Top policy commentator joins Resource Works to bridge a gap

After a distinguished career in Alberta, newest Advisory Council member Roger Gibbins returned home to BC and found old ways of thinking had changed a lot. 

Roger_Gibbins.jpgOne of Canada’s top public policy commentators is adding his unique voice to the debate about sustainable natural resource development in British Columbia.

Roger Gibbins recently returned to his home province after a distinguished career in Alberta, where he capped a successful academic career at University of Calgary with a 14-year role as President and CEO of the Canada West Foundation.

Today, he’s living in Vancouver and contributing his insights and perspectives on a wide range of public policy issues to Resource Works as a new member of its Advisory Council.

Gibbins connected with Resource Works in 2014 when Executive Director Stewart Muir invited him to participate in one of the organization’s events, and to provide some observations about the topics that came up for discussion.

A leading commentator on western Canadian alienation, Gibbins has taken note of similar schisms in B.C., where urban residents in Metro Vancouver and residents of Interior communities increasingly disagree about the value of land-based activities such as forestry, mining and oil and gas development.

“I grew up in Prince George, where resource development was everything,” Gibbins said. “Progress was measured in terms of development, in terms of highways and pulp mills and all those things.

“Now for the last three years I’ve lived in the West End of Vancouver and it’s hard to imagine an environment that is more hostile to the notion of resource development. It’s just not part of the political or emotional landscape.

“I’ve been looking for some way of bridging the gap between these visions of the province. I was attracted to Resource Works for that reason.”

In the early 1970s Gibbins commenced a distinguished academic career in political science at University of Calgary, where he now serves as a Professor Emeritus. He’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2013.

Today he’s a Senior Fellow at the Canada West Foundation after serving as the organization’s President and CEO from 1998 to 2012. He has authored, co-authored or edited 22 books and written 140 papers and book chapters.

In 2012, for example, he co-authored a Canada West paper that supported action on climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions — but warned it would be “profoundly contrary to our interest [as Canadians] to do so by throwing overboard some of our largest sources of prosperity. . . Public policy that ignores this fact in favour of some sense of global responsibility will simply fail.”

Gibbins suggested that Metro Vancouver’s appreciation for the value of resource development to its local economy waned as a growing number of residents of Interior communities began losing interest in moving to the coast and instead put down roots in the resource-based towns they found work in.

“Population growth in Vancouver now is driven more by international immigration and by migration from other parts of the country. That flow of people from the Interior, where people understood the resource sector, has become less apparent and people in the Interior are less likely to move now or to see their primary goal as moving to the coast.” 

Gibbins added that people focusing on high tech careers don’t often recognize the resource sector has participated in the same revolution as sectors such as mobile communications, digital effects and gaming.

“There’s a mistaken perception that people in the resource economy still got up in the morning, slung an axe over their shoulders and shuffled off into the forest to cut things down. Those in Metro Vancouver did not perceive the technological evolution of the resource economy.”

He noted the current global downturn in demand for resource commodities hasn’t hit British Columbia as hard as Alberta. But he believes it would be a mistake for BC to turn away from resource development as a foundation of its economy. 

“To assume that we can suddenly become a new Singapore or a new Hong Kong is foolish. We don’t have the domestic market. We don’t have the population base. We really can’t compete across the board. We have to figure out what we are good at and use those strengths to try to buttress other, softer aspects of the economy.

“The big economic drivers are things that are going to be unique to this corner of the world and we’ve got to recognize what they are and use those as the platform going forward.”

The Resource Works Advisory Council represents a broad range of views from across the social and cultural diversity of British Columbia. Please sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on what the council is up to.

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