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B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to The Globe and Mail's editorial board in Toronto on June 24, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to The Globe and Mail's editorial board in Toronto on June 24, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Letter from B.C.

Can Christy Clark change the channel with a jobs agenda? Add to ...

There aren’t many politicians hanging around the provincial capital this month, but there is busy work underway to give Premier Christy Clark something to unwrap in September: a jobs agenda.

Since she won the premiership last February, Ms. Clark has been mired in the harmonized sales tax debate. But the results of the provincewide referendum are due by the end of August, and she is eager to turn the page next month.

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Yes, there once was another Premier Clark from British Columbia who had a jobs agenda. And like Glen Clark, she is looking at industry-specific assistance to help create family-supporting jobs.

Ms. Clark’s immediate predecessor, Gordon Campbell, was down on anything that looked like an industry bailout, and he heaped scorn on Glen Clark’s efforts to create an aluminum shipbuilding industry, for example, or to tie forestry licences to mills to keep forest workers on the job. Government should not pick winners and losers, Mr. Campbell liked to say.

But Ms. Clark is not going to be boxed in by her former boss. She has already offered a government aid package to bulk up Seaspan’s bid for a national shipbuilding contract.

While the Seaspan case is unique, the government’s aid package will form a framework for the new Clark jobs agenda.

Ms. Clark’s government has promised Seaspan tax credits for an apprenticeship and training program, and a fund for research and development. The total package is worth up to $40-million if the shipyard wins the bid to build Canada’s new combat ships.

Who will be the winners in Ms. Clark’s plan? Last week’s export statistics offer a clue.

B.C.’s economy is being carried by forestry, energy and mining exports across the Pacific. In the first six months of the year, trade with China has increased by 49 per cent over last year, at a time when U.S. trade has remained stagnant.

Ms. Clark can’t take credit for the years of effort that allowed Asia to vault over the United States as the top destination for B.C. exports this year, but she will try to use that momentum to her advantage.

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