As many of you know, I have often spoken of the importance of local communities and local economies. The two go hand in hand. Without a strong economic base, no community can truly succeed. At the same time, without quality public services and citizen engagement, no community—no matter how successful its economy—can truly be considered strong.
During a provincial tour last year and in 2008, I met with local unions, community leaders, local governments, and provincial politicians, sharing with all of them my belief that a strong province and a strong country must start with strong local communities. But beyond the “usual suspects” a provincial labour leader might be expected to meet, I also made a point, in every community I visited, of also meeting with the local chamber of commerce or board of trade, along with business people.
Labour and business associations have been opposing forces throughout our province’s history. On many issues, we simply don’t see things the same way. But what people almost never talk about are those issues where we do see things in the same light. One of the issues where we are in almost complete agreement is the importance of strong local economies.
In my view, the provincial government has a very important role to play in fostering economic and community development. Sadly, over the past 20 years successive governments have abandoned much of that responsibility, never more so than under the rule of the current Liberal administration, which has taken the practice of downloading responsibilities onto municipalities without funding and made it into an art. But unless we can convince future provincial governments of the central importance of thriving local economies to the economic well-being of the entire province, I believe that we will need to act on our own, doing what we can independent of so-called senior governments.
So, over the course of the next few months, you will hear a lot from me and from CUPE BC about something called the Ten-Per-Cent Shift. In a nutshell, the concept is that if enough people consciously change their spending patterns so that they spend 10 per cent more of their household budget on locally-made products, the local economy will thrive. Research in other jurisdictions that have tried this approach shows that it works. More jobs are created, more businesses thrive, and the local economy receives a much-needed boost.
Remember the success of the 100 Mile Diet? I am convinced that we can make the Ten-Per-Cent Shift just as popular. It’s the kind of initiative that can bring neighbours together to think up new ways of using their own personal purchasing power to make their communities better. And that’s a concept we can all buy into: business, labour and everyone else.
Barry O’Neill is president of CUPE BC.