By Stewart Muir
Back in 1985 when I was editor of The Whistler Question, I remember writing a column on the coming rise of tourism and the inevitable decline of forestry.
It seemed, at the time, like a rational enough position.
Tourism was clean and green, not to mention the skiing. Yeah!
Forestry - what a blight on the landscape and then there were those big awful trucks we had to share the highway with. Bah!
Almost three decades later, it turns out I was only half right.
Tourism has come a long way.
But forestry has too. After waking up to public concerns in 1990s, last year it was the single biggest success factor in British Columbia’s number one growth industry, which is natural resources.
One day in the not so distant future, I expect we’ll look back on the LNG story of 2014 and find a similar outcome.
In 30 years, someone writing in this newspaper will observe that after very real public concerns were aired about natural gas extraction and export, the new LNG industry went on to deliver huge benefits to the economy of the province.
I predict we will also find that lo and behold, the green tourism industry was not destroyed by insane, unregulated, out-of-control industrial activity controlled by evil foreign kleptocrats.
You only have to consider the facts.
When my mother passed away in B.C. recently after a long and happy life, her last months brought me up close and personal with the provincial health care system.
I didn’t encounter sterile institutional hallways. Instead, a support network of incredibly caring professionals blossomed around Mom and enabled her to spend her final months in her own home in dignity.
These public workers clearly recognized what our family was going through. We were profoundly touched by how much they really cared and what a difference it made.
Only later did I come to reflect on the fact that this was only possible because we have a very well funded health care system. This system is also incredibly costly to maintain and must be paid for somehow.
When I went to buy a new Canadian-made mountain bike for a family member recently, my budget was $900.
On top of that I had to pay $63 in provincial tax, of which $25.94 immediately went to fund health care. A decade ago, that would only have been $22.89. Ten years from now, at current spending growth rates, it will be $32.13.
A couple I know in Whistler pays $125.50 a month in health care premiums. This year, the average health cost for any two British Columbians like them is $7,500.
It’s simply staggering. In 30 years when they are likelier to be seeing doctors more, who knows what the costs will be.
If we fail to develop revenues – such as the $600 per truckload of logs that flows to the province in taxes, or the $2,500 per British Columbian that natural gas royalties generated in recent years – we will be hard pressed to fund public health care like we have enjoyed.
For every dollar you pay in BC income tax, natural resources chip in a further 50 cents in direct royalties. Take away the royalties and there is only one direction for your tax burden to go.
Yep, sure we need to grow tourism and high tech.
But stop and consider what would be needed to triple the tourism industry, which implies tripling BC’s single biggest tourism cash cow that is Whistler.
Three times as many hotel beds; triple the sewage; triple the garbage and traffic; three times as many ski runs that have to be cut in mountain valleys that aren’t currently open to development.
You’ve heard of U.S.-style health care where you paddle your own canoe. That is a very realistic future if the kill-all-resource-development movement wins the day in Sea to Sky Country and elsewhere.
The health care professionals I met before Mom passed away were not faceless, incompetent bureaucrats.
Nor are the natural resource professionals I encounter today in my role heading up an education foundation.
Get to know them and you’ll discover they also feel deeply about their personal stake in building LNG as a safe, sustainable natural gas export industry.
This side of the natural gas story has been ignored by the professional campaigners who refuse to talk about how our seniors and children will cope when the money has dried up and we scrape to fund public services.
Fracking has been done safely in BC for half a century. The province’s north east is a thriving, multicultural zone of enterprise and no, their water taps are not on fire.
Deep down, those giving voice to genuine anxieties probably realize that seeking balance means recognizing the benefits are desirable and the risks can be managed. We must join in conversation together and recognize that clean natural gas from British Columbia can save countless lives from pollution-caused death. The jobs it creates will lift thousands of Canadian families from poverty.
People in Squamish, West Vancouver and elsewhere need to think for themselves beyond the folk singing, the props and the sloganeering of the anti-everything movement.
They need to take part in an informed conversation, and not be swayed by emotion stripped of facts.
Stewart Muir is executive director of the Resource Works Society and co-author of an upcoming biography of the Strait of Georgia entitled The Sea Among Us.