Mark Milke, a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute, was the keynote speaker for the Canadata West conference held Oct. 23 in Vancouver.
Milke, who has a PhD in political philosophy and international relations, said that numbers are an accurate reflection of what's happening on the ground, and also reveal the relationships between government and industry.
Furthermore, he said, prosperity matters for a simple reason.
People on the margins are those affected by poor government policy or other factors, far more than high-level executives who can likely find a new job.
Milke said he had five priorities to address.
The first was optimism vs. pessimism, followed by opportunities in Asia, concerns and opportunities in B.C., thoughts on Canadian trends and some closing thoughts.
Pessimism, he said, whether from the right or the left can be harmful to progress.
Optimism, on the other hand, tends to drive society forward.
Optimists are dynamic, Milke said, and Asia is possibly the most dynamic area of the world at the moment.
Trend lines in Asia show that GDP in Asia has rocketed upwards from 1950 to 2008.
"People forget that GDP in Asia wasn't much better than Africa in the 1950s," Milke said.
Canada has experienced steady growth since the 1950s, but Hong Kong has rocketed upwards, and China and India have both improved dramatically.
But, there is still dramatic potential in China, particularly for the construction industry, he said.
What matters if you want growth, Milke said, is that rule of law, independent courts, and entrepreneurialism all matter.
Money matters, but it's not the only thing, he said.
Caveats for doing business in East Asia include what mainland China does regarding Hong Kong.
Milke said he talked to Hong Kong officials, who were adamant that the rule of law and capitalism in the region should be preserved, and that given recent events in Hong Kong and mainland Chinese attitudes to the those factors one should be cautious about the region.
"Hopefully China goes the way of Hong Kong and not there reverse," he said.
Challenges in British Columbia include Aboriginal land claims in B.C. and those who "oppose everything."
However there are also opportunities, he said.
"The world needs what we have and once the value of the opportunities are recognized, deals are possible," Milke said.
Regarding the Tsilhqot'in vs. British Columbia decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which recognized Aboriginal title to over 1,700 square kilometres of land in the interior of British Columbia, Milke said the decision supported collective over individual ownership.
The federal government can push through development where there's a compelling and public need for it, which can include resources.
"The reality is, in many cases you'll need the agreement of the First Nation in question," Milke said.
Unless these uncertainties can be mitigated, Milke said, "it will be difficult to get things done."
Part of the reason for these judgements are good intentions but some of it is "theorizing in law faculties which doesn't reflect the real world," Milke said.
Over the next decade, more than 600 major resource projects worth about $650 million are planned for Canada.
Every one of these projects will involve a First Nation and there is a big potential for prosperity for those communities, Milke said.
Construction should also consider the rest of Canada on the other side of the Rockies, Milke said.
There is a great temptation for B.C. to ignore the rest of Canada, Milke said, but beyond B.C. is where local companies can make money.
"If you want opportunities in Canada, follow the private sector money," Milke said.
That money is by and large in Alberta.
Quebec and Ontario together, which have a much higher population, barely beat Alberta.
On a per-person basis, private sector investment is even more pronounced, especially in Alberta but also in Saskatchewan.
B.C. is beating Ontario and Quebec, but not by much.
"We're all in this together," Milke said.
One of the reasons for Confederation was to create a nation of free trade.
When provinces do things such as restrict pipelines, as has happened recently with B.C. and Alberta, people forget how things can change. Before the Panama Canal, B.C. had to rely on the Prairies as a market for their lumber.
One must argue for the national interest, Milke said, and not for one's own backyard.
Canada can succeed, Milke said, if everyone takes a can-do attitude, addressing concerns in a reasonable and fair manner.