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Opinion: B.C.'s economic woes laid bare as past premiers push policy overhaul

Christy Clark, Glen Clark unimpressed with BC NDP government's bend towards business
Former B.C. premier Christy Clark delivered an unabashedly political speech at BC Business Summit earlier this month.

Nothing quite roils the rank-and-file workforce like the yesteryear boss showing up suddenly professing to possess all the answers.

It doesn’t matter that their day has passed, or that the modern complexion of the environment – in this case, the realms of politics and business – have been altered by, say, trifling things like a pandemic or the arrival of the internet.

No mind. The former bosses have it all figured out and you don’t.

We got a good glimpse of this syndrome last Monday (June 10) when two iconic political figures, now in post-political private sector roles, took turns to tell their successors what success might look like.

Just before they did so, this modern complexion was laid before the Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC) summit by its policy vice-president, David Williams, whose early-day presentation made many feel like heading back to bed and curling into a fetal position.

Again, trifling things: that we’re 48th among North American states and provinces in GDP per capita (“We’re Kentucky,” Williams said). That we're in a slide and maybe by 2028 we’re back at 2018 levels. That there is scant private-sector job growth; for every one there are 5.5 new public servants in B.C., compared to 0.6 in the rest of Canada. That we are servicing record mortgage debt: 8.2 per cent, including 5.4 per cent in interest alone, the highest burden since 1996. That before long, the contribution to the economy from the construction of megaprojects – Site C, Trans Mountain pipeline, LNG – will run its course.

That then, well … who knows how bad it’ll be, but it’ll be bad.

As the day wore on, two former bosses dropped by – both named Clark, a woman named Christy and a man named Glen, one to the right, one to the left. Neither former B.C. premier had ever lost an election, but both had lost the power to govern – Glen through a resignation in some scandal in 1999 (he was acquitted of breach of trust, but the damage to him was done), Christy through a failure to negotiate with the Greens to secure government in 2017, opening the door for the NDP’s John Horgan to do so, even though she’d won more seats than him.

They came along for two keynote speeches and fireside chats with little more than four months to the next provincial election, and each brought a basket of prescriptions for their kinfolk. But it would be a stretch to say the ex-leaders sketched out feasible remedies.

Mr. Clark, long in the corporate world as a board member at Canfor, Rogers and Overstory Media Group (a competitor), nodded to Williams’ slideshow as the early-day depressant that it was, then proceeded to pick apart his party’s government. Near and dear to his corporate heart has been the forestry sector, and he was withering on the NDP’s regulatory regime and the cascade of changes he says have left industry mesmerized. Stop the change, he said. “We need a lengthy period of stability.”

He properly recognized the data suggests we are red-lining – believe it or not, some in government don’t – and implored Premier David Eby’s team to shift from “wealth distribution to wealth creation.” Which is to laugh, because the wealth-creation work background in Eby’s cabinet amounts to one, maybe one-and-a-half members. Business is not a dialect it understands, much less fluently commands, and asking social democrats to generate growth can be like asking a fish to skate.

Mr. Clark’s messages implied an expectation of NDP re-election, and later in the day, so did Ms. Clark’s. Polls have tightened but not flipped – at least, not yet.

Ms. Clark, for years ensconced at the Bennett Jones law firm as a senior advisor, is arguably British Columbia’s best retail politician in memory, still able to send a charge through a room. She dissed her namesake’s days as premier – time hasn’t undone her partisan DNA – and delivered a unite-the-right appeal to avoid a new Eby government after Oct. 19.

Such unison was, of course, what the BC Liberals were for some time, and it might be nice to dream of turning back the clock. Poll standings today combine Conservatives and BC United into a tidy majority, but we appear well past an egg-back-into-the-shell moment. The two parties sneer at one another. Even the most certain ex-boss should realize, through the gauze of nostalgia, that her prescription is of no use when you have such unwilling patients.

Kirk LaPointe is a Glacier Media columnist with an extensive background in journalism.