Key Takeaways from VIEA’s State of the Island Economic Summit

VIEA Economic Summit
Panel discussion at the 2019 VIEA Economic Summit. The event was held virtually in 2021. Photo: © Dirk Heydemann / HA Photography.

VIEA’s 2021 State of the Island Economic Summit took place over two days and brought together hundreds of delegates and speaker to discuss the Island’s most pressing issues. One overarching theme united the diversity of discussions: we are all connected, and that must be taken into account in creating sustainable, future facing policies and practices. 

Douglas editor Carla Sorrell and staff writer Aldyn Chwelos have compiled our key takeaways from six Summit talks.

Keynote Presentation — Donut Economics: From a Radical Idea into a Transformative Action  

Carlota Sanz is the cofounder of the Donut Economics Action Lab in Oxford, U.K. Her keynote presentation proposed that our historically linear, divisive and degenerative societies need to be restructured as distributive, regenerative and circular. She outlined a series of questions that a city can ask itself to establish values moving forward (How can our city be as generous as the woodland next door? How can our city respect the health of the whole planet? How can our city respect the wellbeing of all people?) and shared examples of global cities who have re-aligned their ambition including Amsterdam, Melbourne, Vienna, Sponge City and Oslo. 

All countries are interconnected, but it is only the inhabitants of each city who are able to truly answer the questions of their own city. 

Regional Spotlight (Nanaimo) — Applying Doughnut Economics: How local government can lead economic development fit for the 21st century

The City of Nanaimo is adopting a donut economics approach to the process of re-imagining Nanaimo. Nanaimo was struggling with the disparity of issues at hand, including homelessness and addiction, and needed a framework to address them in a unified way — donut economics takes the view that everything is connected. The City wants to put people first as it continues to grow. Addressing sustainability, Nanaimo has established a sustainable procurement policy that contributes to the overall goal of disposing of (including recycling or eliminating waste) all waste generated in the region. 

The Indigenous Economy

Trevor Cootes is an elected member of the Executive Council for the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, Ian Simpson is CEO of Petroglyph Development Group and Angela van den Hout is Director of Economic Development at Malahat Nation. Their presentation explored ways that leaders in the Indigenous economic development space can design strategic goals that align with their Nation’s values. They stress the importance of taking a nation-building approach to development and defining a clear vision of success that considers not only economic value but what kind of communities are being built. 

For non-indigenous organizations interested in partnering with First Nations, they all echoed the same advice: put relationship building first. Take the time to get to know your partners, ask questions, and work together to develop an agreement that is truly beneficial to all parties involved. The three panelists illustrate these practices with their own success stories: the Malahat Skywalk, the Huu-ay-aht Nation’s agreement with Western Forest Products, and the Snuneymuxw Nation’s partnership with PEG to construct the new Marriott Courtyard in downtown Nanaimo. 

The Blue Economy – Vancouver Island’s Next Economic Engine

Canada has the world’s largest coastline and, as such, is well-positioned to be a leader in the blue economic space. The panelists in this presentation demonstrate the leadership and innovation currently happening on the Island but also highlight the need for increased investment in what could be a driving force towards a sustainable food economy. The blue economy includes opportunities from traditional seafood harvesting to the growing kelp farming industry. It even includes the development of carbon capture technology, which is a product that is increasing in global demand. 

These industries are poised to develop sustainable food systems, create jobs in remote communities and provide economic and leadership opportunities to Indigenous Nations. In order to do this, the panelists argue, Vancouver Island and Canada as a whole, need to invest in a blue vision from government support to education programs, from investing in innovation to supporting the businesses already doing the work to build a new, blue economy. 

Magic Happens When Arts & Business Converge

Nordicity presented the arts impact assessment of the Vancouver Island and Gulf Island super-region, proposing that there is untapped potential in uniting arts and business. Benefits include making communities better places to do business, creating networking opportunities, and most significantly, making communities more attractive to live, work and visit through a shared sense of identity. 

Frank D’Ambrosio used the example of the arts and innovation district (Victoria 3.0) which will embed arts and culture into commercial and residential development. Artists need to be invited to the table early on — they bring a certain way of thinking that needs to be embedded in decision-making processes. Other examples discussed were the Malahat Skywalk, whose artistic contributions have played a bigger role in the project’s success than imagined, leading to more artistic initiatives.  

Modernizing Our Forest Practices — How will we make this happen?

Melissa Sanderson, Assistant Deputy Minister, Forest Policy and Indigenous Relations Division, spoke to three goals in updating forest policies and legislation through three goals: increasing participation in the forest sector, enhancing stewardship and sustainability (including old growth forests) and strengthening the social contract to ensure all communities have an opportunity to benefit. 

Graham Sakaki from VIU and Sandy Stern from the Forest Practices Board talked about a pilot project in 2019 that that addressed the simplification of wood waste management by the removal of residual fibre. Benefits include fuel reduction, air quality improvement from reduction in burning, increased employment opportunities and attracting secondary manufacturing.

They were followed by Shannon Janson of Western Forest Projects and Chief Robert Dennis of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation who talked about the process of creating a reconciliation protocol agreement and forming a Limited Partnership in which the Huu-ay-aht could buy ownership interest in — they now hold 35% ownership. Janson emphasized that a healthy partnership must be ongoing and doesn’t end with legal agreements. Chief Dennis talked about being guided by principles of sustainability with main focuses currently watershed renewal to enhance salmon stock and forest management practices. He reinforced Hišuk ma cáwak — that everything is connected. 

Further reading:

Susan Mowbray on the findings of the 2021 State of the Island Economic Report