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Opinion: Seizing the opportunity that is B.C.’s North


Opinion: Seizing the opportunity that is B.C.’s North | Cultural services must form part of infrastructure

Written by Kyle Thomson for The Vancouver Sun, March 26, 2014

As a business owner who has lived through economic highs and lows in northern British Columbia, I can say without a doubt that B.C.’s North is at the dawn of new age of opportunity.

That opportunity comes thanks to thriving oil and gas, pipeline, forestry and mining sectors infusing the region with new talent, innovation and enthusiasm.

While we often associate innovation with high technology, it’s important to remember the energy sector is a high-tech industry.

Whether it’s developing better methods to extract oil and gas in environmentally friendly ways, harnessing wind and solar energy, or ensuring pipelines such as the proposed Northern Gateway can transport Canada’s oil safely and securely, the energy sector is at the leading edge.

For example, incorporating the latest techniques and technologies, Northern Gateway will be one of the safest pipelines ever built. It will use steel 20-per-cent thicker than required, make use of X-rays and ultrasounds to test welds, and include special coatings and cathodic protections to prevent corrosion.

In the oilsands, companies such as Suncor have developed techniques to safely handle and dramatically reduce mine tailings, the remaining materials produced during the mining process. The result of these innovative approaches is that the company expects to reduce the total land area used for tailings ponds by more than 80 per cent.

Many of the innovations in Canada’s energy sector are happening behind the scenes. But the impacts can have dramatic effect, enhancing safety and better protecting the environment.

On the social and economic front, the energy sector is also making a substantial contribution. Northern Gateway, for example, will be one of the largest private investments in B.C. history, creating more than 3,000 construction jobs and 560 long-term jobs. It will generate $1.2 billion in tax revenue and $4.3 billion in labour-related income during the next 30 years.

For northern B.C. to make real the enormous opportunities before us, two considerations are key.

First, governments and the private sector must encourage population growth in B.C.’s north. The jobs are coming. Now we need the talented, skilled people to meet those needs.

Enhanced skills training and capacity development are key in this regard.

Second, encouraging population growth means creating northern cities that are great places to live and work. Seventy-five per cent of the Canadian population lives within abut 150 km of the U.S. border.

If the B.C. north hopes to attract our fair share of skills and talent, we need to invest more in a range of areas from arts and culture to infrastructure.

As the owner of a bowling alley, movie theatre and restaurant, I know how important it is to develop a social, cultural and entertainment scene within a community that makes it an attractive place not just to visit but in which to live.

People are attracted to a city such as Vancouver because it’s a dynamic place with a lively arts and culture scene and excellent infrastructure from ports to roads to transit.

With northern cities such as Prince George, Fort St. John, Terrace, Kitimat and Houston on the rise, our infrastructure and cultural scenes too must develop to meet the needs of our growing populations.

Highway 16, which runs along the Kitimat-Houston corridor, was recently upgraded from a Class B to a Class A highway. This means better and more frequent service and repair.

We need more road and infrastructure improvements such as this to attract more British Columbians north.

Thanks to a booming energy sector, the next few decades will belong to northern B.C.

If we can enhance skills training in the region, improve infrastructure and develop a strong arts and culture scene, we can make B.C.’s north a new home base for thousands of British Columbians.

Kyle Thomson is president and CEO of Monster Industries, a construction and maintenance company serving the resource and energy sector in Northwest British Columbia. He is also a municipal councillor in the District of Houston.

Read the original article here.

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