The B.C. government tapped local business leaders this week for ideas on how best to create jobs as part of a provincial outreach tour.
John Les, the Liberal MLA for Chilliwack and premier’s parliamentary secretary, met with Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday night to discuss what initiatives local business would like to see in the provincial jobs plan currently in the works.
“It’s important that we do this, that we acutely focus on the economy we have,” Les told the 10 people in attendance. “I’m sure you’re aware of the extent of the situation of economies in Europe and the United States. If nothing else, it encourages us not to be complacent in continuing to create jobs, let alone exhibit growth in the years ahead.
“Now growth, I know that’s a tall order in today’s economy, but I think we owe it to ourselves to give it a shot.”
Maintaining confidence is paramount, he said, and the government intends to foster those feelings by focusing on balancing the budget in 16 months, maintaining the province’s AAA credit rating and investing in infrastructure that gets goods and people to market.
Les said that the Asia Pacific gateway remains among the B.C. government’s top economic projects, which may have been “under-utilized” to date, but is beginning to yield results.
After introducing the Asian consumers to the province’s lumber companies, demand for product has grown.
Les said this is the first year B.C. exported more wood to China than the United States, which historically has been the industry’s largest market.
Les said there is positivity surrounding the resource sector. Demand has returned for lumber exports, and mining and natural gas industries are showing promise. Those in the agri-food industry have also become “bullish,” he said, following the establishment of direct flights from Vancouver to Shanghai that paved the way for deliveries of fresh fruit to Chinese consumers.
Job creation possibilities that chamber members suggested included having a prison within driving distance, which would allow Penticton residents to have good-paying jobs within a short commute; expanding Okanagan College’s Centre for Excellence to accommodate more students; allowing business to tap into the municipal fibre optic network; increasing broadband Internet capabilities; a better working relationship with the rural secretariat; expanding the offerings at the airport; and cutting red tape for the liquor and wine industries.
Some of the concerns raised include dismantling the HST system as well as impending increases to the minimum wage — both of which didn’t seem to sway provincial representatives.
“We’re not ignorant of the impact a wage increase has from an economic perspective, but from a political perspective, when people point to British Columbia and say, ‘You have the lowest minimum wage in Canada,’ that’s not a selling point either,” Les said.
While the details of the jobs plan will be revealed later this fall, Les said ultimately the government wants to defend existing jobs and create new positions by “accelerating opportunities” in various sectors.
That may mean jumping at different things that come up, Les said, adding opportunities typically come when “we’re nimble and quick on our feet” and let people know B.C. wants business.
“I was the mayor once, and I put a sign out that said, ‘Open for business. Call the mayor,’” Les said.