GUEST VIEW: Toward a more resilient recovery

Nikki Skuce argues now is the time to shift the economy rather than go back to business as usual

With the BC government earmarking $1.5 billion so far for economic recovery and the federal government committed to green infrastructure funding, we need to ensure this once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest capital benefits in the Northwest isn’t lost. Now is the time to make investments in Indigenous initiatives, green infrastructure, community economic development, and restoration projects for greater resilience and sustainability.

A recent editorial from the BC Chamber of Commerce, Mining Association of BC, BC LNG Alliance, among others, advocates for a “powering up of B.C.’s main economic engines” as we come out of Covid-19 (“From Flattening the Covid-19 curve to Team B.C. recovery,” Interior News, May 13). But for decades our communities have been navigating the boom-and-bust cycles typical of forestry, oil and gas, mining and other commodities. The decline in the forest sector prior to the pandemic re-exposed the need for further diversification. Let’s not return to ‘business as usual’ and miss this opportunity to invest in more resilient rural economies that provide greater local security.

There are calls for a Green Stimulus, Green New Deal and others in line with Canada and B.C.’s climate goals, biodiversity targets and net-zero commitment. For the Northwest, that means investing in people, communities, green infrastructure and our natural resource wealth. Now that we’ve put well-being at the forefront to flatten the curve, we should keep well-being at the forefront of our recovery plans.

Funding Indigenous projects would benefit the region as a whole. Most First Nations have identified infrastructure priorities (including housing, health centres, and training institutes), and community-development initiatives (such as Indigenous guardians programs, wild meat and fish processing facilities, and renewable energy projects).

COVID-19 has also exposed the importance of small businesses as well as vulnerabilities and opportunities around food security. Local planning priorities that include green infrastructure and emissions reductions (such as renewable energy projects, active transportation infrastructure, and energy-efficient retrofits), circular economy opportunities (turning waste into resources and manufacturing value-added products), and food security initiatives (including increasing community garden space and helping coordinate local producers) are key investments for resilience.

Restoring degraded lands, such as old resource roads, burnt landscapes and abandoned mine sites, can provide multiple benefits. Restoration work is labour-intensive and stimulates demand for the products and services of local businesses such as plant nurseries, heavy equipment and rock and gravel companies. While we need to change our laws to make sure that the polluter actually pays, this is an opportunity to invest in restoration. An example would be to restore salmon habitat in the Upper Morice, working with a variety of partners on rebuilding riparian areas — immediate jobs, long-term benefits.

In the past, B.C. had programs for unemployed forestry workers that included helping build recreation and tourism opportunities in the Northwest. One successful initiative here is the Hankin backcountry ski area. These types of programs could support those recently unemployed, again with multiple benefits.

Resource extraction will still be part of the mix, given the need for some mining materials for low-carbon energy solutions and forestry materials for retrofits and building. But these can and must be done more responsibly and, as governments across the northwest have advocated for, with more benefits staying in the region to help build more sustainable, livable communities.

Our governments will be injecting more into the economy than they have since the Second World War.

We’ve all put community well-being at the forefront of our actions for the last few months. We need to keep it there and create a future that is more sustainable and healthy for all.

Smithers Interior News