B.C. Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon was in Prince George on Wednesday (March 16) to discuss the StrongerBC Economic Plan and northern communities.
Kahlon said B.C. is leading the country in terms of economic recovery with a 103 per cent recovery rate and 3 per cent more people working right now than prior to the pandemic.
The province is basing its strategy in part on last month’s labour market report that highlighted more than 1 million new job openings in B.C. over the next 10 years.
Kahlon said the government is investing to ensure that growth in the economy happens in all regions of this province. Better internet connectivity in northern communities is a priority, he said, pointing to investments aimed at “closing the digital divide” by 2027.
He said the province is seeing more growth opportunities with the expansion of connectivity with families moving to smaller communities for a better lifestyle and starting their own businesses.
Overall in B.C. Kahlon said a declining population starting in 2030 means roughly 600,000 people coming into the workforce and more net migration of people from other provinces to British Columbia.
He stressed the importance of investing in labour market participation, including investments in childcare to give parents more opportunities to join the workforce.
He said the government heard concerns of forestry workers about pauses in logging operations (called deferrals) and struggling with employment “loud and clear.”
“We know that British Columbians want a sustainable forest industry for years ahead. The way that we’ve been harvesting our forests in the past has not been sustainable,” Kahlon said.
He said the number of future deferrals will depend on consultation with First Nations and communities impacted by those deferrals will be supported. He said the ministry of forests and the ministry of jobs and the ministry of labour are “ working together on that package right now.”
“The number one issue I hear from employers right now is they can’t find enough workers — and that is across the province — it’s not isolated to one sector,” Kahlon said.
He said the government needs to ensure that people have the skills training for available jobs and that communities looking to diversify their economies are supported.
“We also know that we need to provide those opportunities closer to communities. It doesn’t work as well when people have to travel large distances to get those training opportunities.”
Kahlon said plans for growth in northern B.C. go beyond the completion of the LNG Pipeline, Site-C Dam and CoastalGasLink Pipeline.
Part of the plan that he said will help interior northern communities is $10 million in the provincial budget to ease the permitting process for mining interests to get more mines online.
“We think that mining is going to have a big increase in British Columbia, not only because we have the resources the world needs, but also because if we want to have the ambitious climate change targets that we want to achieve, it’s going to require the resources,” Kahlon said.
“We also see huge opportunities with hydrogen.”
Kahlon said the province is addressing inflation by tackling supply-chain issues. He said movement of goods was “hampered in a big way” by the pandemic —as gas prices increase with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We had over $10 million in grants that we provided for local manufacturers to buy equipment so that they could pivot and be able to shorten our supply chains and to be able to produce more products here in British Columbia,” Kahlon said.
“So, manufacturing closer to home, finding ways to produce food in ways that we haven’t done in the past to address some of our food challenges, and aggressively moving our economy to electrify, or move to hydrogen, so we can get more people off of fossil fuel use (and) become more resilient for future impacts that we may see in the economy.”
Kahlon said public sector jobs in areas like healthcare and early childhood education are also important to keep the economy strong coming out of the pandemic.
“We’ve learned through the pandemic that a healthy society and a health economy go hand-in-hand.”