What happened to B.C.'s job-creation plan?

With a provincial campaign days away, Liberals point fingers elsewhere

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark fields questions as the premiers gather for an economic summit in Halifax on Friday, November 23, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

VICTORIA – Six months ago, Premier Christy Clark was touting British Columbia as Canada’s job-creation engine, cranking out 57,000 new jobs and outpacing even Alberta without selling a drop of oil.

Clark told a Vancouver Island economic summit her government’s highly touted September 2011 jobs plan — with its focus on increased trade with China and Asia and promoting liquefied natural gas exports, new mines and exploring innovations in technology and agri-foods — was working.

But it appears the engine has stalled and with a provincial election campaign 10 days away, the Liberals are blaming national and international economic trends for their, at best, fourth-place position among the provinces.

The Opposition New Democrats say it’s even worse, suggesting B.C. has dropped to ninth-place, losing almost 35,000 jobs since Sept. 2011 when factoring only private-sector job creation.

The Liberals say B.C. has added 32,300 jobs since August 2011, and ranks fourth in job gains compared to other provinces, behind Ontario’s 90,400 jobs; Alberta’s 57,000 jobs and Quebec’s 53,200 jobs.

No matter who is right, B.C.’s Central 1 Credit Union economist Bryan Yu said B.C.’s performance since the jobs plan was introduced has been underwhelming.

“The numbers have been pretty weak,” Yu said.

He suggested the Liberals and New Democrats can argue about who’s got the right numbers and where and how they fit into certain timeframes, but the trend points toward slow job growth.

“It all depends upon what your baseline is and if you pick a certain month, the numbers look better and if you pick another month it’s worse,” said Yu. “But the general trend is there hasn’t been a lot of jobs created over the past year.”

The most recent Statistics Canada jobless numbers for March are adding fuel to what promises to be a major topic of debate during the election campaign.

The March numbers show B.C.’s jobless rate climbed to seven per cent, a jump from the February setting of 6.3 per cent. Jobs Minister Pat Bell said 22,400 full-time positions vanished in B.C., offset by a gain of 7,500 part-time jobs, leaving nearly 15,000 people looking for work last month.

But he insisted the Liberal jobs plan was working.

“Very realistic,” said Bell, about the bold goals of the jobs plan to ensure B.C. is among the top two job-creation provinces in Canada by 2015 and among the top two provinces in gross domestic product growth by 2015.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under B.C.’s freedom of information law show the Liberal government’s commitment and strategy behind the jobs plan, which Clark announced during a provincewide tour that included stops at the port in Prince Rupert and Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops in September 2011.

The August 2001 documents stated the jobs plan’s “look-and-feel and campaign line needs to establish that this is a new direction for government.”

The documents stated the overall tone and message of the jobs plan should be “optimistic, hopeful and reassuring.”

“We want to communicate that the B.C. government has a renewed focus and comprehensive plan to protect jobs and grow the economy,” stated the documents. “We want foreign investors to understand the unique advantages that B.C. can offer them.”

Opposition New Democrat finance critic Bruce Ralston said March’s job losses are concerning, but what should be deeply concerning is what he says are the job declines since Clark announced her jobs plan.

“Their so-called plan has been a failure. I say this with regret: It’s not working.”

The New Democrats have consistently said Clark’s 57,000 numbers are skewed because they include Aug. 2011 job numbers where the province created 27,000 jobs, but the jobs plan did not officially start until one month later.

The NDP says the Statistics Canada numbers show B.C. has lost almost 35,000 private sector jobs since September 2011, ranking the province second worst in the country.

In September 2011, Statistics Canada reports 1.464 million jobs in B.C., while the March 2013 numbers report 1.429 million jobs, a drop of 34,800 jobs over that time.

Yu said the province’s job creation numbers have not been solid over the long-term.

“What we’re looking at is a trend here and if we go back a year, we really haven’t seen much in the way of job gains since early in 2012,” he said.

Yu attributed B.C.’s weak job-creation performance to provincial economic factors that include slow retail sales, weak population growth and the slipping real estate market.

“The overall economic conditions don’t tend to support a strong job-growth environment,” he said.

Yu said government can stimulate job growth if it embarks on spending sprees, but the Liberals won’t have that ability as they try to keep their deficit and spending under control.

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