Chamber aims to improve prosperity in B.C.

NANAIMO: Organizations want to begin a discussion to reconnect business with residents.

British Columbia is in a position to become economically prosperous thanks in part to a shifting global economy.

But before it can capitalize on its potential, a deep-seated conversation needs to take place that provides a unified direction for all British Columbians, says Greg D’Avignon, president and CEO of the Business Council of B.C.

D’Avignon was in Nanaimo Wednesday to begin that discussion with members of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, part of a multi-city B.C. tour by the BCBC and B.C. Chamber of Commerce designed to generate ideas on how to improve shared prosperity in the province and restore a stronger connectivity between economic development and personal, family-driven prosperity that builds a stronger society.

“Polarization gets in the way of full potential of British Columbia,” D’Avignon told the News Bulletin. “We have a polarized reputation here, yes or no, right or wrong, north or south, Island versus mainland, union versus management, pick your paradigm. There are many things we do well here but because of this polarization we are starting to fall back.”

With global  economic dominance shifting from Europe and the U.S. to Asia – in the next seven years Asia will be home to half of the world’s economy – B.C. is in a strong position with its resources and energy sources to provide that emerging market with what it needs.

In an effort to bring B.C.’s economic opportunities forward and to re-think how the province considers important decisions about the future, the Business Council of B.C. and B.C. Chamber of Commerce are launching the B.C. Agenda for Shared Prosperity to generate new ideas to secure a better future for all B.C. residents.

“The opportunity for developing shared prosperity has often been positioned as a contradiction or a zero sum game of confrontation in B.C.,” said John Winter, president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. “Business needs to reconnect with British Columbians and B.C. communities to reinforce the link between economic prosperity and the prosperity of one’s family if we are to support and sustain a quality of life most British Columbians envision for generations to come.”

Despite its potential, B.C. is beginning to slip backwards economically compared to other parts of the country. D’Avignon said Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver all rank fairly low on the national list for average salaries, expensive housing stretches family budgets, and B.C. has the highest personal debt in the country. The end result, he said, is many British Columbians feel like they’re falling behind.

“It starts to get difficult for families in the $30,000 to $100,000 bracket and people feel more isolated, disenfranchised and disconnected,” said D’Avignon. “And rightly so, so they’re saying ‘what’s in it for me to support this stuff?’ The business community needs to do more to explain when a new natural gas plant goes in, or when a new mine opens or when new construction takes place. That actually creates the prosperity that enables people to have the kind of lifestyle that they want.”

That philosophical chasm adds up to about $4 billion in untapped potential, money that can be used to fund schools and hospitals.

By initiating the B.C. Agenda for Shared Prosperity, both Winter and D’Avignon say they hope a respectable conversation can take place to create a roadmap for B.C. to put itself in the driver’s seat when opportunities arise.

“It’s about unlocking B.C’s potential. We’re at a fork in the road, people are feeling strained, they can’t give any more but they want more and need more,” said D’Avignon. “We need to create a future of confidence for people in British Columbia.”

The initiative will be informed by an advisory council made up of civic-minded B.C. residents and will include a series of regional workshops this fall with further events and a mid-term report planned through March.