It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on my website, but given the temporary nature of Facebook and other social media sites, I figure this was a better place to give an update of this magnitude. To get to the point, I have been asked by Chief-Councillor Jeff Cook, my colleague and elected leader of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, to attend the BC Trade Mission to China, South Korea and Japan. This all came about due to our good relationship with the Port Alberni Port Authority on the trans-shipment port project. This project, of course, is not without its detractors. At this very early stage in development of the trans-shipment port project, though, I believe that we are in a key position to meaningfully consult with our people since we’ll have first-hand access to real data and information. All this information does not necessarily explain how it came about that Huu-ay-aht was offered a spot on a trade mission to very important Asian markets.
As stated, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations (HFN) have a good relationship with the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA). I believe it is accurate to say that the regional economy needs some measure of renewal, and PAPA’s CEO Zoran Knezevic put forward the intriguing idea of a trans-shipment port somewhere in Barkley Sound or the Alberni Inlet. In simpler terms, think of this as a transfer station for big shipping companies. Very large container ships travel from Asian ports to places like the Lower Mainland, the Seattle Area, Portland and California. The costs of running these ships is very high, and having a transfer station where these large ships can drop off their cargo can save them several days of travel and potentially quite a bit of money. Once the cargo is dropped off, it would be sorted and loaded on to smaller ships that would then bring it to the aforementioned ports. This would result in job creation at the trans-shipment port itself as well as creating more work for local coastal shipping companies.
We are nowhere near determining whether this is even feasible. This is the starting point of our relationship with PAPA. HFN Council believes the trans-shipment port to be a credible idea with a lot of potential, but one that needs to be vetted with work to determine whether the economics work, whether it’s environmentally sustainable and whether it’s appropriate for HFN and the region as a whole. As I’ve learned from former and celebrated members of the Huu-ay-aht government, I believe that it is always better to be actively involved in the work going on around us than it is for us to react to it late in the day. I was impressed to see Mr. Knezevic of PAPA come through our door to talk to us about the idea so early in development, and we now do what we can to further develop that idea because we think it might work for us and that it could have a very positive impact on the regional economy.
This brings us to the trade mission. The seat that I have in the trade mission was passed on to Huu-ay-aht through its relationship with PAPA due to the efforts in pushing the trans-shipment port prject and now a potential LNG plant. As we should know by now, the Provincial Government very much believes that Liquefied Natural Gas is the economic future of the BC economy. I won’t go into the raft of reasons for or against LNG development, but it is the work done in contemplating the idea that has given us the opportunity to go to Asia.
So, why am I going? There are three main reasons:
The first has to do with our relationship with PAPA and the generally-accepted belief of HFN Council that the trans-shipment port idea is a strong enough economic opportunity for HFN and the region as a whole to merit further investigation. One of my primary objectives in going on this mission is to support economic development opportunities for the region and for the province. Also, this is partly because I think BC has just as many opportunities for work as Alberta and it would be nice that young people (like many HFN citizens) would have job opportunities within BC. The trick, of course, is finding a balance between resource development and environmental sustainability and through our direct involvement in the project, we are in a position to make that determination earlier than ever.
The second reason is political. As a Treaty First Nation in BC, there are many looking to us to succeed or fail — both for various reasons. As a party to the Maa-nulth Final Agreement, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations is self-governing and very much aspires to be self-reliant in an economic sense of the term. In order to be successful in achieving these objectives, we already have many of the tools we need. One thing we need to keep in mind is that in this globalized world, no community is entirely self-reliant without having its standard of living severely reduced. The global economy only works when those who are a part of it understand that we benefit more from sticking to our comparative advantages and trading them on a mostly-open market. Larger and powerful nation-states, let alone First Nations like ours, aspire not to complete independence, but rather mutually-advantageous interdependence. The days of autarky are gone, we now live in a world of globalization. Whether we like it or not, it is up to our leaders to act accordingly. The government of BC is doing that, and I believe that in doing what I can to help advance the cause of trade will help add to the momentum behind what I believe to be one of British Columbia’s economic comparative advantages. In this, it is my hope that provincial leaders and business leaders and thought leaders take notice and think kindly on the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. This, I hope, will lead to opportunities that our Nation would not otherwise have and it is that opportunity where our bright future awaits.
The third reason is economic. I hope to make connections with business interests in Asia that are willing to either buy our goods or invest in our economy. Both of these things will accelerate our economic development and lead to creation of job opportunities for Huu-ay-aht citizens and our regional neighbours as well as a source of revenue for our government to provide continued, improved or expanded services to better our people’s quality of life. In my function as an elected Councillor for the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, I am the Chairman of Economic Development Committee and subsequently the Chairman of our Economic Development Corporation. I sincerely and passionately believe that healing the wounds of residential schools and rebuilding our Nation needs development in all three spheres: political, social and economic.
Normally, economic development is merely enabled by governments in the Western Tradition, but we are not in the same situation as the classical Western nation-states. In fact, we are more like the Asian countries I am about to visit: the so-called Asian Tigers. In that school of economic thought, there is a direct role for government in the economic advancement of its people. In this, we need only look at the statistics. The rise of Japan in the 1960s and 1970s served as an example for countries like South Korea and Singapore. The Chinese, of course, modified this approach to suit their politics and culture, but one cannot argue with the numbers they’ve posted in the past few decades. These countries have gone about developing their economies rationally and successfully; and they’ve done it differently than the standard model espoused by the Western Tradition. I find this fitting and inspiring for someone who has the honour of representing a First Nation community with a cultural heritage that spans the centuries.
Personally, I am excited and a bit anxious. I am hopeful and confident that I am supported by a rational approach to economic development opportunities afforded to us by our lands, resources, people and way of life.
Wish me luck.