Don Fast, CEO of D. Fast Consulting Ltd since 2015, joined us for a lively discussion on his distinguished career in public service with both Federal and Provincial governments, and his more recent work in the private sector. Fast worked in public service in various capacities for 45 years, and the transition to CEO as his own consultancy firm has allowed him a different perspective on business.
“I enjoy working with companies in British Columbia, and particularly First Nations Groups. I found that working in the private sector you don’t have the same interaction with people that I did working in the public sector. Working in the private sector now I am advocating for business and working for them rather than advocating for the public interest.”
His first role with the BC government was in 1995, as Assistant Deputy Minister with a broad portfolio that included environmental protection, BC Water Commission, fish and wildlife management, and crown land management. In his 5 years there, Fast took a leading role in introducing new environmental practices to the province.
“I embarked on leading edge environmental policies and recycling policies that are still in place today. Recycling hazardous waste and building the green economy.”
In 2006, Fast returned as the Deputy Minister Economic Development, International Trade, and Investment. British Columbia was crying out for growth and extending trade agreements would be key for the province. Fast helped to design the Asia Pacific Initiative, and the action plan was finalized in 2006/07. By 2020, the annual economic benefit of achieving the Province’s goals in the region is estimated to be a $76 billion trade gain for B.C. alone.
“In 2006 I helped to design an international program specifically with the Asia-Pacific region. Before this BC did not have anything international in place, so I think that was very important to open up trade with Asia for the people of British Columbia.”
Fast’s achievements also include working with Health Canada on the Canadian Drinking Water standard. In his role as Environment Canada’s Pacific and Yukon regional director with the Federal Government Fast contributed to the Climate Change Action Plan. Being an active voice for environmental action and protection is an ongoing theme in Fast’s career.
“My position at Environment Canada was a broad mandate that included meteorological, waste, air pollution, water, fishing, lots of policies that allowed me to have a broad view of what was happening. The economy and environment in Canada are closely related. My role at Environment Canada involved implementing federal policies in British Columbia, but also internationally.”
In 2009 Fast took a leading role in shaping British Columbia’s plan for a knowledge-based economy and society. The plans included investment in infrastructure and using technology to improve government services. The province has witnessed a huge growth in technology startups and has attracted lots of talent from around the world. But Fast says there is more work to be done.
“There is a lot of strong expertise in British Columbia, but there is so much more to be accomplished. Some of the barriers in BC are government procurement and recruitment. Alan Winter recently published a report on the need for more innovation hubs in BC. British Columbia is a desirable place to live and work, there is great diversity in the culture and opportunities to develop your expertise, but often it is a difficult place to get new ideas accepted.”
Serving the public for over 45 years, he has seen many changes in society and how Canadians do business. Fast says while he has been careful to remain professional and bipartisan in his dealings with the media, politicians and public figures are faced with the dilemma of interacting with people on social media and being wary of being held accountable for every comment.
“My career as a public servant lasted over 45 years. The biggest change would be the technology - when I started out there were no computers and not even fax machines! Politics has fascinated me as an advisor and as an observer. Politics has changed a lot over the years, and it started out as a very tight group, but now leaders are under much more public scrutiny in social media. It is very difficult to be a politician now to maintain that.”
Graduating from the University of Saskatchewan, Fast entered a job market in Canada where employers were actively recruiting university graduates for a wide range of positions. He left Saskatchewan to take a position in Ontario, working on the Ontario Water Resources Commission Act.
“When I started out there were lots of opportunities - employers were looking to hire you straight from university so I kind of looked around and there were lots of opportunities. Ontario wanted me to work on the Ontario Water Resources Commission and I had concerns about water quality and the environment, it was an interesting opportunity, and a perfect fit for me.”
In his roles as a public servant in British Columbia and as a business consultant based on Vancouver Island, Fast has a long track record of working with companies in the Cascadia Corridor. He has seen tech companies enjoy huge growth in that time, and remarks that the population of the province still has some way to catch up with some of the bigger technology hubs on the international stage.
“Looking to the future, BC and the surrounding area are leading in clean energy and technologies. Right now, British Columbia does not have a population large enough to build huge companies of their own, they need to reach out to other companies in the region for that. The province has huge potential for growth, it is open, and it has a lot of diversity.”
In his time with both Federal and Provincial government Fast enjoyed being able to be hands-on in providing support that businesses in the region needed, working on the BC Venture Capital contract to provide $15-20m capital investment initiatives to help drive innovation in BC. Fast also consistently pushed to put measures in place to ensure that the growth was achieved while considering the cost to the environment.
“As Deputy Minister Economic Development, International Trade and Investment we had an office in California and worked with companies in the whole Cascadia Corridor, and in Provincial government with Environment Canada there were so many companies that we helped, especially in the IT and natural resources sectors. We worked with local businesses on the Greenhouse Reduction Charter which was a big part of the Green Economy in British Columbia.”
We asked Don what advice he had for young people looking to pursue a career in politics.
“What has really resonated with me throughout my career is that no matter what happens be true to your own values and beliefs. You might be tempted to go away from what you believe at times but ignore those temptations. Stick to your values and beliefs, no matter what.”
You can find out more about Don Fast here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/don-fast-9118787/