​BC says natural resources sector linked to innovation industry of the future

CJ Ritchie, assistant deputy minister of B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology.

The future of the B.C. economy will not be a story of the nascent tech sector replacing the natural resources sector, according to one of the province’s top bureaucrats.

Speaking at the Naturally Resourceful event in Vancouver on November 29, CJ Ritchie, an assistant deputy minister at the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology, outlined the government’s preliminary vision for economic links between technology and natural resources.

“There’s a perception that the natural resource sector is an industry of the past and that somehow tech and innovation or clean tech is an industry of the future,” Ritchie said. “I think the natural resource sector is critical to sustainability and prosperity for the economy of B.C.”

She added that global recognition of the need to shift to a low-carbon economy has drummed up interest in clean technology, such as solar power and zero-emission vehicles.And the manufacturing of those technologies will require metals, such as copper and zinc, that are abundant in B.C. mines, she said.

“The demand for those metals in clean technology is really driving a new kind of interest and a new kind of demand in the clean tech industry,” she said.

Ritchie went on to present data from Statistics Canada showing that for every 100 direct jobs created in mining, 121 indirect jobs are created. And for every 100 direct jobs created in technology services, 28 indirect jobs are created.

Meanwhile, the average weekly salary for mining, oil and gas workers is $1,796, while the average weekly salary for tech workers is $1,590.

Resource Works, a non-profit organization researching and promoting the importance of natural resources in the B.C. economy, facilitated the Naturally Resourceful event.

Executive director Stewart Muir told Business in Vancouver on Roundhouse Radio his organization wanted to counter perceptions that technology would simply replace natural resources in the economy.

Muir said B.C. has long been at the forefront of ecological awareness and environmental regulation, which means “companies who need to succeed here have had to invest in innovation.”

He said firms specializing in satellites, drones, filtration and other technologies used by the natural resource sector account for about 200 small and medium-sized enterprises across the province.

But Ritchie cautioned that the province must consider the potential negative effects of the tech sector, specifically singling out automation and self-driving vehicles.

While autonomous vehicles will create more efficiency moving goods and people, the assistant deputy minister said it could also have “some short-term impacts and job losses for taxi drivers, bus drivers and first responders.”

U.S.-based ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft are pursuing driverless vehicle technology, but various levels of government have stymied their entries into the B.C. market.

After making a campaign promise to introduce ride--hailing services this year, the BC NDP government put that decision on hold in October.

Instead, the province ordered a consultation with the taxi industry with a report to follow in early 2018.

Joy Romero, vice-president of technology at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ), followed Ritchie’s address by pushing for more collaboration between universities, the tech sector and energy companies to reduce the carbon footprint of fossil fuels.

She estimated the oil and gas industry is now spending $1.3 billion annually on research and development to increase its productivity and reduce its carbon footprint.

But when travelling across Canada, Romero said she has repeatedly come across experts who have independently discovered the same breakthroughs as researchers they are not collaborating with.

“We do not have the time or the capacity as a country to have that kind of waste of our intellectual capital nor our finances,” she said.

— Business in Vancouver