Ottawa unveils new federal economic agency for B.C.

Last year the federal government floated the idea of a new economic development agency in B.C., and on Thursday Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly turned it into reality.

Pacific Economic ­Development Canada — they are calling it PacificCan — will be headquartered in Surrey, with satellite offices in Victoria, Campbell River and five other cities around the province. It will take over economic development in B.C. from Western ­Economic Development, but with a different mandate.

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Joly said one of the priorities established when Ottawa considered economic development was dealing with the “injustice we saw over the years, the fact there was not as much resources and support throughout B.C. compared to other regions.”

“That had to be changed,” she said, echoing her assertion over the last year that this new agency would be built in B.C. for B.C.

Joly and her staff spent several months meeting with representatives in all regions of the province to determine what they would like to see out of the entity that would replace the 34 year-old Western Economic Diversification.

Joly said B.C. is unique and the agency must be tailored to it, and that meant being designed for small- and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs all over the province.

The mandate will be to help create and maintain jobs, ensure communities can grow and develop new projects and open up the globe to aspiring companies.

For Vancouver Island, there will be teams installed in places such as Victoria and Campbell River to help small businesses find funding and expand their reach by opening the doors to export programs and the like.

“It becomes a tool to navigate the maze of the federal government,” she said.

With a budget of $550 million over the next five years, and $110 million in ongoing funding, satellite offices and new staff will be established this fall. Joly hopes they will be functioning by the end of the year.

“This is not for big business, this is for small business, it’s for start-ups and those growing bit by bit, or are part of the supply chain of big business,” she said.

Sam Fisher, chief executive of gaming studio Hyper Hippo in Kelowna, said having a federal agency they can walk into will improve communication between business and government.

“It’s important for understanding in terms of what business needs from the federal government and what they need from B.C. companies to help their ­programs succeed,” he said.

To achieve the country’s potential requires a “new spirit of collaboration between business and government,” Fisher said.

Joly said the success of PacificCan would be ­measured by the satisfaction of the ­province’s entrepreneurs.

South Island Prosperity Partnership chief executive Emilie de Rosenroll said B.C.’s new agency, and its regional development cousin for the Prairies, is excellent news and recognizes B.C.’s economic drivers and challenges

“Minster Joly’s announcement has the potential to have a significant impact on the economic recovery and resilience needed in the capital region to move along a path of a sustainable and diverse post-pandemic economy,” said Greater ­Victoria Chamber chief executive Bruce Williams. “By creating two offices on Vancouver Island, the federal government shows it recognizes the unique opportunities and challenges of our Island economy.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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