The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia hosted a panel discussion from several industry leaders titled "B.C.'s Economy – what's ahead and where is the work?" at their annual Industry Outlook, held May 23 in downtown Vancouver.
The panel consisted of Woodfibre LNG vice president of corporate affairs Byng Giraud, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority president and CEO Robin Silvester and Council of Forest Industries president and CEO Susan Yurkovich.
Giraud said the Woodfibre LNG project will bring employment and revenues to the region and has received federal environmental approval for the project as of March 18, 2016. The provincial government gave environmental approval in October of 2015.
The reason to go forward with the project, Giraud said, is that the Americans used to be our customer and now they are our competitor. Eventually the US will be self-sufficient, and "we have to go overseas."
Giraud said 19 liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects were proposed, with 18 export licenses approved by the National Energy Board, but "we are where we are," he said, given the decline in oil prices.
But "we are in the commodity business, and the market will come back," he said. There is a future here, he said, and being scared off because the market went down isn't "the British Columbia way."
It is necessary to set clear goals for industrial development with government, he said, and create taxation and regulatory regimes that are internationally competitive. It is also important to full understand what competing jurisdictions are doing and how it impacts us, he said.
British Columbia also needs to "stop worrying about armchair experts with no skin in the game," Giraud said, and not "create tax regimes based on what might happen."
We can't create certainty here, he said, or anywhere. "Business is all about risk," he said.
There is a short term excess supply, he said, "it's just not there right now." It is a good thing to switch to natural gas, he added. While renewables might be the perfect solution, it isn't there yet, and in the meantime LNG is a viable alternative that is needed in China and elsewhere.
Yurkovich started by stating people are looking for green building product and "that is our wheelhouse." Forest products are about 1/3rd of B.C. exports, shipped to more than 100 countries. Exports to China and Japan have gone from 11 per cent in 2005 to 35 per cent in 2016. Part of this growth has been an expanding middle class and a desire for green building in China.
"But from a softwood perspective we are highly dependent on the United States," Yurkovich said.
U.S. consumption is growing, and "they need our lumber," Yurkovich said. She added there will be a supply gap, particularly in the southern U.S. "if you're building a wall."
Currently, she said, Canadian and B.C> governments have made softwood a priority, and there were active discussions in 2016 but no agreement. Outreach to the U.S. is underway at both the federal and provincial level, but "we are where we are and we'll have to find a way forward in the days and weeks ahead."
Silvester discussed the Port of Vancouver and said "one dollar in five in Canada flows through our port, so we're significant."
The port is Canada's largest and most diversified port, and deals with $184 billion in goods annually. The picture moving forward is that there has been a bit of a slowdown, mostly caused by a stabilization of the Chinese growth rate.
The port has deliver $7.5 billion of gateway supporting infrastructure, and plan on $9.8 billion more.
"It's basically simple stuff, roads and bridges to reduce bottlenecks to get in and out of the port more often," he said.
Looking to the future, it's "about collaboration and repeating the playbook," Silvester said. The port will need to work out where to invest next and "these projects are all about maximizing the use of the land."
The proposed Roberta Bank Terminal 2 project is a "critical piece of infrastructure that will provide capacity for the next generation." He said the environmental process is underway, but given they have spent $150 million they are confident about the project and hope to be starting construction by the end of the decade.