Min­is­ter Bruce Ral­ston Talks Jobs, Trade and Tech

The min­is­ter of jobs, trade and tech­nol­ogy out­lines his plans to keep B.C. eco­nom­i­cally com­pet­i­tive

BC Business Magazine - - Front Page - By Nick Rockel

Bruce Ral­ston over­sees a port­fo­lio that reaches into many cor­ners of the pro­vin­cial econ­omy. As head of the new min­istry of jobs, trade and tech­nol­ogy, the NDP stal­wart han­dles three files that the pre­vi­ous BC Lib­eral gov­ern­ment al­lo­cated to sep­a­rate cabi­net posts. Ral­ston may be a rookie cabi­net min­is­ter, but he brings plenty of po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence to the job. Now serv­ing his fourth term as MLA for Sur­rey-whalley, the Vic­to­ria na­tive earned his­tory and law de­grees from UBC and an MA in his­tory from the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge. He ran his own law firm in Sur­rey for 25 years, en­ter­ing pol­i­tics by serv­ing as a lo­cal city coun­cil­lor from 1988 to 1993.

Ral­ston, who was first elected to the B.C. leg­is­la­ture in 2005, has been Op­po­si­tion critic for sev­eral port­fo­lios, in­clud­ing fi­nance and in­ter­na­tional trade. From 2009 un­til last year, the fa­ther of three headed the Se­lect Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Pub­lic Ac­counts.

The min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for small busi­ness, Ral­ston chairs the Small Busi­ness Roundtable, whose mem­bers in­clude en­trepreneurs from through­out the province. He sat on the board of Van­cou­ver City Savings Credit Union from 1995 to 2006, serv­ing as chair for two years.

Why did your gov­ern­ment com­bine jobs, trade and tech­nol­ogy into a sin­gle port­fo­lio?

When I talk to peo­ple in the busi­ness com­mu­nity, I say that I've got re­spon­si­bil­ity for im­mi­gra­tion, small busi­ness, the trade net­work and tech­nol­ogy. There's one fur­ther thing, which is BC Stats and data gen­er­ally. Other than hous­ing, it's the non-re­source side of the B.C. econ­omy.

The logic in bring­ing it all to­gether is to be able to serve peo­ple's in­ter­ests bet­ter than by break­ing it up into smaller ju­ris­dic­tions. The chal­lenge is to cre­ate those syn­er­gies, like any process of or­ga­ni­za­tional change.

On job cre­ation, what are you do­ing dif­fer­ently from the BC Lib­er­als?

Af­ter 2011 the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment fo­cused on the LNG sec­tor; they made a fairly cal­cu­lated bet. Most of their eco­nomic min­istries and ac­tiv­ity were sub­or­di­nated to that ef­fort— not en­tirely, but I did hear con­cerns from dif­fer­ent sec­tors that they weren't be­ing lis­tened to be­cause it didn't fit into the LNG bas­ket.

We're look­ing more broadly at the whole of the econ­omy and ev­ery re­gion. We are de­vel­op­ing a longer-term eco­nomic vi­sion. With our part­ners, we've ap­pointed B.C.'S first in­no­va­tion com­mis­sioner, Alan Win­ter, who will se­cure fund­ing and cham­pion B.C. tech in Ottawa and abroad, and we are cre­at­ing an In­no­va­tion Com­mis­sion that will fo­cus specif­i­cally on ser­vices to tech­nol­ogy.

The sec­ond thing is the Emerg­ing Econ­omy Task Force, which is in the process of be­ing cre­ated. It will en­deav­our to take a longer view of the econ­omy over the hori­zon, not driven by the po­lit­i­cal cy­cle. Bri­tish Columbia's a pretty suc­cess­ful sub­na­tional ju­ris­dic­tion, but in a very com­pet­i­tive world, with a rel­a­tively small num­ber of peo­ple, how can we be suc­cess­ful in the long run?

How will you tackle the labour short­age in the ser­vice in­dus­try and other sec­tors?

The Fair Wages Com­mis­sion will ad­dress the is­sue of wages. Now, whether it's purely a wages prob­lem, I don't think so. Part of the prob­lem in some parts of the province is the cost of hous­ing; it doesn't en­able peo­ple to live close to jobs be­cause they can't af­ford to rent or buy prop­erty. So we're work­ing on the hous­ing side of it. On the skills train­ing side, the prob­lem I hear in some sec­tors is they don't have peo­ple who are trained specif­i­cally for the kind of work they are of­fer­ing.

How can we cre­ate more high-pay­ing jobs in B.C.?

I'm not sure the gov­ern­ment has a strong in­ter­ven­tion­ist

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