Premier Christy Clark’s jobs agenda will include sector-specific targets, her Jobs Minister says, as she rolls out the program during a provincial tour this week.
But Pat Bell ruled out a goal as specific as reducing the province’s unemployment rate.
Mr. Bell expects to offer targets for some sectors such as forestry and mining. However, he said such specifics won’t be possible for tourism, for example, due to the nature of the industry.
“I don’t think you would hear us say, ‘We’re going to create 100,000 jobs because that is what the private sector does. We want to set the right framework for the private sector to do that,” he said in an interview.
“We will be releasing some things we can accomplish as the week goes on. I think they are all reasonable. There aren’t any there I am uncomfortable with,” said Mr. Bell, declining to be more specific.
Details of the so-called B.C. Jobs Plan will be foremost on Ms. Clark’s agenda this week as she more fully unveils the program in Kamloops, Surrey and Vancouver.
“Defending and creating jobs is the primary mission of my government. It will be my primary mission until I finish this job as Premier,” she said Monday in Prince Rupert, the first stop on her tour.
The key parts of the plan, she said, are expanding markets for B.C. products, especially in Asia; strengthening infrastructure to get goods to market; and working with employers and communities to enable job creation across B.C.
Ms. Clark has ruled out a fall snap election, in which the program would presumably have been part of the platform. This means the outcome of the effort will be part of the government’s record as British Columbians go the polls, as scheduled by legislation, in May, 2013.
In Prince Rupert, Ms. Clark talked about support for the city’s port. Later, in Kitimat, she talked about measures to enable the liquefied natural-gas sector.
The key dollar commitment on Monday was a $15-million provincial contribution to a $90-million road-rail project that’s the first phase of a $300-million expansion of the Port of Prince Rupert.
The $15-million from the province is going into a funding pool for the project that includes another $30-million from the Prince Rupert Port Authority, $30-million from CN, and an expected $15-million from the federal government.
All of this will pay for a road-rail project the province says will create 570 construction jobs. The province says that once built, the road-rail connection will allow for expanded port facilities that will generate 4,000 ongoing jobs.
Steps announced by Ms. Clark in Kitimat to bolster the liquefied natural-gas sector would spur a terminal and pipeline that would create 1,500 construction person years of work and 120 to 140 jobs associated with the terminal, the province said in a statement.
Observers said the Premier should be more specific about her goals.
“In any effective plan in business or the non-profit sector, you try to set a target and aim for it,” Bruce Ralston, the NDP finance critic, said. “If you’re serious about [job creation] you have to have some idea of what you’re putting out might result in. Otherwise, it’s painting with crayons.”
Helmut Pastrick, chief economist for the Central Credit Union 1, agreed with the need for specifics.
“Ideally, there should be some evaluation of a government program, which would relate to how many jobs were created,” said Mr. Pastrick, noting B.C. is facing a troubling 7-per-cent unemployment rate.
“Targets can be useful and serve to set the vision and marshal efforts towards that.”
But Jock Finlayson, a policy vice-president with the B.C. Business Council, said Ms. Clark will be hard-pressed to have much impact against forces affecting the B.C. economy, such as the U.S. economy and commodities prices.
“While it would be nice to have a provincial jobs strategy that said the unemployment rate is going to be X in two years or we’re going to create Z number of jobs in the next five years, those are hard targets for a provincial government to achieve. That may be why they will steer clear from them.”