Margareta Dovgal shares her thoughts on a weekend roadtrip from Vancouver to Smithers, and back again.
Picturing the vastness of British Columbia is a challenge unless you’ve been out there, have seen it by road, by air, or by boat. Even then, there will always be pockets of this massive province that are out of reach, fly-in-fly-out communities. One theme to any attentive observer is clear: ours is a resource province.
This long weekend, I went on a long drive, road tripping from Vancouver to Smithers and back.
For my traveling partner, an urbanite born-and-raised, the vastness was a surprise. He had never quite grasped “just how much forest there was out there.” Traversing winding, dusty logging roads was an eyeopener to why our province had been settled, and how we continue to have a massive advantage.
If we take forestry alone, British Columbia is flush. 32% of all our exports come from it. In 2017, forestry products accounted for nearly $16 billion of manufacturing shipments. Mining just adds to it. 38,000 people in 2017 were employed by the industry. These numbers, representing jobs and economic growth, are endless, and can be cited ceaselessly. But they are just one part of the story.
Let's go back in time a little bit. Simon Fraser established Fort St. James in 1806. What brought him, the fur trade, proved immensely lucrative. The trading post remained operational until 1952, sustaining the local community, including First Nations that transitioned from a primarily fishing-based economy, to one increasingly focused on participation in the fur trade.
Look at the Port of Vancouver. Initially established to bring resources to market, our largest city formed around the economic activity it generated. The fact is that prosperity doesn’t come from thin air: it is extracted, mined, logged, fished, hunted, and farmed. It is transported by rail, road, and pipeline. It is shipped to market to the four corners of the globe. From beginning to end of resource supply chains, breadwinners provide for their families, young people get their starts in life, workers get to take their earnings and spur local activity, those who have laboured for a lifetime get to retire comfortably, and both massive cities and small fly-in communities partake in the vibrancy that only a healthy economic base can provide.
Canada’s exports predominantly derive from natural resources, as do BC's. For all of the goods and services we import from abroad, we fund that buying power by exporting our own valuable commodities.
Purchasing power and trade balances are central, though they may appear to be abstract, to the question of quality of life.
The only way we can ensure that all British Columbians can provide for themselves and their families is by continuing to make decisions that say yes to economic development, especially that within our economic base.
Over the course of my trip, I thought long and hard about the question of rural poverty. In many of the communities we visited, economic decline was readily apparent; what had once been thriving towns supported by well-paying jobs in forestry and mining were now hollowed out: one restaurant, one gas station, a grocery store here and there, and residents who didn't want to be forced to leave because of an absence of opportunities for themselves and their loved ones.
Many of these issues weren't new to me, as I've researched them for a few years now, but it's entirely a different thing to witness them all over again. My trip, the first of many, has reinforced my commitment to telling this story as loudly and as widely as I can.
We have a capacity to harness the boundless possibility of our resources, not for balance sheets and abstract purposes, but in the service of our fellow Canadians. Now, over to you, dear reader, to spread that message far and wide too.
Margareta Dovgal is a researcher with Resource Works.