B.C. finance minister touts economic diversity at Nanaimo event

NANAIMO – Protectionist policies could affect softwood lumber industry on Vancouver Island, minister says.

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong discusses the provincial economy during an Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce event at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong discusses the provincial economy during an Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce event at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

British Columbia is the “envy of all other” Canadian provinces but it must continue to diversify its economy and find new markets, according to the province’s finance minister.

Mike de Jong made the comments Thursday morning at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre during an address to the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, where he spoke about his government’s budget, which was announced earlier this week. He touched on a number of subjects within the budget but highlighted British Columbia’s diverse economy and exports.

“We are not a one-trick pony,” de Jong said.We are not overly dependent on any one sector of the economy.”

De Jong pointed out that the province’s exports to the United States were 53.9 per cent while its exports to the rest of the world were 46.1 per cent last year.

“That genuine diversification is something that no other province has to the extent, but I think there is more that we can do and Nanaimo is case in point for that,” he said.

However, de Jong expressed concerns about the softwood lumber industry and what effect protectionist policies in the U.S. could have on B.C.’s economy.

“When I am say I am worried, it is because it is not so much about governmental revenues but I am more worried about the impact it is going to have on communities,” he said.

He said the Americans have launched a countervail challenge and an upcoming anti-dumping ruling may result in higher export duties on the province’s softwood lumber, which could hurt jobs on Vancouver Island.

“This is a deliberate corporate strategy on the part of large [American] timberland owners who realize that by launching a countervail challenge they can, for up to four years, cause all kinds of distress and their ultimate objective is to secure an agreement whereby we voluntarily agree to limit shipments into their country,” he said.

De Jong said the province has managed to export more softwood lumber to China in recent years. He said Vancouver Island and the province would benefit from exporting more softwood lumber and other products to various growing markets such as the Philippines, Indonesia and India.

“India, it’s the next great thing for B.C. and Canada,” he said.

Speaking to the News Bulletin afterwards, de Jong said Nanaimo’s economy is wellrounded with growing industries, such as technology and aviation and is no longer truly dependent on one industry, such as forestry or coal.

“What is happening at Nanaimo Airport is tremendously positive. I think it is positive for Nanaimo, but I also think it is positive for the Island and the province,” he said. “Think of the network of aerospace development that is taking place we have developed an aerospace hub in B.C. that Nanaimo is very much a part of that.”

The B.C. Liberals have also promised to reduce MSP payments by 50 per cent next year should they get re-elected. De Jong said his government couldn’t afford to completely eliminate the payments and didn’t think it was fair to increase sales or income taxes to make up the difference.

“I am not sure how people are better off in that circumstance,” he said. “The question of why we didn’t get rid of it entirely is because we couldn’t afford it. It generates about $2.6 billion in revenue. We’ve forgone about a billion of that.”

When asked if the province could potentially provide funding for the Nanaimo event centre, de Jong did not comment, but said the Harbour City has done a solid job of developing into a destination centre.