The Impact of COVID-19 and a Green Recovery for B.C.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on every aspect of our society. Public health and safety officials across the nation and around the world have asked each and every one of us to take incredible steps to limit our social interactions, physically distance ourselves from each other, shut down our businesses and abruptly change long-established habits in order to protect our friends, family and neighbours who are most vulnerable in our communities.
A vast majority of British Columbians have followed the orders and recommendations of our provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. We have flattened the curve and limited the transmission rates. In many respects we are in a more difficult position now than we have been in over the past few months; we must continue to listen to Dr. Henry, maintain physical distancing and continue to limit our bubble.
As B.C. undergoes the phases of reopening, we need to look forward, and this means asking hard questions. A Green Recovery coming out of COVID-19 provides an opportunity for B.C. to seize the once in a generation moment to create the future British Columbians want: a more just, resilient, inclusive and sustainable economy, one that strives to deliver prosperity while addressing the climate emergency. The investments we make coming out of the pandemic will set the direction for the coming decades.
CleanBC and the end of fossil fuel subsidies
As a starting place, we need to focus on ensuring B.C.’s economic recovery from COVID-19 makes targeted investments that address the major challenges in front of us - particularly climate change. To do this we need to ensure that any stimulus spending on immediate “shovel-ready” employment opportunities are also “shovel-worthy” projects that position us for long term prosperity.
So what does this mean? First, we need to ensure that stimulus spending does not subsidize or promote fossil fuel development, instead investing into strategic sectors with long term sustainable growth potential. Both the B.C. Liberals and B.C. NDP have already spent billions in subsidizing LNG development in our province. We can’t afford to continue down this path. We are already starting to see the divestment of fossil fuel assets - putting more public resources into them will risk the province investing in stranded assets that offer no return to British Columbians. It's clear that further investments into the oil and gas sector will ensure we miss our GHG reduction targets, and miss our chance to be an innovative leader in a low carbon economy.
The reality is that we already have a framework that can be used to build a low-carbon economy: CleanBC. CleanBC is both an economic strategy and a climate plan and should be the guiding strategy for economic recovery, with our recovery policies helping us meet our legislated emissions reduction targets. This means jobs in climate adaptation, environmental remediation, tree planting and conservation projects. It means strategic investments in innovation, to position us as a leader in clean energy and low carbon technologies. And it means support for worker transition programs and skills training to ensure that every British Columbian in every region of the province has pathways to new, sustainable career opportunities.
Implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIPA).
In the past year, British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in North America to pass the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s Act (DRIPA) and the B.C. Green Caucus is proud of its Members' role in advancing and passing that legislation. These are significant strides in the long journey of reconciliation, but while we celebrate this success, now is not the time to relax our efforts.The only way to ensure systemic change is to advance systemic solutions in our laws, institutions, policies and processes.That is why the work of rooting out the pervasive racism in our institutional foundations, and ensuring reconciliation with our colonial past, must be front and centre in our recovery.
We must ensure that any current and future economic stimulus initiatives and projects are advancing the implementation of DRIPA. It is crucial that they create new opportunities for Indigenous partnerships and ownership of economic activity, and in a manner that supports dispute resolution and constitutional requirements, including addressing the structural and judicial elements that can limit Indigenous self determination.
Innovation and Resiliency
For B.C. to remain competitive and to provide a high quality of life, we need to put a greater focus on innovation across all sectors of our economy. Businesses are ready to be innovative and respond to the climate emergency, but government needs to provide strategic direction. The recommendations from two recently published reports by the Emerging Economy Task Force (EETF) and the Innovation Commissioner can provide the guidance B.C. needs for a Green Recovery. Both reports are clear: the emerging economy presents major economic opportunities for B.C., but to seize them we cannot continue with status quo thinking. We need to use CleanBC as our economic driver, support research and development, invest in lifelong learning to support workers to adapt to change, and build local B.C. businesses into our supply chains.
We have demonstrated that we can work together in reducing the impacts of COVID-19. We must work together with the same resolve to revive our local economy in a healthy and sustainable way. It is crucial that the small businesses that make our communities unique remain viable - prioritizing a strong local economy first and foremost is how we create more resilient communities. Now more than ever we are seeing the incredible contribution of small businesses; across B.C., small and medium businesses account for 44 per cent of employment, and contribute a third of our provincial gross domestic product with more than a million people employed or self-employed in this sector. More than 500,000 small enterprises account for 44% of the total employment and $15 billion in international exports for British Columbia. If we can strengthen our supply chains with made-in-B.C. products to create more local jobs, and support our small and medium businesses, we can make our economy more resilient to future shocks.
The wellbeing of British Columbians is paramount to the success of our recovery from the pandemic. Basic income can help us modernize our social safety net for the 21st century by providing real financial security to all. Income security is at the heart of helping British Columbians lead happier, healthier lives, and it allows us to be better prepared for the next crisis.
To truly advance the wellbeing of British Columbians, we need to start measuring what matters most. By using Genuine Progress Indicators (GPIs) to measure our progress to building a healthier economy, instead of the narrow measure of GDP, we will have a more holistic and accurate measurement of our economic health. This will help governments make truly informed decisions to deliver a just future for all.
Finally, our recovery must increase access to social supports such as mental health programs, affordable housing and safe supply, in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society. British Columbia is in two public health emergencies - we have successfully followed Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice in the COVID-19 public health emergency, and we must treat the opioid crisis with the same urgency. The shockingly high consistent loss of life over recent years to illicit drug overdoses is unacceptable; all levels of government, community organizations and residents need to act on solutions together so our service providers, business owners, residents and those most vulnerable to addictions can find a way forward.
Protecting our forests and ecosystems
Coming out of COVID-19, we can revitalize our forestry industry through taking advantage of the opportunities in bioproducts and prioritizing value-added manufacturing. Government must take a leadership role and bring together researchers, the forestry industry, Indigenous groups, and the tech sector to identify and create opportunities for innovation. With the right policies and oversight, forestry can be a truly renewable industry that provides meaningful, rewarding employment to local communities and First Nations across B.C. for generations to come. Continuing to rely on the harvest of old growth isn’t sustainable from any perspective: it destroys some of the last remaining high productive ecosystems in our province, discourages growth in long-term jobs, follows the boom and bust cycle of the past, destroys habitat for endangered species, and weakens the ecological integrity of our entire province.
A recent report by independent researchers has made it clear that now is our final chance to preserve some of our last remaining old growth forest ecosystems. The situation we now find ourselves in is the result of successive governments following the status quo of short-term solutions and band-aid solutions. The B.C. Green Caucus is pushing the Government for the full Old Growth Panel report to be released immediately and are calling for a moratorium on any logging of the last remaining old growth while the Government undertakes any consultation necessary on the panel’s recommendations. We will continue to work as hard as we can to convince this government through the CASA agreement to change the province’s long standing approach to our old growth forests and protect these invaluable ecosystems.
The time is now to take bold action
British Columbians have endured significant hardships from COVID-19. We need to learn from our past and look at what we know now, to have the courage to take bold action to do better. Governments across all jurisdictions must prioritize long-term planning, embrace a Green Recovery coming out of this pandemic and come together to build a stronger and more prosperous province for our children to inherit.