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Is B.C. on the brink of prosperity?

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. The state of British Columbia is strong and full of opportunity, though not without its share of challenges.

That’s according to Todd Stone, the province’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure who, addressing delegates at the 2014 Truxpo exhibition in Abbotsford at a Sept. 19 lunch session, outlined the government’s achievements of the past few years and looked ahead to what he said should be an exciting and profitable future.

The Minister kicked off his comments by acknowledging the importance of the relationship between the B.C. government and the trucking industry.

“What you all do is an absolutely vital component of continued economic growth for British Columbia,” he said before launching into an explanation of his portfolio and its responsibilities.

“My job is to ensure that we’re continuing to invest in critical infrastructure that is going to ensure the safe movement of people and goods across this province, that’s going to continue to help us to grow markets overseas and help us create jobs in every corner of British Columbia,” he said, claiming that on a per capita basis, B.C. spends more on highways and the overall transportation network than any other province – undoubtedly due at least in part to the province’s challenging terrain.

Stone also reminded the audience that the only way such investment can be continued is to “first and foremost work very hard to ensure that we have our fiscal fundamentals in order,” adding that last February, the Clark government brought in its second consecutive balanced budget and plans to do it again next year.

“I’m very excited about the fact that we’re one of only two provinces who actually have a balanced budget in this forthcoming fiscal year,” he said. Stone also expressed pride that the province has “amongst the lowest personal and corporate taxes anywhere in Canada.”

But while cash may be king, Stone said there also has to be a roadmap to the future that can target where the cash should go.

“We also need to have vision in government,” he said, noting that “our vision (is) about growing our resource industries, about creating entirely new industries such as liquefied natural gas.”

Stone claimed there are 17 proposed LNG projects on B.C.’s books currently, most of which are in the Prince Rupert/Kitimat/Terrace regions as well as on Vancouver Island.

“If only five of these projects go forward, and we’re confident they will,” he said, “this is one trillion dollars of economic activity and 100,000 jobs as a result of it. And this was an industry that didn’t exist, that we only started talking about two or three years ago.”

The Minister was quick to add “We need to prepare for those opportunities now, and that’s why there’s a tremendous amount of work going on within the industry to apply a second lens to how we prioritize our projects.”

The two lenses Stone referred to are safety and economic development.

Stone cited the Pacific Gateway Initiative as one of his agency’s most important successes of the past decade.

“What makes (it) so incredibly unique and effective is there was nothing like it anywhere else in the world,” he said.

“It represents a partnership between the public sector and the private sector, coming together and, in a collaborative way, coordinating our investments to maximize the bang for the buck.”

He said that Phase One of the initiative represented combined investments of $25 billion in roads, rail, airports and ports, including such projects as the South Fraser Perimeter Road, improvements to the TransCanada Highway – including the Port Mann Bridge in the lower mainland – as well as significant investments in airports around the province.

This public-private partnership Stone mentioned apparently even led to some unexpected cooperation between, if not mortal enemies, then at least long time competitors.

“One of the really positive developments that came out of this – the type of cooperation that is possible when we all sit down at same table and agree on some common goals – was track sharing arrangements between CN and CP,” he said, “whereby they’re actually using each other’s track at different times of day and days of the week to maximize the throughput of goods to the benefit of both corporations and our economy in general.” 

Touching again on the vision aspect of the government he represents, Stone pointed out some policy changes that were made to help facilitate the flow of commerce.

“One of the things government can do besides signing cheques is to get out of your way – reduce regulation, challenge the status quo, from a policy perspective,” he said.

Looking forward, Stone said Phase Two of the Pacific Gateway program, which is now ongoing, will see “$25 billion of combined public and private sector investments, again in every facet of transportation around the province.”

The Minister said there’ll be more work done on upgrading the Trans-Canada Highway in the Lower Mainland, noting that he would personally like to see it widened to six lanes
from Langley to Abbotsford or beyond.

He also said the government will continue investing in the Trans-Canada Hwy. east of Kamloops, an area that features sections of narrow, twisting two-lane highway that is challenging enough for cars, let alone trucks.

He promised there’d be more four-lane sections, more passing lanes and more truck pullouts on that highway, as well as on other major routes through the Interior.

All this work will coincide with what Stone referred to as one of his greatest opportunities as Minister: developing a new, longer-range transportation plan.

“In the throne speech last February, the premier announced a new intermodal transportation plan that will effectively be our roadmap, our vision document, for the next 10 years,” he said.

“This plan will focus on aligning provincial priorities with economic development jobs, it will support LNG industrial development, it will support rural B.C., and better integration of all modes of transportation.”

Even better for truckers, potentially, Stone said “it will also include for the first time in our province’s
history, a specific trucking industry strategy” adding that “there will be
a tremendous amount of opportunity in the coming months for engage-ment across all parts of British Columbia. There’ll be a number ways you can feed your input in that process to tell us what’s important to you.”

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