VICTORIA – Pat Bell’s latest assignment is simple. As Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, all he has to do is take B.C.’s success in reaching out to Asia for forest products, extend it to the rest of the economy, and make Premier Christy Clark’s jobs plan work.
Bell is typically upbeat in an interview in his legislature office, offering a sample of tasty baked vegetable snacks. A Chinese company is considering a farm and processing plant for export to the U.S., and one of Bell’s duties is to secure that kind of new investment.
“I often find out that an investor has been over here looking for a specific opportunity, and they’ve gone back empty-handed,” Bell said. “And I know there’s an opportunity in, say, Houston B.C. for that investor. But I didn’t know they were coming, so I couldn’t coordinate it.”
He’s working to fix that, with a better inventory of land and other resources for every community. And he’s establishing a major investments office, to help B.C. land the rare big fish that come swimming by with a billion to invest in a large industry like mining or liquefied natural gas.
As lands minister, Bell signed sweeping land use agreements with coastal first nations and environmental groups. As forests minister, he worked with industry to develop the Chinese lumber market. Now he hopes to use the same principles for tourism, mines, energy, and if the market is there, vegetable snacks.
“The principles behind this are exactly the same as what we did in forestry,” Bell said. “Collaborate with all of the different key partners. Build a market, don’t compete with each other. Make a significant investment in what you’re trying to do, focus your efforts and be consistent.”
As Clark and Bell get set for a national trade mission to China, a reciprocal effort is underway. Bell said Minister of State for Multiculturalism Harry Bloy is developing a hosting program for visits here, working with the consulates for China, Japan, Korea and India.
Bell credits two texts with influencing the jobs plan. One is David Baxter’s 2002 report for the Urban Development Institute, which coined the term “first dollar” for industries such as international education and tourism that bring new money into an economy.
The other is Good to Great, the bestselling book by U.S. management guru Jim Collins that describes how great companies focus only on areas where they have a strategic advantage.
Recent U.S. calls for an import duty on shipping containers from Canada suggests that B.C.’s ports may have that kind of strategic advantage.
Another big task is to meet Clark’s goals for new resource agreements with aboriginal communities. That means building a working relationship on projects, as B.C. did with the Haida Nation after many years of hostile relations, Bell said.
“So that when these projects come ahead, instead of the first call the First Nation makes being to a rights and title lawyer, it’s to their economic advisor, saying how do we make this happen?”