The issues concerning natural resources are too important for partisanship, said the man who has hosted the province's annual conversation on those topics.
Mike Morris, the B.C. Liberal MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie, has always created the yearly B.C. Natural Resources Forum agenda from the position of government (as did his predecessor Pat Bell who initiated it). When the NDP took the position of government following the last election, there was wondering about how Morris would handle the new situation, and likewise how the new government would respond.
The answer is at hand. This year's edition of the B.C. Natural Resources Forum is loaded with provincial ministers and a speech from premier John Horgan. It is also sprinkled with opposition members, public sector figures and private business interests - all of them heavy hitters in their various fields of expertise.
"There was a lot of concern that partisanship would show through, but this has never been an event that was funded by the B.C. Liberal Party or by government," said Morris. "We hired C3 Alliance Corporation awhile back to be the event coordinator, handle the logistics, just so it never took on that tone. This office has always been the host, and we continue to be, but we have always put the conversation first. This event is about developing partnerships, bringing out the best information, advancing the knowledge and understanding of our bread-and-butter industries, and this year is the demonstration to all the skateholders that this is a resources forum not a political exercise. It is about the economic tools of British Columbia and how we best use them together. It's about bringing opportunities to life. There has been a lot of pressure over the years to bring this event to the Lower Mainland but it rightly should be here where the natural resources we're talking about are right at hand, where all the road and rail networks come together, where the runways and telecommunications systems come together. Prince George is the centre of all the natural resource action. We are the crossroads of all those sectors."
There is no one sector that most inspires Morris. He is looking forward most to hearing the points of view of stakeholders the forum has never experienced before, like federal Minister of Natural Resources James Carr and National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations.
"We have always tried to be diverse in the tropics on the schedule," Morris said. "B.C. is noted, almost more than any other province can say, for having a diverse economy, and it is even diverse within the natural resources sectors."
Although he naturally has partisan positions on how the coming year may play out with the NDP-Green coalition holding governance power, Morris is most interested within the walls of the B.C. Natural Resources Forum in how development opportunities come to fruition and how that conversation flows.
In particular, he is interested in the Summit LNG proposal and how that idea of a natural gas refinery plant in Prince George might be progressing. He is interested in possible synergy arrangements that might help multiple ideas come to fruition by working together, like the Eagle Spirit pipeline concept and entrepreneur David Black's suggestion of an oil refinery in B.C. He is interested in hearing voices on the adventure tourism industry that in his mind has wild potential for the Prince George area.
"We have no petrochemical industry in northern B.C., and now there is a huge opportunity just sitting there, because we have the raw material, we just need to have the processing facilities to turn these derivatives of the petroleum products right here in our region into polypropylene and products like that," he said. "This forum exists to bring the players into the same room who can turn our natural resources into economic activity and opportunities for northern British Columbians, and all Canadians."
The B.C. Natural Resources Forum offers a set of panel discussions, a number of meet-and-greet opportunities and business-to-business meetings, a set of government officials germane to the natural resource portfolios, and a trade show where businesses in these fields can showcase themselves to the public and to industry stakeholders.
It runs Tuesday to Thursday at the Prince George Civic Centre.