This past week, the Council of Forest Industries held their annual convention with the premier as the closing keynote speaker.
Not surprisingly, she was defending the forest industry. After all, even with the perpetual economic downturn, at $12.9 billion dollars the forest industry still accounts for 36 per cent of B.C.'s export market. It is a major and important player in the provincial economy. It is just not as big as it once was.
Living in Prince George, it is apparent to everyone just how dependent we are on forestry companies. Our major industries - the pulp mills and saw mills - all depend on wood. Indeed, they have been "bio-mass recyclers" for as long as they have existed! Who knew P.G. really meant "Perfectly Green?"
But perhaps not everything should be fodder for such a speech.
When speaking with children, Premier Clark said she is always running into that one child who states "We should stop cutting down trees." She went on to say "I'm glad they say it, because it's a chance for education. I get a chance to say to them, 'You know, if we don't cut down trees in British Columbia, we have to take more money from your mom and dad.'"
She went on to say if there's no longer logging then there would be less money for hockey equipment, less money for school, less money for trips and all those things. She finished by pointing out parents who lose their jobs in forestry "are going to have to start taking money from the government."
This simplification of both the B.C. economy and forestry does little to "educate" our students. Instead of having a conversation about the structure of our economy, it turns a very real question into a sound bite. And it certainly casts a very dim view of people working in the forestry industry to say they could not find employment elsewhere.
But the real issue I have with this comment is the underlying paucity of vision. It is a lack of inspirational leadership. It is a continuation of the vision of this province as the "hewers of wood" and little else.
It is frustrating to realize our government continues its push for trades training as the solution to everything. Indeed, Ms. Clark pointed out at the convention the sooner we get our kids into the trades, the better. After all, then they can start buying houses and cars and making real money.
"They can reach their earning potential more quickly" she stated but is "reaching our earning potential" our real purpose in life?
When I say this, it is not from the perspective of a university professor. I am not arguing everyone should go to university and take courses in Greek philosophy - although there is also nothing wrong with that.
It is rather from the perspective of philosophical ideals through the ages. We should aspire to being more than a multi-interchangeable adaptable drone. As the bumper stickers say "We should work to live and not live to work."
Earning money to live is something we all need to do but it should not be our aspirational goal.
Ms. Clark also discussed the carbon tax. Recently, 130 B.C. businesses submitted a letter to the premier asking for an increase in the carbon tax. Speaking to a room full of carbon dependent industry people, this could have been a landmine.
Ms. Clark deftly stick-handled the issue pointing out what a myriad mess the carbon tax is. Using West Fraser as an example, she spoke about how charging them more in the way of carbon taxes meant the government would have to find other ways to give them back the money in the form of tax credits and cuts. After all, the carbon tax is "revenue neutral," she reaffirmed.
But the question left begging is "revenue neutral for whom?"
It is certainly not revenue neutral for you and me. Consider from 2008-2014, the provincial government collected $5 billion in carbon tax but spent $5.7 billion in relief attributable to the tax. The $700 million had to be pulled from personal taxes. It is only a little over $100 million per year but a lot can be done for $100 million.
More to the point, of the $5.7 billion spent $3.112 billion was business tax cuts.
That is 55 per centof the money collected or 3.7 cents on every litre of gas you pump into your car.
I am not a big fan of subsidizing businesses. I understand the premier's point that increasing the carbon tax could drive business out-of-province. However, I shouldn't have to be subsidizing their operations.
There are many more things we could be doing with the carbon tax. Some might ensure out-of-work forestry workers had other, better jobs waiting for them. Then the government wouldn't have to start giving them money.