SFU Public Square’s Mark and Marissa have travelled to seven communities as part of the Provincial Tour of 100 Community Conversations: Campbell River, West Kelowna, Kamloops, Nelson, Kitimat, Prince George, and Fort St. John. They will travel to Victoria to complete the tour on September 9th.
At the end of a ten-day stretch of the tour, Mark and I patiently sit at the Fort St. John departure gate; homeward bound. I type as we attempt to capture some of our personal thoughts on this eye-opening experience.
At each conversation, we sat down with community leaders and representatives from local city councils, first nations, economic development associations, and civic society groups, to brainstorm strategies and actions to create wealth, promote social equity, and protect the environment. Through this process, we learned a lot about the BC economy, but really, we learned about the people living in these communities. We heard their thoughts on other regions in the province, how they think their community is perceived by others, and mostly importantly, about the hopes and concerns for the future of their families.
For Mark, what stands out most is the discrepancy between the statistics that we have gathered so far, and how these numbers are reflected in the day-to-day reality of each community. The numbers indicate that the service sector contributes more to BC’s GDP than the goods-producing sector, but this doesn’t capture the importance of resources and goods for the province’s residents. This concept was visceral and palpable for the hard-working community leaders that we met. Many conversation participants were either directly or indirectly involved in resource industries – either as subcontractors, consultants, or directly as employees. The footprint of these industries was strikingly visible in many of the communities we visited, and this physical prominence stood in stark contrast to the fact that on paper Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate are the biggest contributors to provincial GDP.
What stood out for me is the sense that we all feel alienated from one regional hub or another. There is a sense that the day to day reality in many BC communities is segregated from regional nodes throughout the province. Whether it be feeling alienated from the ‘south,’ or the ‘mainland,’ residents of each region articulated their unique needs and expressed feeling that their contributions to the greater province go unrecognized. In the same way that I feel the stereotype of south-centricness is misleading, how could lumping together the cities, villages and districts that make up ‘Northern BC’ capture the diversity that exists there? Fort St. John is just as different from Prince George, as Prince George is from Vancouver. Continuing to lump vast regions together in economic conversations will only fuel alienation; we need to consider the unique needs and contributions of each community.
Mark and I both recognized that despite community based differences many of the values and concerns raised about BC’s economic future were common across the board. BC’s residents are excited about the future, but there is an acute awareness that as we move forward, development has to be managed differently than it has been in the past. Participants commented that they don’t want their communities to fall victim to the boom and bust cycle, but want to have wealth generated from development put aside to manage downturns in the economy and a future beyond non-renewable resources. Others recognize BC’s natural wealth and want to have development that protects and preserves our natural capital. Indeed, BC’s natural beauty was seen as a key element adding to residents’ standard of living.
Above all, we saw hats come off and ties loosen and heard that parents want a stable economy full of local opportunity for their children. During the dialogues, individuals opened up to consider other’s interests, think beyond the present, and agree to common concerns. These commonalities filled Mark and I with optimism that the Community Conversations process can encourage a non-polarized conversation on the Future of BC’s economy, and that sense of hope was likely the most inspiring take-away from our journey so far.
While Mark and Marissa will have hosted eight conversations across the province, we encourage you to host your own community conversation in September! Contact Mark Friesen for more information firstname.lastname@example.org