Minister Bruce Ralston Talks Jobs, Trade and Tech
The minister of jobs, trade and technology outlines his plans to keep B.C. economically competitive
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