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Evan Saugstad: The goose that lays the golden eggs

Why can’t B.C., sitting on some of the most resource-rich land in the world, not expect to reap the benefits, yet Alberta can?
As Premier David Eby proudly talks of deficits, Premier Danielle Smith next door in Alberta says their natural resources will give them another budget surplus in 2023-24 (File photo: Submitted)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Canada should be providing the rest of our world with some of our abundant natural resources that are so coveted and desperately needed.

Of course, the prerequisite word is “should,” but sadly that word is not found in the mandates of our Federal or B.C. governments, or their vocabulary. Yes, our Prairie provinces believe and understand the concept, but they're a bit lonely. And, unfortunately, not a top-of-mind concept in our capitals, especially Ottawa and Victoria, with their lack of understanding on what natural resources means to our prosperity.

Case in point: Did you notice how proud it makes Premier David Eby as he gives away billions of taxpayer dollars that were surplus to last year’s needs? In September, B.C.’s surplus was estimated at $5.7 billion, yet by the end of February, with another month of giveaways to go, Eby has whittled it down to $3.6 billion. Well on his way to get rid of it all by March 31 to stop it from being used to pay down our COVID debts. Eby has no desire to reduce our debt. Maybe he attended the same grade school economics class as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Did you notice the Alaska Highway News headline on March 10, B.C.'s record fossil fuel export revenues in 2022 a 'fragile' windfall? Apparently, yet not unexpectedly, B.C.’s energy industry, in combination with our other natural resource industries, contributed billions to making our surplus a reality.

Much of that surplus came from rural B.C., generated by our natural resource industries, those so aptly referred to as “fragile” and not likely to benefit our economy like that again! Sadly, a future Premier Eby is guaranteeing. He is keeping his focus on spending rather than growing the economy. Notice that as Eby proudly talks of deficits, Premier Danielle Smith next door in Alberta says their natural resources will give them another budget surplus in 2023-24?

Why is that? Why can’t B.C., sitting on some of the most resource-rich land in the world, not expect to reap the benefits, yet Alberta can?

Read Aesop’s fable The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg to understand. As a refresher, a married couple has a goose that lays one golden egg every day. Thinking that is not enough, they kill the goose to get all the gold hiding inside. Surprise, surprise — once opened, they find a normal goose’s gizzard and intestinal contents.

Both Alberta and rural B.C. have that same proverbial golden goose, but our B.C. story has a significant variation to Alberta. Premier Eby, and John before him, created plans to ensure the free and independent people of rural B.C. cannot keep benefiting from those golden eggs. Eby’s plan is to stop feeding that goose, a bit at a time, and, as the gold disappears, replace it with government handouts, hoping no one notices before it's too late and our poor goose is dead. And it’s working, as by the time that goose gasps its last breath, rural B.C. will have become thoroughly beholden on Victoria for providing our every need. While over in Alberta, much to the disdain of the leave-our-natural-resources-in-the-ground crowd, Alberta keeps feeding that goose and producing that egg.

Although it sounds like a fairy tale, it isn’t.

Look where our natural resources surplus is going. Billions for community infrastructure, subsidizing fares on BC Ferries and Vancouver Transit, food security plans, cancer research, 911 services, watershed plans, reconciliation, and libraries. Sure, mostly worthy, and good projects, but notice none are about growing our rural and natural resource economies to ensure we can replace deficits with future surpluses?

Then there is the 2022-23 budget. Try to find something that makes our rural natural resource economies hum, and lay a few more golden eggs. Not much support. Even the $49 million for upgrading forest roads is a misnomer, as many of those roads used to be maintained and upgraded with forest dollars, but with the forced demise of the forest industry, that ability wanes. Nothing to allow BC Timber Sales to sell any more timber. Dollars for land use plans that exclude most communities from commenting or questioning the wisdom of more rural parks (30% by 2030), converting once public lands to privately held indigenous lands, and endless old growth set aside.

The energy sector? Crickets. More taxes, more processes, more bureaucracy, and more land set-a-sides to limit development. Yes, they did approve Cedar LNG in one breath and, with the other, capped natural gas production, putting in doubt the financial viability of this project.

Coal mines, zip. Don’t approve new ones and stop permitting the ones that do exist. Metal mines, nothing in the budget, but they did approve a new mine in the west Chilcotin (tough to oppose when the two area First Nations fully support the company developing it). Agriculture – some money for more plans and processes to ensure food security. Aquaculture – blame the Feds yet support the closing of one fish farm after another, despite objections from local communities, with no plans and no dollars to replace them.

So, what can rural communities expect in replacing those lost high-paying natural resource jobs? Government handouts, more welfare, more unemployment insurance, and more job training for jobs that don’t exist in our home communities. But there is hope.

If Premier Eby sticks to his promise to move jobs out of Victoria and doesn’t cave to local demands to keep them there, every person in B.C. will be able to apply for and receive a government job, no matter who or in which community they live. Think about that. A plum government job for life, a pension without having to leave the comforts of your home, and all achieved without cutting another tree, drilling a well, cleaning a fish, threshing an oat, chasing a cow, or digging for a lump of coal.

Yes, utopia is coming; a “super natural” B.C. where we all work for government and are all happy with government largess in meeting our needs. Need proof of how it works? Just ask our First Nation brothers and sisters how that has worked for them for the past 100 years in replacing poverty and despair with prosperity and joy.

Evan Saugstad lives and writes in Fort St. John.

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