Friday, April 01, 2005

B.C. wins Ottawa’s attention on beetles, tourism

VICTORIA - Score two for the federal Liberals’ B.C. Dream Team, just as the Conservatives are looking like stronger rivals.
Ottawa has come through with a pair of important initiatives for B.C.
Industry Minister David Emerson has announced $100 million in pine beetle aid, an amount that at least can be called a downpayment on what is needed.
And Prime Minister Paul Martin has confirmed that the Canadian Tourism Commission will move to Vancouver from Ottawa, an important shift both practically and symbolically.
The commission's mandate will still be national. But the move means the attractions, issues and opportunities will be top of mind when the commission staff head to work in the morning.
Practically, it also recognizes that B.C. offers the greatest opportunity to increase Canadian tourism. The province is the gateway for visitors from Asia - and soon from the booming Chinese market.
Ottawa was a bizarre location for the commission, with its 100 employees and $80-million budget. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver could each reasonably claim they were good choices - centres for tourism and marketing. Vancouver’s selection acknowledges the greater potential on this coast. (The shift also give B.C. marketing firms a chance to grab a larger share of the commission’s budget. The federal government and the provincial government both need to look more aggressively at functions and departments that can be moved outside the usual centres.)
The $100 million in pine beetle aid is also welcome, and enough as a first instalment. But the province, and communities, need a clear multi-year commitment so they can plan for the coming crisis, not a one-time chunk of cash.
Neither the province nor Ottawa has responded adequately to the pine beetle crisis. The federal government provided $40 million in 2002; the province has allocated $89 million for reforestation efforts over the next three years. The provincial government knows much more is needed, but wanted Ottawa to step up first.
The problem is huge. The beetle-killed trees will retain their commercial value for five to 10 years. But in about 15 years, those trees - 80 per cent of the lodgepole pine in the province - will be dead and worthless. The replacement trees, even with stepped up silviculture, will be decades from harvest. Communities will see the annual allowable cut reduced by up to 40 per cent for decades. No trees, no mills, no jobs.
In Quesnel, the timber supply is expected to be cut by 30 per cent. About three-quarters of the local jobs are linked to the forest industry, so figure about 2,500 out of 12,000 jobs are threatened. (That’s the equivalent of a single issue that would cost 300,000 jobs in the Lower Mainland.)
The challenge is immense, and government response needs to be sweeping. Reforestation is important, and finding ways to add value to what timber remains. But equally important is planning for a very different economy, and giving people the maximum time to prepare. That means consistent support, over the next 10 years.
All that aside, both the tourism commission move and the pine beetle aid money are welcome, and an indication that B.C.’s concerns are being heard by the Liberals in Ottawa.
It’s an opportune time. A Liberal minority government means closer attention to the province’s issues.
Especially as Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives seem on a bit of a roll. They emerged from their national convention without any major self-inflicted injuries. A weak bragging point perhaps, but bringing together the former Conservative and Alliance partisans without a public brawl is an achievement.
Still, the party emerged from the convention united. Members resisted the temptation to run one of the favorite social conservative causes up the flagpole so they could watch potential supporters run away. And Harper's leadership won strong backing.
A rising opposition, minority government, an imminent close election.
It is one of those moments when B.C. matters. And that’s an opportunity to be seized.
Footnote: The chance to tap some of the windfall provincial government revenues from a booming forest industry for pine beetle aid may have passed, The Conference Board of Canada is predicting industry profits will fall by 50 per cent this year - even with a settlement in the softwood dispute.


RossK said...


What's is the Conference Board's main explanation for such a huge drop?

Are they predicting a big slowdown in housing starts due to rising interest rates?

paul said...

The conference board says things are already slowing.
It's forecast is based on continued high values for the Canadian dollar and a decline in North American housing demand.