Economic Letter

David Bond is a retired bank economist who resides in Kelowna.

There is an increasing probability we will have a B.C. election this fall. Whenever it comes, one of the outstanding members of the Legislative Assembly, Steve Thomson, MLA for Kelowna-Mission, will not seek re-election.

Thomson was first elected to the Legislature in 2009 and served as Minister of Agriculture and Lands and subsequently Minister of Natural Resource Operations, Minister of Energy, chairman of the Land Use Committee and as a member of Treasury Board.

Between 2011 and 2017, he was the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. Following the provincial election in 2017, he was elected Speaker of the Legislature, but resigned after less than a week in office following the defeat of the Liberal government. He himself says that his short tenure as Speaker will undoubtedly be a stumper question in future trivia contests.

Thomson’s contributions to the province and the welfare of his constituents were significant. Settling the complex challenges regarding the preservation of Great Bear Rainforest was his most important achievement. In February 2016, the BC government announced an agreement had been reached between the province, First Nations, environmentalists and the forestry industry to protect 85% of the 6.4 million hectare forest from industrial logging. The remaining 15% continued to be subject to

logging under stringent conditions.

Some 41 different parties were involved in the discussions, with Steve spearheading the work and spending endless hours in negotiating with the affected parties. It marked a new approach to resolving seemingly intractable problems and serves as a model for future work on indigenous issues. The agreement also recognized aboriginal rights to shared decision-making, and provides a greater economic share of timber rights and $15-million in funding to 26 First Nations in the area.

Locally, Thomson worked to bring funding to his constituency, particularly for schools and parks. In short, a remarkable man who set a high standard for public service. We will miss his creative and non-ideological contributions to governance, particularly as we work to mitigate the long-term impacts of the pandemic on the province.

These are likely to be quite challenging for some time. A disproportionate share of the burden of Covid-19 has been born by those in the bottom 20% of the income distribution. Typically, these are low wage earners, often from single-parent families, who suffered loss of income as their employers were shut down or simply could not maintain staff as customers stayed away. Their children suffered inordinately. Many not only lacked adequate food but they also were unable to participate in distance learning during the lockdown since they also had inadequate access to computers and high-speed internet.

These deprivations will have a lasting impact on this cohort of students.

Further, shutting off the in-flow of foreign students who pay high fees has put a financial strain on educational institutions at all levels. Finding a sustainable model for the future will take some time.

The pandemic has also thrown into high relief difficult issues for long-term care facilities and has led one commentator to refer to our system of care for vulnerable senior citizens as “elderly warehousing.” The entire sector, which will continue to grow over the next three decades as the population ages, needs to be carefully examined to see what can be done to better protect their residents.

The greatest challenge will be resolving the fiscal crises facing all levels of government as they strive to meet heightened social needs. That question has been avoided for too long and needs dispassionate and thoughtful analysis. The risks of failure are inordinately high and will require compromise and focus on what is best for the nation — without partisan posturing.

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On a sad note, I mark the passing last week of Katy Bindon, former president of Okanagan University College. She was a remarkable individual who raised the level of post-secondary education available in the Okanagan.

She was unceremoniously shunted aside by then-premier Gordon Campbell as OUC was re-organized in the establishment of UBC Okanagan. Though Campbell would likely never say so, we owe her a great deal.

David Bond is a retired economist living in Kelowna. His column appears weekly.