Growing concerns with growth

The other day while heading into town to pick up some building materials for our never ending new home construction project, I encountered a large loaded lumber truck heading towards Evening Cove. The next vehicle I crossed paths with was a pickup truck loaded with building supplies. Glancing out at the harbor, I saw a boat pulling a log boom. All this activity got me thinking just how much our economy is built on growth.We used to be a community based on natural resources such as harvesting oysters and catching fish, extracting coal from far below the ground, and logging and milling. Except for coal, these activities still contribute to our economy, but our major employers these days seem to be health care and education.The Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) alone employs 7814 full-time and 10,179 part-time people. School District #68 employs more than 2500 people. Add another 2000 for Vancouver Island University.Currently, international students alone inject 1.6 billion dollars into BC each year, creating about 21,000 jobs, and this is a fickle market. These students can go anywhere in the world for advanced education, and they choose BC. Like tourists, they place very little demand on our infrastructure, but add much to our economy. VIU brings about 1100 foreign students each year into our local economy.The scary thing is that Wikipedia suggests the Provincial government is the largest employer for our area, although health and education and all the other BCGEU and CUPE workers are probably included in this. Why this is scary is that those wages are paid by your and my taxes, and yes, I’m currently one of those employees. When we get too many people living off the avails of taxes, it’s hard on the economy unless balanced by other sources of revenue.So, back to the issue of growth. In the last little while we’ve been hearing about plans for the old Ivy Green property, Pamela Anderson’s property, the Warren Street proposal, the Town’s waterfront 92 acres, and all the subdivision activity south of Davis Road. Ladysmith continues to grow as it has for the 35 years that I’ve been watching.The concern is not growth. Some people think that we should close the barn door now that they’re here, before too many more move in next door. But let’s get real, the world’s population is growing and to expect our Ladysmith-Chemainus area not to grow too, is unrealistic.Rather than higher local population, the real concern is whether our economy is actually built on growth. Are we inviting in new business and industry only because we want to increase employment, or are we doing so because it’s a good fit and replaces jobs lost elsewhere?   Do we encourage development just to give the Town a larger tax base?  Those in my mind are the wrong reasons for growth. It becomes a spiral or feeding frenzy and our local population grows and grows needing more employment and tax dollars to fix the problems caused by growth.On the other hand, we don’t want to be a town that dries up, turns to dust and blows away in the wind. Port Essington was the largest BC coastal town north of Vancouver once upon a time and now it’s completely gone. Somehow I can’t see this happening in our area, although it looked that way a number of years ago for Chemainus when the mill shut down.So how do we have growth and yet achieve sustainability?  Somehow each of us has to use less water, less fuel and other natural resources just to maintain the overall status quo. Fortunately, we are doing this by switching over to low flush toilets, those unloved compact florescent bulbs, slightly more fuel efficient vehicles, and a thousand other things we are doing or will be doing down the road to counteract world population and local growth. Will our North American lifestyle or world population ever become sustainable?  It’s hard for me to imagine, but at least we are starting to try.

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