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Philip Hochstein: Pro-development majority must fight B.C.’s bad reputation

British Columbia has a reputation as a hard place to get things done. Resource development, infrastructure builds, even residential construction — they all face regulatory complexity and intense interest-group scrutiny. Even with solid business cases and eager investors, many never make it to “yes.”

And now we have the NDP’s chilling suggestion that it would cancel the approved and under-construction Site C Clean Energy Project. In other words, something that is done would be undone and a hard-earned “yes” would turn into a “no” — at a massive cost in dollars and energy security.

Is this how British Columbians want things to be? Do we want to consistently signal to investors that they will have to get over much higher hurdles here? That even a final word on a proposal is never really final?

We’ve never believed that’s what British Columbians want and a recent poll by NRG Research Group clearly shows that it’s not. In fact, more than two-thirds of British Columbians agree that our economy is based on resource development and 82 per cent agree that such development can be balanced with the environment.

It’s not surprising, then, that fully 84 per cent of British Columbians support responsible resource development. Support is also high for specific projects and sectors, including: Site C at 67 per cent; growing the mining industry at 62 per cent; and expanding ports at 68 per cent. Strong support — 78 per cent — was also expressed for infrastructure and residential construction.

The poll also demonstrated a clear understanding among British Columbians of the scope of job creation that resource development brings, not only for resource workers themselves, but for people in other sectors such as construction and in diverse white collar fields such as accounting, finance and sales.

With our province’s reputation for polarized politics, it was somewhat surprising to find that support for responsible resource and infrastructure development doesn’t breakdown on left-right lines. Among NDP voters, our poll found 60 per cent support Site C, 54 per cent support mining expansion, 62 per cent support port expansion and 78 per cent support infrastructure and residential construction.

So, with positions like it’s taken on Site C, the NDP is clearly out-of-touch even with its own supporters who, like all British Columbians, want to see responsible resource development and the jobs it creates.

Strong and consistent support for resource development is also not a new phenomenon. A poll commissioned by Resource Works in 2014 found that 72 per cent of British Columbians agree that natural resource development is good for the province. And 71 per cent agreed that the green economy can be grown within B.C.’s natural resource sector.

Similarly, a poll conducted as part of the B.C. Agenda for Shared Prosperity initiative in 2013 found that two-thirds of British Columbians agree economic success will depend on northern resources, with majorities agreeing on other specifics such as the need for more transportation infrastructure.

When sensible and responsible proposals for new resource and infrastructure development are brought forward, their proponents need to know they will have the support of the majority of British Columbians. And regulators, and the politicians who create the regulations, should be aware of that too.

In fact, with so many advantages — abundance of resources, skilled workforce, leading-edge environmental management expertise, and a strategic position on global trade routes — there should be no better place to undertake major projects than in B.C. If we can’t get them right here, where can that happen?

Unfortunately, the majority view on these issues is too often a silent one, especially in contrast to the “no to everything” movement that consistently manages to project its voice louder than its support among British Columbians justifies.

We can’t afford to stay silent. Our reputation as a difficult place to do business is dangerously and maybe even increasingly entrenched. And it’s exactly that kind of reputation that can drive away investment, jobs and prosperity. The majority in B.C. needs to make its voice better heard.

Philip Hochstein is president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., whose 1,200 members build in every construction sector and are involved in virtually all major capital projects in British Columbia.

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