Signs of the times

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Charles Dickens penned the famous line in 1859, but he also foreshadowed 2018, a year where we saw marvellous opportunity and achievements in stark contrast to uncertainty and discontent, including:

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Some of the most gruesome human tragedies in decades in Myanmar, Syria and Yemen.

Warnings of catastrophic climate change by 2030 from the UN.

Canada becoming the only country with free-trade agreements with all other G7 countries.

Public squabbles between government leaders on issues critical to our future.

Threats to Canada's competitiveness with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in the U.S.

The World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2018, ranked Canada's macroeconomic stability first out of 137 countries.

America's dramatic elimination of international diplomacy, collaboration and respect for its closest partners.

The UN Human Development Index ranked Canada the ninth most livable country in the world.

In a more local context, growing challenges pressure B.C.'s success and competitive position:

B.C. businesses will pay $5.1 billion more in taxes in 2019-20 than in 2012-13 and the growing tax burdens threaten business viability. The corporate income tax rate is up two percentage points since 2013, the carbon tax is increasing, the new employer health tax hits employers in January and graduated increases in Canada Pension Plan premiums begin in 2019. Regulatory approval processes are cumbersome, uncertain and slow.

It takes 249 days to get a permit to build a warehouse in Canada compared with 80 days in the U.S.

The WEF report ranks Canada 53rd of 137 countries for its "burden of government regulation" and 44th for "distortive effect of taxes on competition."

Dozens of legislative and regulatory reviews are underway in B.C., increasing uncertainty and complexity for employers.

These pervasive impacts on employers are unsustainable. They threaten the foundation of our province: employers who provide well-paying jobs, expand our economy and build communities. The cumulative impact blunts the appetite for investment, stalling the engine that drives the provincial economy. Direct foreign investment in Canada has declined steadily since 2013 while Canadian investment abroad has increased.

This data is a warning that we ignore at our peril.

As business growth and investment is threatened, so too is the affordability of B.C. for employees, creating hiring challenges that exacerbate business operations:

4.7 per cent of all B.C. jobs are currently unfilled. In construction, this is seven per cent, and in trucking, an astounding 13 per cent.

Canada has one of the biggest increases in household debt relative to incomes among advanced economies.

In contrast, 2018 also brought meaningful accomplishments in B.C.:

For five years, average real gross domestic product growth in the province led the country by a significant margin.

Our technology ecosystem received an A grade relative to other jurisdictions.

The $40 billion LNG Canada investment is the largest private-sector investment ever made in Canada.

The provincial budget is on track for a $1.3 billion surplus.

Our unemployment rate is near a record low.

Strong gains in exports to Asian economies lowered our reliance on the U.S. market.

Site C work continues along with the building of new hospitals, schools and other infrastructure.

The Digital Technology Supercluster has leveraged $153 million in federal investment to over $500 million in less than six months, foreshadowing job creation and GDP growth as B.C. leads the development of digital products and platforms.

Our province prospered over the past decade on a foundation of strong partnerships. As global economies converge and technology transforms society, B.C. will continue to prosper if we:

Rebuild and continue to develop foundations of trust and respect across and between employers, governments and citizens.

Reduce and clarify regulatory burdens and re-inspire investment.

Capitalize on the potential of B.C. leading the world in digital technology development and deployment.

Dickens saw both sides of the ledger. We have the opportunity to do the same and to build a prosperous, inspired province for our children, and all of their friends - the talent for our future. I am up for this and I hope you are too.

-- Sue Paish is CEO of Canada's Digital Technology Supercluster

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