Living/Working January 20, 2017

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B.C.’s business of growing is growing fast

Value of agriculture, seafood exports now on par with copper and steelmaking coal
Paul Falcon grows organic blueberries at his Falconglen Organic Farms in Langley | Credit: Rob Kruyt

Just five years ago, the most valuable export commodities coming out of the ground in B.C. apart from trees were copper and metallurgical coal.

But in 2015, the value of B.C. food exports surpassed both copper and metallurgical coal. Met coal used to be B.C.’s second most valuable export, next to lumber.

Copper exports in 2015 were valued at $2.9 billion, according to BC Stats, and outbound metallurgical coal was worth $3 billion. Agri-food and seafood exports in 2015 hit a record $3.8 billion.

Agri-food and seafood exports have grown from 7.2% of B.C.’s total exports in 2006 to 10.7% in 2015. B.C. exports of agricultural and food products increased 5.7% between November 2015 and 2016, and seafood products were up 16.1%.

B.C. salmon farmers marked record exports in 2015, with China and South Korea providing important new markets. Farmed salmon exports increased 38% since 2013.

Overall, B.C.’s food sector employs 55,000 people directly and 20,000 farm families, according to the provincial government.

While the sector’s displacement of met coal or copper in terms of the value of its exports is partly attributable to sustained low resource prices, B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick is also taking some credit. He points to his government’s 2012 B.C. agri-foods strategy, which was updated in 2015 and now aims to raise agri-food and seafood revenue to $15 billion by 2020.

“Agriculture is a key part of our economy,” Letnick said. “It employs a lot of people, creates a lot of GDP.”

B.C. berry and cherry growers have done particularly well in developing new markets in China. B.C. blueberry growers had a record year for exports in 2015 ($218 million) – a 29% increase over 2014.

Cherry growers exported 13,600 tonnes of cherries in 2015 – a 56% increase over 2014 – for sales worth $92 million.

“The demand from China is insatiable,” said Julie McLachlan, general sales manager for Jealous Fruits, an Okangan Valley cherry grower with 650 acres of orchards under production and with plans to nearly double in size to 1,100 acres by 2021. “We could sell our entire crop into China.”

McLachlan added that the company’s exports to Vietnam and Thailand have grown 300%.

To achieve its 2020 revenue targets, Letnick said his government plans to increase farmland production and continue to develop export markets.

Primary producers are challenged by the lack of arable land in B.C. Even so, the B.C. government hopes to increase farmland production by an additional 91,000 hectares by 2020.

The plan also aims to increase seafood production 13,000 tonnes over five years, 12,000 of which would be from aquaculture.

B.C. farmland is protected in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), but Letnick said only about half of that land is used to produce food. His government hopes tax incentives will encourage more production on ALR land.

Lenore Newman, Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment, said it might take more than tax incentives.

She said B.C. has two of three critical components for “a stable, excellent farming system at an industrial level”: the ALR and Right to Farm Act. What’s missing, she said, is enforcement that ensures farmland is farmed.

“We’re starting to see this problem of hobby farms and little manors,” she said. “As taxpayers, we’ve made this huge investment putting aside about half the land in the flatland of the Lower Mainland for farming. We didn’t put it aside as a really nice tax break for extremely wealthy people to live on a manor.”

The wild seafood sector is also constrained. It can’t really increase production, thanks to conservation and fisheries management, so it needs to increase value through more exports.

“The B.C. wild seafood industry is an export industry,” said Chris Sporer, executive director for the Seafood Producers Association of British Columbia. “We export about 80% of the production. We see lots of opportunities in Asia, not just China.”

The seafood sector is one that has seen fairly significant export growth, especially in Asia.

“Definitely the exports have been growing,” said Brian Yip, general manager for Fanny Bay Oysters on Vancouver Island. “We allocate about one-third of our volume for overseas. A few years ago I would say we might be 10%, 15%.”

Trade agreements like the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement and Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will address trade barriers. One sector that expects to benefit from CETA is wild and cultivated mushrooms.

“Europe is always going to be big because they have an affinity for mushrooms,” said David Lee Kwen, owner of Richmond-based Misty Mountain Specialties.

Currently, Canadian mushroom growers compete with U.S. growers. Under CETA, duties of 15% to 17% will disappear.

“Once the CETA kicks in, we will not be paying the import duties so it will help us significantly,” Lee Kwen said.

B.C. food processing a $9 billion industry

Holy Crap chia cereal. Hippie Snacks. Ethical Bean Coffee. So Nice soy and almond milk.

Given B.C.’s West Coast urban-hippie subculture, it’s probably no surprise that a significant number of food manufacturers in B.C. produce edibles and beverages for the earth- and health-conscious consumer.

If you buy only organic, gluten-free, halal/kosher or non-GMO food products, there’s a good chance it was made in B.C.

When it comes to agri-food and seafood, the single largest sub-sector in B.C. isn’t growing or harvesting food, but processing and packaging it.

Seventy per cent of the $13 billion in revenue generated in 2015 from agri-food and seafood was in a value-added sector: food processors and packagers.

“Agri-foods is the No. 2 manufacturing sector in the province, after forestry,” said B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick.

From artisanal salt made from sea water (Vancouver Island Salt Co.) to vegan, gluten-free soups made by Global Gourmet Foods Inc. and premium chocolates (Foley’s, Denman Island Chocolate, Brockmann’s Chocolates), making munchies has become a significant industry in B.C.

There are roughly 1,800 food producers and packagers in B.C. They range from small boutique producers focused on niche markets, like Northern Divine Aquafarms Ltd., which raises sturgeon to produce caviar, to Earth’s Own Food Co., which has annual revenue of $100 million from its So Nice soy and almond milk products.

In addition to the organic foods and snacks sector, B.C.’s ethnic diversity has also produced a number of ethnic food and snack makers, like Nana’s Kitchen, which makes samosas, H.B. Kaysons Ltd., which makes Indian snacks made from chickpeas, and Punjab Milk Foods Inc., which makes the Nanak Foods brand Indian foods.

nbennett@biv.com

@nbennett_biv

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Infographic source: Digital Guardian

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Dine Out Vancouver: Bigger and better than ever

This year’s festival runs from January 20 to February 5
For the first time in the event's 15-year history, Vij's Restaurant is fully participating in Dine Out Vancouver. Its Dine Out menu includes an appetizer of ground-lamb curry on sweet potato and ricotta "cookies" (pictured) | Photo: Dan Toulgoet

It’s been well over a decade since Tourism Vancouver launched a tiny little food event called Dine Out Vancouver. The premise was twofold: help the restaurant business by filling its rooms at a traditionally quiet period, and, in the process, showcase the diversity of the city’s dining scene. This year, Dine Out is celebrating its 15th anniversary, and the little event that could has grown into the largest of its kind in Canada, attracting chefs, mixologists and guests from around the globe.

Part of what has made Dine Out such a success is its focus on the complete dining experience, says celebrated restaurateur Vikram Vij. “Last year, we did one event with Dine Out, and I was so impressed with Tourism Vancouver,” he says. “They had done a great job of creating an actual experience for people, not just a cheap-eats menu.”

This year, having settled into its new, larger space on Cambie, Vij’s is participating full-on in Dine Out, offering a $40 three-course menu in the upstairs rooms. (First come, first served, as per the restaurant’s standard no-reservations policy.) “It’s not just about putting bums in seats. For that, I could just reduce my prices and quality,” Vij continues. “Tourism Vancouver has done a great job of evolving with the times. It’s about giving people the Vij’s experience, to realize this is an extension of our homes and fully appreciate what we’ve created. And I’m in good company this year. Hawksworth and Bishop’s are also part of Dine Out this year. The scope and quality of this event has really evolved.”

Robin Kort, owner of Swallow Tail Culinary Adventures, agrees. “Being part of a festival gives you something to be excited about at a slow time of year.”

Kort, who organizes “underground” supper clubs, sources unusual venues and then partners with chefs, mixologists, brewers, wineries and distilleries to create an interactive experience that goes beyond just a good meal. Previous sites have included a police museum, antique stores, and the Bloedel Conservatory. Guests are whisked around to multiple locations in a single evening on a trolley, and are encouraged to dress up in Prohibition-era attire. “It’s a great way to meet people and have fun,” says Kort, laughing. “You dress up in your zoot suits and flapper dresses, and because of the long-table-style seating and format, you end up meeting people and making friends.”

Kort finds new venues and partners every year, to make sure the experience is fresh each time. This year, she is again working with chef Jacob Deacon-Evans, who helped her create sold-out events last year. Expect to see partners like Odd Society Spirits, Lakebreeze Winery and Luppolo Brewing added into the mix.

The months of preparation, however, aren’t just limited to special events. “We started talking to our suppliers back in November,” says chef Jack Chen of Royal Dinette, a downtown restaurant with a strong farm-to-table ethos. “We wanted to work with what was abundant and could be used up. We do a lot of preserving, so that’s also being heavily used.”

Chen has also used the event as an opportunity to play with new ideas. “It’s such a busy event, but it also gives us time to plan and experiment with our spring menus,” he explains. Those experiments not only shape the new menus, but have enticed first-time customers to become loyal guests. (Chen is leaving the restaurant to pursue other opportunities, but his long-time sous chefs, Tom Yamasaki and Alden Ong, will be holding down the fort until an official replacement is announced.)

Even those restaurateurs who are not participating in Dine Out see the value of the event. “It’s a great advertisement for a restaurant,” says David Gunawan, owner of Farmer’s Apprentice and Grapes and Soda, and the opening consultant for Royal Dinette. “It’s a way to attract a new demographic – customers who might not have tried a place before.”

“Best foot forward” seems to be the watchword for most chefs who are participating in Dine Out this year. The new price points of $20, $30 and $40, plus the leeway to offer optional add-ons, gives chefs the flexibility to create value-based menus that still accurately reflect their menu during the rest of the year. And the plethora of events to choose from (which are selling out, FYI, so get a move on) can make for a riotous couple of weeks.

Here are some of this year’s can’t-miss restaurants and events.

$40 Menus

Vij’s Restaurant
Vij’s famous no-reservations policy means you might be waiting a while, but the friendly lounge is a great place to enjoy a cup of chai and complimentary pakoras while you wait for your table. The menu is loaded with delicious options, like braised “vegetarian lamb” (AKA jackfruit) in ground-cardamom-and-cumin curry, braised beef shortribs in Punjabi-style curry, and almond rice pudding.

Royal Dinette
Locavore, farm-to-table, and eminently West Coast, the choices here run the gamut from glazed Humboldt squid with kohlrabi and Thai pesto to Wagyu beef tartare, kasu-marinated pork loin with fermented barley grits, ling cod with potato gnocchi, and black-pepper fusilli with squash carbonara. A trio of desserts to choose from includes Bosc pear tart, elderflower sorbet with rum-preserved berries, and celeriac mousse with celery sorbet and candied walnut.

$30 Menus

Campagnolo
Chef Robert Belcham’s rustic Italian fare includes highlights such as crispy chickpeas, “Nonna’s” meatballs, carnaroli risotto with Dungeness crab sabayon, and classic Margherita pizza.

Maenam
One of the best restaurants in the city and the tops for Thai food, chef Angus An is serving up hot-and-sour halibut soup, braised beef cheeks in green curry, chicken cashew stir-fry, and banana roti.

$20 Menus

Gyoza Bar
Offering lunch and dinner menus, as well as a separate vegetarian menu, Goya Bar specializes in dumplings and bowls with a pan-Asian focus. Don’t miss the chicken ramen and the Korean-spiced pork rib bao board.

Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co.
This perennial family favourite sticks to its organic, locavore roots and serves up pizzas, pastas and soups that will warm the cockles and the palate. Don’t miss the smoked bacon and three-cheese penne, or the basil and blackberry salad.
 

Events

Secret Supper Soirée
Hosted by Swallow Tail Culinary Adventures, this gastronomic road trip will see you picked up in a 1930s trolley and whisked off to multiple secret locations for drinks and a multi-course meal. $125. Multiple dates.

Swallow Tail owner Robin Kort makes a Moonshine cocktail | Photo: Dan Toulgoet

Vancouver World Chef Exchange: Mexico City
Join Cacao chef Jefferson Alvarez as he welcomes Mexico City’s Jair Tellez and Miami’s Nidal Barake for a collaborative dining experience. $196.50. Two seatings on January 21.

Robbie Burns Celebration and Dinner
Award-winning mixologist Lauren Mote and chef Jonathan Chovancek are bringing their popular Bittered Sling Bistro pop-up to Yew Seafood + Bar for a collaborative whisky master class and dinner with Yew chef Weimar Gomez, along with special guest and James Beard award-winner Charles Joly from Chicago. $135. January 24-25.

For full details on all events and participating restaurants, visit DineOutVancouver.com.

Anya Levykh is a freelance food, drink and travel writer who covers all things ingestible. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @foodgirlfriday.

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Trudeau’s biggest economic challenges: Trump, taxes and energy

Justin Trudeau | Photo: BIV files, Howard Sandler/Shutterstock

When Justin Trudeau shuffled his federal cabinet last week, it signalled he’s taking the next United States president seriously. Finding the right mix of people to work with White House officials is important. But government policies also matter. Our prime minister will need to do more to keep Canada competitive and protect Canadian jobs.

Donald Trump is ready to upend U.S. policy on everything from trade to defence treaties to immigration. But the new president’s domestic proposals on taxes and energy are Canada’s greater challenges.

The Trump administration intends to move quickly to cut the business tax rate to 15% from 35%. Add the 4% average corporate tax applied by state and local governments and the new U.S. tax rate could soon effectively be a cool 19%, about eight points lower than Canada’s 27% average when federal and provincial rates are combined.

Our country’s tax advantage is coming to a sudden end. As a result, we should expect businesses will invest more in the United States and less in Canada, where higher costs exist.

This brings us to energy. Trudeau wants all provinces to put a price on carbon, directly with a carbon tax or indirectly with cap-and-trade regulations. If the provinces don’t, Trudeau will impose a carbon tax. The impact of either strategy is the same: more expensive for Canadians to get around, heat their homes and keep the lights on. Pricing carbon will increase the cost of almost everything, including food.

A typical Canadian family will likely pay more than $1,200 a year in new energy taxes by 2022 – twice that if Ottawa decides to apply its new tax aggressively.

Carbon pricing isn’t the only way Trudeau’s policies will raise electricity rates. His order to provincial governments to shutter coal-fired stations by 2030 will eliminate a source of cheap and reliable power from Canada’s energy mix. Here’s what that means for one small province: New Brunswick has a single coal-burning power plant, and NB Power officials have said closing it would increase provincial electricity rates by a staggering 38%.

Meanwhile, U.S. ratepayers face no carbon tax. And American energy costs will likely fall as Trump repeals former president Barack Obama’s executive orders restricting the extraction and use of fossil fuels.

What’s Ottawa’s response to all this?

Trudeau says Canada could win if the incoming president rejects plans to make U.S. energy more expensive. He told a Calgary business audience last month, “We know that this is the way the world is going and if the United States wants to take a step back from it, quite frankly, I think we should look at that as an extraordinary opportunity for Canada and for Canadians.”

It’s a brave face – but does it make sense?

Trump’s energy policies twinned with deep tax cuts will reduce Canada’s competitiveness.

Canadian policy-makers, and the prime minister, don’t have to like this change and might privately curse it. But our federal and provincial governments can’t pretend Trump’s policy agenda won’t have any impact on the economy when Canadian jobs are at risk.

Canada’s energy sector is already concerned that government policy will soon put our country at a competitive disadvantage, and that investment and jobs will move to the U.S.

In Ontario, some businesses are already eyeing nearby U.S. states with more affordable energy prices. Ontario electricity prices have skyrocketed thanks to costly provincial regulations. Carbon pricing means bills for natural gas, gasoline and diesel are going up next. The Coalition of Concerned Manufacturers of Ontario, a group of small- and medium-sized businesses, has raised the alarm and is urging the government to reverse course or risk job losses.

Canada’s long-term growth depends on its businesses remaining competitive. Affordable energy is part of the mix, along with reasonable tax rates. Likewise, the prosperity of Canadian families is affected by the price of home heating fuels, power and gas. Dramatic price increases leave households poorer, while inexpensive energy would mean households have more income for other things.

With Canadian energy prices set to increase relative to U.S. prices, there will soon be an additional cost to Canada’s carbon policy. That price is less investment and lost jobs. Lower U.S. taxes will only compound the problem.

Canadian workers and businesses can’t afford such a shift.

The Trudeau government’s next move should be to overhaul its carbon pricing plan to account for the policy shift south of the border. Canada needs a strategy that doesn’t penalize businesses and ordinary Canadians. •

John Williamson is president of Canadians for Affordable Energy.

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Time to curb urban car violence and pedestrian death toll in B.C.

Never mind calling back Mayor Gregor Robertson from Mexico to clear our icy sidewalks. We should be asking him to stay home in January and protect seniors from being killed by cars.

Vancouver is the pedestrian death capital of Canada, and January is peak month for pedestrian deaths in B.C. – expect more than seven. Based on five-year averages, 61% of those killed will be 50 or older.

Our pedestrian death rate is twice that of Toronto, where one pedestrian is injured every four hours, and 44 pedestrians were killed in 2016. In last October alone, 10 pedestrians died in five Lower Mainland municipalities.

There were as many pedestrians slaughtered by cars in the city of Vancouver (11) last year as there were murder victims.

For some reason, we’ve come to accept this road violence against pedestrians as part of the wallpaper of urban living – even as “walkable cities” are the holy grail of city planning everywhere.

My son was walking to work across a marked intersection at Pender and Jervis, on a green light, at 7:30 on an October morning two years ago when a car knocked him to the ground. He is still suffering from the concussion he incurred. The driver stopped and leaned out the window to ask if he was all right, then drove off.

It turns out his situation is typical: according to a BC Coroners Service report, 40% of pedestrians killed in Greater Vancouver were struck at intersections and in crosswalks and two-thirds were crossing while the light was green.

It might also be the case that many of the pedestrians who got hit were, like him, wearing dark clothing. In some Nordic countries the widespread use of reflective clothing has greatly reduced road violence.

But it’s too simple to blame pedestrians. I remember the first time I saw the 30 km/h zone painted boldly on Hastings Street around Main – the most dangerous pedestrian intersection in the Lower Mainland. My first reaction was: “Why should I slow down because impaired people choose to lurch into oncoming cars?” Then I sobered up and reframed the question: “Why should saving a few seconds of driving be more important than killing someone?”

Some European countries institutionalized that approach with new laws of strict liability, where vulnerable road users, not drivers, are assumed to be innocent. When they did, injury and fatality rates for pedestrians and cyclists went down more than 70%.

Slowing down is another no-brainer: when a pedestrian is struck by a car travelling at 50 km/h, the chances of survival are 15% to 20%. At 30 km/h, the chance of surviving jumps to 90%. That’s why HUB Cycling recommends a 30 km/h default speed limit on all non-arterials – any street without a painted centre line.

Minister of Transportation Todd Stone, who would have to implement this, is not interested. Nor is he interested in photo radar and red-light cameras. Research in Europe found there were 42% fewer serious injuries and fatalities where photo radar and cameras were installed.

“They’re nothing more than a tax grab,” the minister said last March. He could equally have said: “Seniors are expendable if it gets me votes from car drivers who want the freedom to kill them by breaking the law and letting ICBC pick up the bills.”

Getting to zero pedestrian fatalities, which the City of Vancouver, other municipalities and the provincial government all say they want to do, needs action on many fronts: lower speed limits, safer intersection design, better pedestrian signals, tougher enforcement to stop speeding and distracted driving (none of us should be taking calls from people while we’re driving), more reflective clothing, cyclists using lights and more.

But mostly it means getting serious about this ongoing car violence against mostly seniors, in every neighbourhood, especially in January. 

Peter Ladner (pladner@biv.com) is a co-founder of Business in Vancouver. He is a former Vancouver city councillor and former fellow at the SFU Centre for Dialogue. He is the author of The Urban Food Revolution.

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