effect.

B.C.’s businesses would make a major mistake now to hurl shade. For the time being, this is not a winnable fight but a teachable moment – teachable, too, for the government, which will have to reach out. Besides, in not helping, business will prolong its stay in the wilderness.

It is not in a business leader’s nature to countenance government sub-competence or to acquiesce to ideological beliefs that profiting is toxic or that taxes are the tonic for inequity. Then again, some business orthodoxies are difficult to defend in an era rattled by the pandemic and layered by recognition of injustice and the need for reckoning.

It’s wise, then, for big business and the representative entities to give their heads a shake, take the long view and treat this mandate as an eventual open door, not an inevitable giant wall. The election suggests the public’s verdict on business is chastening, so there is also reputational repair in creating a conversation that not only engages government but also assures the public that its best interests are in tow.

The worst thing would be to detach and let the Horgan government run off on its own. It isn’t necessary to befriend the government – no one will be convinced of that, anyway – but to become a necessary ally, to persuade government that certain of its challenges will benefit from its insights, still holding it to account when it ignores the advice.

There is no risk in sharing perspectives, only in deciding it is not worth it. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media