On Saturday, delegates from across Canada will meet for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's annual general meeting in the Okanagan.
As Canada's largest and most influential business association, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce includes a network of 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade and represents 200,000 businesses in all economic sectors.
The opportunity to host a national gathering is an important opportunity to showcase and to raise issues of importance for our province and region.
Last week, chamber president Perrin Beatty tackled one of B.C.'s most challenging public policy issues - expanding oil and gas pipelines to connect Alberta's oilsands to Canada's coasts.
In its policy report, entitled $50 Million a Day, the chamber frames the economic benefit and potential cost to Canada if we embrace the opportunity, estimated to be $50 million a day, to transport oil and gas by pipeline across B.C. to our ports for export.
Currently, Canada's oil and gas sector represents seven per cent of GDP, 20 per cent of GDP growth and employs 550,000 Canadians.
Here in B.C., this issue dominated the provincial election. Our province currently receives $1.2 billion in royalties and taxes from oil and gas projects. At the same time, these projects raise important questions about the environment and priorities for land use.
Acknowledging these challenges, Premier Christy Clark articulated five principles for supporting the expansion of pipelines - the successful completion of an environmental review process; B.C. having world-leading land and marine spill prevention, response and recovery systems; respecting aboriginal and treaty rights; and a fair distribution of fiscal and economic benefits for B.C.
She is also advancing an ambitious plan for the growth of LNG production.
The Conference Board of Canada anticipates that, over the next 25 years, a $386 billion investment in Canada's natural gas sector will generate 131,000 additional jobs per year, $3.1 billion in taxes each year and $364 billion in additional GDP.
The economic potential seems clear.
But the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace and others have warned that new or expanded pipelines will encourage unsustainable expansion of the oilsands, cause massive environmental damage along their routes and increase tanker traffic and the risk of oil spills in ecologically sensitive coastal waters.
The environmental challenge seems equally clear.
Sound environmental stewardship is a powerful and legitimate concern that needs to be addressed - and this work has already begun. To quote the chamber's report, "our leaders have an ethical responsibility to future generations to ensure environmentally and socially sustainable development practices."
I agree. A co-existing sustainable environment and economy are the best legacies that we can leave our children.
The fundamental challenge we face is our global dependence on oil that is unlikely to change significantly for decades to come.
The train disaster at Lac-Megantic, the pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River and the Exxon Valdez spill highlight the environmental, consumption and transportation challenges we face. This dialogue, stimulated by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, calls for a balanced and informed public conversation between industry, government and the community.
Their leadership models an important role for local chambers to inform and shape public policy through meaningful, evidence-based dialogue.
In the Okanagan, this means chambers working across the region to lead conversations about a second crossing across Lake Okanagan, agriculture, education - and yes, energy.
We simply cannot ignore these challenges and opportunities. The engagement and path we choose will determine our environmental and economic sustainability and the legacy we leave for future generations.
Chris Gorman is a school trustee and hosts a blog on his personal website at www.chrisgorman.ca.