The Year of Putting Up Walls, or Taking Them Down

Premier Christy Clark on Brexit, Donald Trump and the U.S. Election, and the future

  • Jun. 23, 2016 5:00 p.m.

Barry Coulter

The mundane details of our daily lives go on, but these days, international events that could have a profound impact on all of us are on everybody’s minds.

Thursday, June 23, was an historic day, as the citizens of the United Kingdom voted whether or not Britain should leave the European Union. Although as of press time, the results of the “Brexit” referendum were still pending, B.C. Premier Christy Clark — in Cranbrook for a cabinet retreat — voiced her thoughts on Brexit and other matters ongoing in this tumultuous year of 2016.

“I’m a believer in free trade, and I’m a believer in taking down walls, not putting them up,” she said.

“I used to live in Britain, so I understand how attached people are to the pound and the pint and the monarchy and the way of life there. But Britain is better, wealthier because it is in the European Union. Just as Canada is wealthier because it is in NAFTA Just like we will be wealthier if we find our way into the TPP.

“If Britain leaves Europe, I think it will be terrible for the British economy, for jobs, it think it will be very shortsighted, I think it would be bad for the world.”

If the UK were to leave the EU, resulting in economic upheaval, it’s possible B.C. would be less effected than other parts of the world, even other provinces.

“We’ve just signed the CETA [Comprehensive Economic and Trade] Agreement with the European Union,” Clark said. “We [B.C.] don’t have a lot of trade directly with Europe — we do less trade with Europe, I think, than anyone else in the country. But a world where there’s more free trade is better for British Columbia than a world where there are more protectionist barriers.

“Just like I worry about Donald Trump and his plans to move America to a more protectionist stance, his plans to build a wall, who knows, to endanger NAFTA, I worry that this movement in Britain, if they’re successful, is going to add credibility to those who say trade is bad. Because trade is enriching for British Columbia.”

Speaking of Donald Trump, his unprecedented rise as a U.S. presidential candidate is worrisome to the premier.

“It’s something that hasn’t happened in North America in a long, long time,” she said of the rise of the demogogue. “It’s hard to judge what it’s going to look like in the future. We don’t know what kind of president either [Trump of Clinton] would turn out to be. But if Donald Trump turns out to be the kind of president he says he’s going to be, I think people are going to look back at it as one of the most impoverishing periods of American history.”

Clark said shutting down trade and raising protectionist barriers and stopping people coming to the country based on their religious affiliation is only going to hurt America.

“And that’s going to be terrible for Canada. Eighty per cent of our trade goes to the United States. We need them to be open.

“No American president has become ‘great by putting up walls,” Clark said. “Every great American president in history is remembered because they took down walls, because they opened America up to the world. That is what has always made a great president.”

With such unique international events taking place, it almost feels the world is in a transition — with economic upheaval, vast movements of people, and global voter trends like what took place in Britain Thursday.

Clark was asked to look twenty years into the future, to what kind of world she would like to see, and B.C.’s place in that world.

“I would like to see British Columbia really be the economic leader in Canada. The way for us to do that is to grow our LNG industry. Alberta’s been the leader for a long time, which has been great for B.C. But we can be that leader — we have the same wealth of resources that Alberta does, if we can ship it overseas.

“We want to make sure we invest those resources in making this the best educated place — the smartest place in the world. That means investing hugely in education, in research and development, in technology, in creating a new economy. The green economy where we all want our kids are working.

“It’s the marriage of a growing resource economy that creates the wealth we need to make B.C. the smartest place in the world — thinking up solutions to problems that we’ve been wrestling with for a long time.”

And what did Clark envision herself doing in that world, 20 years from now?

“When I’m 70, I’d like to still be doing something where I’m helping people — public service of some kind. I think as you get older, as your kids get older, you really start to think about how you can leave something better behind.”