The Editor’s Desk: Trade war zone

The Editor’s Desk: Trade war zone

In the B.C./Alberta trade spat, innocent businesses are getting caught in the crossfire.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no good time for a trade war. However, the trade war that is developing between the NDP governments in British Columbia and Alberta could not come at a worse time for this province; particularly for the businesses in regions that were hard hit by last year’s wildfires.

At the moment, the Alberta ban on B.C. wine is grabbing headlines, and will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on our province’s wine industry, which has in recent years expanded to include thriving wineries in Lillooet and the Kamloops region. However, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is threatening further, as-yet-unspecified, measures unless B.C. Premier John Horgan backs down on his announced ban on increases in diluted bitumen exports from Alberta through the province.

We will have to wait and see what Notley proposes. However, even if she were to announce no new measures, there is evidence that some Albertans are looking to their westerly neighbour and wondering if their vacation dollars might not be better spent elsewhere.

This could be a keen blow to the province’s economy, if enough Wild Rose country residents decide to head east or south instead of west when it comes holiday time. And it might prove the final nail in the coffin of some businesses in our region that were hard hit by the 2017 wildfires, and are wondering if they can make it through 2018.

In last week’s paper we reported that the economic impact of the wildfires on the region’s businesses was estimated (conservatively) at $31 million, and that many businesses already anticipate a 10 to 15 per cent drop in tourism over the next several years. Tourism organizations are trying to encourage visitors to come here, getting out a “B.C. is open for business” message, but Premier Horgan’s actions, which are rubbing many Albertans the wrong way, is unfortunately undercutting that.

According to statistics compiled in 2015, Albertans make up the third largest group of tourists in British Columbia, behind only British Columbians themselves and visitors from the United States. In 2015 Albertans accounted for $1.4 billion of the $9.9 billion spent by tourists in the province.

This is nothing to be sneezed at, and businesses hit hard by the wildfires would be glad to have a share of that revenue. However, many Albertans have been taking to social media to announce that they plan to boycott British Columbia come vacation time, unless the trade war comes to an end; an announcement that will not be reassuring to business owners counting on those cross-border dollars this season.

Of course, how many Albertans actually follow through on their promise of a B.C. boycott remains to be seen; we all know how few Americans who said they would move to Canada if Donald Trump became president made good on that promise. And British Columbians could, if they so wished, adopt a “No, I’m going to boycott you!” stance, which would take this whole thing to the level of an elementary school playground spat, if it has not already sunk to that level.

We believe that the pipeline issue is too vital to the economies of British Columbia, Alberta, and Canada to devolve into an exercise in posturing, politics, and playing to the masses. There are real lives and businesses on the line, and it needs to end soon; otherwise, as in any war, it is the innocent bystanders who stand to get caught in the crossfire and sustain the most damage.

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