Indigenous,first nations,jobs,economic recovery

COMMENTARY: Keeping the economy healthy in a pandemic

While some like to pretend the natural gas and oil industry is dying, it remains one of Canada’s largest and most important sectors.

The pandemic has been terrible for everyone. Canadians and small businesses are struggling and as the pandemic has stretched out over a year, we’ve continued to experience those impacts for much longer than we ever thought possible.

One bright spot has been major projects being built across British Columbia. For nearly a decade, twinning the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby has dominated national headlines, political battles, and court cases.

Now, when new economic opportunities are needed most, the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) is doing just that. In fact, as of April 30, 2021, there were approximately 8,150 people working on the Project. Approximately 1,280 workers on the project have been Indigenous people. As of January 31, 2021, Trans Mountain has signed 66 Agreements with 73 Indigenous groups in BC and Alberta that represent more than $550 million in benefits and opportunities for Indigenous communities.

As of April 2021, approximately 8,150 people were working on the TMX project, about 1,280 of these workers have been Indigenous people.

The most recent B.C. budget showed an estimated real GDP contraction of -5.3% in 2020. However, according to a piece by the Business Council of B.C., major projects have substantially reduced the economic impact. Because of ongoing construction, B.C. is in a much better position to restore jobs and bounce back after the pandemic. There’s evidence this is already happening; we’ve seen a 4.4% rebound in GDP for 2021 and stable job recovery in the 2021 BC budget.

While some like to pretend the natural gas and oil industry is dying, it remains one of Canada’s largest and most important sectors. The industry supports over 500,000 Canadian jobs, and contributes over $10 billion in average annual revenue to governments. A huge amount of money – perhaps so huge, the reality of what that means gets lost.

When you hear the words “direct and indirect jobs,” what do you think of? A welder, an engineer, maybe someone operating heavy machinery? All good examples, but it also includes accountants, lab techs, and entrepreneurs. It’s the indirect benefits that go unseen and often make the biggest difference in communities.

In September we interviewed a few small business owners. From Bryan Pilbeam, General Manager of the Delta Hotel in Kamloops, to Ray Dhaliwal, owner of Ray’s Lock & Key, we heard one message loud and clear: TMX is creating opportunities that simply wouldn’t have otherwise existed during the pandemic.

In Ray’s case, he was able to hire and train extra long-term staff to re-key contractor facilities in Clearwater. For Bryan, it was the fact that Kamloops missed the summer 2000 tourist season, and having a few rooms consistently booked out through the year to TMX workers gave him the ability to keep staff employed.

The Trans Mountain Expansion Project recently announced the horizontal directional drill crossing of the Thompson River was completed in December 2020, with cleanup in the area now complete. Moving forward, crews will now be focusing their efforts on pipeline construction along Tranquille Road adjacent to the airport property.

As TMX and other major projects such as LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink are built, British Columbians will be the ones building it.