Even as it grappled with billions in new debt due to COVID-19, the B.C. government borrowed another $500 million to take a greater role in determining how the province’s economy will look in 2022 and beyond.
The first new hire for a Crown corporation now known as InBC was announced in December. Chief executive Jill Earthy moves to InBC from WeBC (formerly Women’s Enterprise Centre). She and the board of directors will soon make the critical choice, a chief investment officer who the B.C. NDP government has promised will have a free hand to invest the half billion in borrowed money.
“We’ll be representing the values that are important to British Columbia, with a triple bottom line focused on people, planet and profit,” Premier John Horgan said in announcing InBC in April 2021. Its aim is “making strategic investments to make sure that the intellectual property, the ideas that are being grown in our post-secondary institutions and in our industrial sectors can stay here.”
Greg d’Avignon, CEO Business Council of B.C., compared InBC to a space mission. “This fund will be a key propellant to aid in the liftoff of many B.C. companies today, and those that will come tomorrow into the 21st century and our digital, low-carbon economy.”
The space analogy is a favourite of the B.C. government’s key advisor, University College London economics professor Mariana Mazzucato. Her latest book is called Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism.
In a November video speech to Simon Fraser University, Mazzucato said the “COVID-19 moment” is where B.C. can shift to “mission-oriented capitalism” and steer the economy in a new direction.
“What we’ve learned in this particular period is, again, just how ill-prepared we are,” she said in the SFU presentation. “This is not going to be the last pandemic. The scientific journals tell us that as the permafrost melts, other viruses will come out.”
When Mazzucato was appointed in June by Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Minister Ravi Kahlon, she was already advising Sweden, South Africa, Argentina, the United Nations and the World Health Organization, chairing its Council on the Economics of Health for All. She described her own mission as “saving capitalism from itself” by reshaping investment to serve social goals.
Doling out innovation money to a list of key industries like forestry, mining and technology and measuring their growth isn’t the way to go, Mazzucato told B.C. in June. Kahlon compared her approach to his government’s overhaul of the forest industry, redistributing Crown timber access to Indigenous and local communities.
InBC was first announced in April 2021, with a board of directors including former finance minister Carole James, deputy jobs minister Bobbi Plecas and deputy finance minister Heather Wood. VanCity CEO Christine Bergeron was appointed board chair.
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