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Gordienko: Balanced resource management is key

Jan 6, 2015

The Province

Mark Gordienko

January 6, 2015

British Columbians support responsible resource development. They believe a balance can be struck between protecting the environment and growing our economy. They’re willing to listen to a variety of viewpoints, and want more information about how we can safely advance this industry.

These are several of the recurring themes that arose from a series of community conversations hosted by Resource Works. The idea was to explore the views of residents across Metro Vancouver toward responsible resource development. According to Resource Works, the natural resource industry is the second largest sector of the B.C. economy. One out of every 10 working British Columbians has a job that directly or indirectly relies on the resource sector.

In Metro Vancouver, just seven resource firms studied spent $1.3 billion worth in 2013 alone, with more than 1,650 supplier companies working with these firms to support the sector.

As a member of the Resource Works’ advisory board, I wanted to see for myself what kind of result we would get with the community conversations.

What struck me most was the pragmatic, forward-looking tone that I encountered by those who attended these discussions – a stark contrast to the divisive and non-negotiable positions often portrayed in the media.

A report summarizing the main findings of the community conversations was recently released. It reveals that British Columbians have clear ideas about how we, as a province, can move forward.

Participants felt that local communities and First Nations should be engaged for these groups to have a voice in relevant decisions and enjoy benefits from nearby resource development.

They stressed there must be a balance between environmental protection and economic gain, recognizing the two are not mutually exclusive and it is possible to achieve both.

The community conversations also emphasized that industry should constantly strive to innovate, and government should seek ways to promote trust and transparency in its regulatory processes.

As a member of the ILWU who has worked the docks of B.C. ports for decades, I am certain the good news is that many of these ideas are already being implemented and embraced as best practices by industry and government alike.

Take Port Metro Vancouver, for instance, which is integral to the resource sector.

Natural resource products accounted for more than 70 per cent of goods handled by the port in 2013. However, to accommodate anticipated increases in cargo volumes – a sign of robust economic growth and, indeed, a “good challenge” for this province to have – a suitable supply of industrial land must be available in the region.

As such, the port has proposed the creation of an Industrial Land Reserve (ILR) to preserve existing industrial land and relieve pressure on converting agricultural land for other uses.

The ILR would be designed through broad consultation with, and provide clarity to, local communities and First Nations about the port’s intended land use. The port also protects sensitive environmental areas and habitats around its operations, invests in new technologies and makes more efficient use of its existing land base – all key steps called for by residents of the Lower Mainland.

The efforts undertaken by the port to responsibly manage its growth are just one example of how we can move toward sustainable prosperity. But as the community conversations highlight, more can and must be done to foster a productive public dialogue.

That includes bringing a diverse group of individuals and viewpoints to the table, including, in particular, First Nations.

It means basing discussions about resource development on facts and credible information, a vacuum that Resource Works – a non-partisan, non-profit, research-driven organization – has already begun to fill. Lastly, it means shifting away from knee-jerk “no” reactions to an open, honest and constructive dialogue about “how” we can responsibly develop our natural resources.

The community conversations were an important beginning. They showed British Columbians support resource development, when done properly, and identified several ways forward. My hope is that this province will start taking these next steps together – respectfully, deliberately and based upon common ground.

 

Mark Gordienko is president of the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada and a member of the Resource Works Advisory Council.

 

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