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Lessons from COVID

Caroline Elliott: It was just months ago, but the crises of pre-pandemic BC seem quaint. Here’s why.
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Scenes from a different era (pr2is /

Like the rest of the world, British Columbians are facing not only a public health threat but massive economic disruption as well.

Statistics Canada reports that about three million jobs have been lost nationwide since February, with nearly 400,000 of those in B.C. alone. Many businesses have closed their doors permanently, and those that plan to re-open face enormous hurdles.

It seems almost inconceivable that just a couple of months ago we were seeing our lives disrupted for a much different reason: handfuls of individuals felt like wreaking havoc on our economy for reasons even they had trouble articulating.

Protestors against the Coastal GasLink project shut down our streets, our railways, our public transit systems, and even access to our democratic institutions. It cost us jobs and investor certainty, when far too many saw such things as expendable.

Quite simply, we had it too good. Perhaps it wasn’t as clear then, as it is now, just how precious those jobs were. How integral our supply chains are. And how much we depend on our natural resources in every aspect of our lives.

Today, in the face of a global pandemic, it’s harder and harder to deny just how essential our resource sector is. Forestry, mining and petroleum products, among others, are not just essential for our economy, but our medical system, too.

B.C.’s forest products provide needed goods, including pulp used for face masks, hospital bedding, gowns and – lest we face more empty shelves – toilet paper. Nanaimo’s Harmac pulp mill has more than doubled production of its medical-grade pulp in response to COVID-19.

The mining sector is no different. For example, Teck Resources’ facility in Trail has been deemed an essential service, as a number of its products are used directly in the production of medical equipment, including instrument panels and thermal scan thermometers. In several cases, Teck Trail is North America’s only supplier.

The oil and gas sector is no less integral to our medical system. Petroleum products are used in the production of disposable gloves, syringes, tubing, diagnostic testing materials, medications, and sterile bandages, as well as plastics used in equipment like ventilators.

Yet, a short time ago, Canadians were held hostage by those who want to see our oil and gas sector shut down. Many of those protesters would like a similar fate for industries like mining and forestry.

Across the country, men and women were prevented from getting to and from their jobs by small groups of people, many of whom did not seem to know basic facts about the project they opposed – infamously, several said they wanted to stop the Coastal GasLink “oil pipeline,” apparently oblivious to the fact that it will carry natural gas.

As a society, we tolerated the disruption of our lives in the name of a very loosely-interpreted right to protest. We didn’t see the impending threat on the horizon, one that would threaten our health, our economy, and our way of life. We were forgiving, if naive.

Little did we know that we would soon face a reality in which every single job would count. A reality in which our natural resource sector would supply essential goods to a medical system in dire need. A reality in which our supply chains would struggle to keep up with empty shelves. And a reality in which governments would need every ounce of revenue they can get.

We shouldn’t forget this lesson. Let’s make it easier, not harder, to create jobs in British Columbia. Let’s stop apologizing for our natural resources and instead be proud of  the role they’re playing in keeping shelves stocked, and all of us safe.

Caroline Elliott is a PhD candidate in political science at Simon Fraser University