Review: VIEA Economic Summit Provides Regional Insights

Douglas magazine’s editor Carla Sorrell attended the VIEA Economic Summit this year for the first time. Here, she shares her key takeaways and impression of the annual event, which took place virtually this past October.

VIEA Economic Summit
A screen capture of the 2020 VIEA Economic Summit's Reconciliation panel session. Taken by Carla Sorrell.

The Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA)’s annual conference was a timely pulse check on our changing economy, particularly given the fact that we were hit by a pandemic this year. 

That we are still very much in transition, with many businesses uncertain about the future, was a reality confirmed by the politicians, councillors, business owners, First Nations, media, advocacy groups, students, consultants and lenders who gave voice to three days of discussion October 27 – 29 through VIEA’s first fully virtual iteration of the Summit.

What emerged from these discussions is how hard people on Vancouver Island are working to pull through together by sharing ideas, resources, access to information and insight into their own challenges and solutions that have worked. 

“Everything is connected” was a recurring theme articulated by keynote speaker Dr Justin Bull, Lecturer and Chair at the UBC Sauder School of Business and repeated by Indigenous panelists Carol Anne Hilton, CEO of the Indigenomics Institute, and Karen Joseph, CEO of Reconciliation Canada, as a worldview shared in many iterations by First Nations. Joseph emphasized the importance of understanding that such views, including a value on the wellbeing of many over the good of certain individuals, are defining factors for Indigenous business owners and those who do business with them. 

The unique opportunities and challenges posed by the Island’s geography were explored in detail. A dramatic decrease in flights and closure of restaurants delivered a hard hit to food production sectors like aquaculture which saw exports decrease significantly through the first half of 2020. Short term losses aside, aquaculture has huge potential for five to ten fold expansion – watch for the BC Salmon Farmers Association Opportunity Report coming out soon – with companies like Cascadia Seaweed and Nuu-Chah-Nulth Seafood LP looking at opportunities to expand. 

One of the benefits of this year’s digital format was certainly the ability to hear from speakers across the country, including an introduction from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a keynote speech from Minister Mélanie Joly.

In her keynote, Kendra MacDonald quoted Ryunosuke Satoro: “individually we are just one drop, together we are an ocean.” As CEO of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster she shared projections for the growth of the blue economy. One of the many initiatives bringing together partners from across the country, the Blue Economy Strategy is focusing on the productivity and health of oceans, and pledges to protect up to 30% of Canada’s oceans by 2030. The Island is poised to participate in many ways, with Victoria’s plans for an ocean supercluster already underway.

Putting human experience first was the message of the enviously-titled tech-futurist Kate O’Neill who was speaking from her home in NYC. O’Neill spoke about the effects of tech interfaces and interactions when they are scaled up, and how the smallest details in a system can cause huge change to a community or society at large. 

Speakers in tourism and small business were very honest about the challenges that they have faced this year. While the government’s grants have supported hard hit industries, money can’t replace the need to move from a state of reaction to one of control. There was a desire voiced in the tourism industry for a plan to move forward with certainty through deliberate choices and steps.

To end the summit, VIEA presented their annual State of the Island Economic Report 2020, which is available through VIEA

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