B.C. economic recovery plan outlines new missions but contains few tangible measures

Monte Stewart
February 23, 2022

B.C.'s new economic recovery plan, developed in consultation with a world-famous team of economists, outlined the province's new goals but provided few details on implementation and no measurable benchmarks for success.

The Stronger B.C. plan, unveiled last Thursday in joint news conferences in Victoria and the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, lists six “missions” that emphasize supporting people and families and fostering environmentally clean economic growth. Named after the ruling NDP’s 2020 election platform, the plan was announced a few days before the government introduced its 2022–23 provincial budget on Tuesday.

The plan was based on advice from University College London economics professor Mariana Mazzucato and her team at the school’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, which she co-founded.

Mazzucato’s research focuses on the relationship between financial markets, innovation and economic growth, and she has argued that "mission-oriented" government institutions can create and shape markets rather than merely fixing them. She has advised policymakers around the globe.

The B.C. government said it sought Mazzucato’s advice on aligning public-sector capabilities, financing mechanisms and citizen engagement with a new mission-oriented innovation strategy for building an inclusive and sustainable economy.

Tech institute receives $136.6M but no word on green bank

A press release from the public relations consultancy Global Public Affairs in August 2021 suggested that Mazzucato's advice would have a large impact on InBC, the government’s $500-million investment fund intended to benefit small-and-medium-sized businesses with high growth potential. She could also recommend a new green investment bank, the release said.

But the current plan does not make reference to InBC or propose such a bank.

The plan instead announced that the province will invest $136.6 million in a new trades and technology complex at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s main Burnaby campus.

The facility is designed to serve 12,000 full-time and part-time students each year in more than 20 programs. The estimated total cost for the complex is $162 million.

“What we’ve heard coming through the pandemic is that businesses need workers, and without a strong skilled workforce, our economy will sputter and stumble,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan  in Victoria. Horgan said the plan builds on an economic framework outlined by Don Wright, former head of the province’s public service, in 2020.

Research Money reached out to Mazzucato and her team for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Business leaders ask for measures to boost investment

The plan followed the release of the 2022 provincial labour market outlook that says B.C. will have an estimated one million job vacancies over the next decade. However, the B.C. Business Council and Greater Vancouver Board of Trade said the plan lacks details on how to attract investment to the province.

“B.C. needs an economic plan with more focus on investment attraction, growing the size of the economic pie per capita and scaling firms, rather than a vision that contains no tangible measures or plan to act at speed on our advantages,” said Greg D’Avignon, president and CEO of the B.C. Business Council, in a news release.

“Prosperity must first be generated before it can be effectively shared and sustainably provide the supports and services our society and families rely upon."

The plan does not send a strong enough signal to domestic or international businesses that the province can provide certainty for new investments, including environmental and social governance capital, to pay for the vision, he added.

“As a more competitive world emerges from COVID-19, other jurisdictions are more attractive to investors and offer greater certainty."

The B.C. Business Council called for a plan that will support the province’s industries, including natural resources, financial, manufacturing, forestry, construction and healthcare. It also asked for an emphasis on exports and greater regulatory scrutiny.

Measurables lacking, says Liberal leader

New B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon slammed the plan, describing Mazzucato as a “left-wing academic” who once advised Britain’s “socialist leader,” former Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn.

“Here we are, almost five years into the provincial government, and they finally released an economic plan. … And as I look through here, the only thing you cannot find in this so-called economic plan are any measurables, any benchmarks, any targets,” said Falcon.

The B.C. Green Party said that the government engaged with business and labour groups before consulting Indigenous groups as an afterthought.

“What we see today is a branding exercise rooted in maintaining the government’s image, rather than announcing tangible policy solutions to the challenges we face,” said Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau.

The new economic plan suggests that B.C. may develop its own measurements that go beyond GDP,  such as the metrics used by the UN to track progress of Sustainable Development Goals and well-being indicators included in New Zealand's national budgets. However, it gave no details beyond saying the province will measure GDP and "also consider a broader set of indicators."


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