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Trevor Hancock: Building a stronger, One Planet regional economy

Last week, I stressed the importance of a stronger regional economy as a means of increasing local self-reliance, given that we live on an Island and that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the vulnerability that comes from being very reliant on othe

Last week, I stressed the importance of a stronger regional economy as a means of increasing local self-reliance, given that we live on an Island and that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the vulnerability that comes from being very reliant on others — be they food or energy producers or tourists.

Add to that the growing recognition that we live on one small planet and have to trim our expectations to live within its limits. But as the Centre for Local Prosperity noted in its 2018 report on import replacement: “A community’s willingness to be restrained in what it wants and resourceful in providing what it needs, opens up enormous long-term community benefits.”

The good news is that several important local initiatives are already underway, such as Think Local First, a non-profit society founded in 2013 and directed by small business owners in Greater Victoria. They promote the “10 per cent shift movement” because “for every 10 per cent of dollars spent at locally owned shops and services, 25 per cent more money stays in the Victoria economy.”

Their website cites a CUPE study that found “if all of BC made the 10 per cent shift, we would actually create 31,000 more jobs and infuse $940 million in wages into the province’s economy.”

They point to a number of other benefits of spending locally, including helping to create more vibrant, compact and walkable town centres, which help to reduce traffic and pollution. And, they add, locally owned businesses “invest more in local labour, pay more local taxes, spend more time on community-based decisions, and participate in local events.”

A second example is social procurement, which is a fairly straightforward concept. Buy Social Canada describes it as “a tool for building healthy communities,” by using the purchasing power of municipalities to enhance not only the economic and physical capital of the community, but its human, social, cultural and natural capital.

Based on the 2017 report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement, the City of Victoria has adopted a three-pronged strategy of social procurement, social enterprise development and social entrepreneurship. The main suggested focus for social procurement is on “efforts to ladder the unemployed, underemployed and marginalized into employment.” The city is also the only municipality in the Capital Regional District that is a member of the Coastal Community Social Procurement project, which Mayor Lisa Helps co-chairs.

Finally, there is the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP), which brings together business, municipal and First Nations leaders to “bolster our region’s economic and social prosperity ... by catalyzing the creation of high-quality, household-sustaining jobs, so that more families can afford to live, work and build a life here.” It recently initiated a Civic Solutions Hub that would “introduce new approaches to Municipal procurement that [would] spark innovation in the local economy.”

Responding to the economic impact of Covid-19, SIPP recently launched a Rising Economy Taskforce, not only to work on economic recovery but to “advance plans to create greater economic resiliency in the region to withstand future global shocks.” The broad-based Taskforce, which includes representatives from post-secondary institutions and nonprofits, will “explore business transitions and new emerging opportunities.”

One of the immediate fruits of their work is a study of the feasibility of a local abattoir because, noted SIPP: “The vast majority of meat is imported to the Island, and most locally raised livestock are transported out of the region to be processed.” The benefits of a local abattoir, SIPP noted, would be to “reduce environmental impacts due to transport ... help create jobs and stimulate the economy.”

Perhaps this idea should be expanded to the fishing industry, where we find a similar situation. Jim McIsaac, executive director of the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, likes to make this astonishing point; in Canada we import 93 per cent of the seafood we eat, while 85 to 90 per cent of what we harvest is exported. Surely the same argument can be applied to this situation as to the meat industry; process and consume it locally.

In any case, it is good to see these efforts underway, they need to be expanded and strengthened if we are to create a more resilient local economy that works for us locally.

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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