Editorial: Election Platform Deja Vue

by Elmer G. Wiens

It has been said that to really know a city one must live and work in that city. Similarly, I would say that to really understand government one must work in government, and to really understand politics one must join a political party and run as a candidate. Having done both, I offer my opinion on the platforms of some political parties for the May 16, 2001, election, and lobbying efforts of such "non-partisan" organizations as the B.C. Business Summit.

I worked as an economist for the Economic Analysis and Research Branch of the B.C. Government (EARB) in the early 1980's. The economists working there were engaged in an ongoing task: developing an "industrial strategy" for B.C. This "strategy" was to provide prosperity for all residents of B.C. by ensuring sustained economic growth. At first, the "strategy" focused on practical problems, such as eliminating transportation bottlenecks to facilitate domestic and international trade, reducing constraining regulations, and devising objectives for crown corporations that enhance economic growth.

After a while, the industrial strategy went through a sequence of makeovers and transformations, becoming more general and sweeping in its objectives and emerging as policy statements under different pseudonyms. Sometimes it was called an "Industrial Framework," a "Statement of Economic Objectives," "Policies to Ensure Employment," or words to that effect. Both the NDP and Social Credit Party had access to the document, so not surprisingly, versions of the "strategy" appeared in their election platforms during the 1980's and 1990's. In fact, the platform of one party in the 1996 provincial election was just a thinly disguised version of the "industrial strategy." The platforms in the present election are no exception.

As the "strategy" went through one stage of metamorphosis after another, it became more general and more "mom and apple pie" in nature. The pronoun "we" appeared many times to emphasize the inclusiveness of the strategy, with party hacks and out-of-town experts stressing "we" the most. Buzzwords and hot concepts crept into the strategy. We need a "larger pie" to share among all British Columbians; we should not fight over the "resource rents" of a static pie. "Productivity " is the key. Hey, we are running out of our natural resources: "education" and "human capital" are the key. Hey, we in B.C. are part of the Asia-Pacific group of "trading partners," where is our comparative advantage? We should learn lessons from Japan, Switzerland, Ireland, or any other country that is presently doing well. Did I mention "mom and apple pie," economic renewal, or the "New Economy?"

When I went to the web site,, of the B.C. Business Summit, I was both impressed and disappointed. I was impressed that so many organizations had come together to build a better B.C. But, I was disappointed that so little work had actually been done during the last twenty years on our beloved "industrial strategy." Deja Vue.


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