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Robert Matas

Crosscheck: Clark sticks to Campbell’s deficient script with jobs strategy Add to ...

“Our focus must be on one thing more than any other: jobs for B.C. families. We will be presenting a plan that strengthens free enterprise, expands markets for B.C. products and sticks with our commitments to low taxes and a fiscally responsible approach.” – Christy Clark, in the B.C. Liberal Party’s most recent fundraising letter.

Around 180,000 people are out of work in British Columbia and looking for a job. Premier Christy Clark has been speaking about job creation since she entered the Liberal Party leadership race last December. Eight months later, she has yet to set out any bold new initiatives to help the unemployed.

Ms. Clark, who worked as a radio talk-show host before taking on the job as premier, has repeatedly talked about the importance of a job – for families and for government revenues. When she formed her first cabinet in March, she created a new Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation to focus specifically on job creation.

She kept up the talk after she was elected as an MLA in May. In her inaugural speech in the legislature as premier, she spoke in support of a B.C. bid for a portion of multibillion-dollar naval contracts that could bring thousands of jobs to the province. At her first meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ms. Clark raised the issue of another promising source of jobs, the proposed copper-and-gold New Prosperity mine near Williams Lake.

So far, Ms. Clark’s approach to job creation appears to be a continuation of policies of the past decade – low taxes, minimal red tape and promotion of exports mostly to China and India.

However, that approach has not been enough.

The labour force has grown and more jobs have been created over the past decade. But B.C.’s unemployment rate – 7.3 per cent in July – remains above the national average and significantly higher than Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The province’s unemployment is marginally higher than in 2001, when the Liberal decade began.

The Campbell-era tax cuts appear to have been unproductive. The Liberal government lowered the corporate income-tax rate to 10 per cent, from 16.5 per cent in 2001. Corporations have saved $7.7-billion from the tax cuts, according to a report called Failed Policies, issued by the B.C. Federation of Labour.

Where did that money go? Not into new machinery, equipment and other capital items, says a draft of part two of the Failed Policies report. The growth of capital expenditures in B.C. during the decade largely mirrored that of the rest of Canada, the draft report says.

Booming global commodity prices and historical low mortgage rates – not lower tax rates – pushed investments in B.C. into housing, mining and oil and gas production, the draft report says.

A report from the province’s jobs ministry suggests an area under provincial control where the government could do something to help those looking for work.

According to the government’s B.C. Labour Market Outlook to 2020, around one million job openings are expected throughout the province by the end of the decade, largely as a result of demographics. Retirements and deaths will create two-thirds of the job openings; a third will come from economic growth.

B.C. will not have enough workers to fill all those jobs, the market-outlook report says. About one-third of the job openings will be filled by migrants from other provinces and outside Canada.

But the jobs will not be for unskilled labour. Close to 80 per cent of the new jobs will require some postsecondary education and training, or a university degree, the report says.

Stepping up the budget in training and education institutions may be the most effective measure that Ms. Clark could take to help British Columbians find work.

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