It sounds bold, it’s specific, and it’s even plausible. But it’s a promise Jean Charest can’t really make. The Quebec Liberal Leader’s pledge to create 250,000 jobs by 2017 depends so much on factors beyond his control.
The promise is a political headline-maker designed to portray Mr. Charest as the better economic steward in this election campaign. Short on details, it fit neatly with his Plan Nord scheme to create jobs by opening Quebec’s north to mining development.
But even if Mr. Charest lays out details over the campaign, as he promises, economists note his plans can still be buffeted and blown off course by the global economy. It might help that his pledge is not quite as ambitious as it sounds.
Creating 250,000 jobs by 2017 might sound like a lot, but it’s by no means massive. Labour market statistics show that, on average, Quebec created 40,000 jobs a year over the past 10 years. In the five years before 2008, Quebec created about the same number of jobs as Mr. Charest is promising now. “It’s not as spectacular as it may appear,” said Carlos Leitao, chief economist with the Laurentian Bank of Canada.
Still, Mr. Leitao and most bank economists predict more sluggish job growth in the next five years, to 30,000 jobs a year or less, between now and 2017. So Mr. Charest is pledging to create about 20,000 a year more, or 100,000 for the whole period.
The Quebec Liberals didn’t spell out a lot of detail. They said, for example, a fifth of the jobs would be “green.” But a big chunk will depend on Plan Nord, a proposal to lure investors to start a mining and resource boom in northern Quebec. The province is promising to invest in infrastructure to help draw in developers.
“The Plan Nord is, in effect, a big marketing campaign. The government is telling the global mining community that Quebec is open for business,” Mr. Leitao said. Still, he added, a boom in private mining investment could be a “trigger” for higher job growth. Without a trigger, he predicts Quebec’s economy will grow at an unspectacular 1.8 per cent per year. A program to spark resource development in Quebec’s north, if properly executed, could create jobs, especially after a year or two. Mr. Charest’s target is “plausible,” Mr. Leitao said.
A Quebec Premier can’t control the global economy, and it is companies that create jobs. Even if a mining boom spurs employment in the north, the rest of the labour market could weaken. And investors won’t rush into Quebec’s north if their markets are weakening. Some economists have already raised doubts about whether Hydro-Québec’s northern dam projects will turn a profit. Mr. Charest’s plan is to create a northern Quebec resource boom. “Obviously, if there’s a global recession, that’s not going to happen,” Mr. Leitao said. Commodity prices have already softened – although Mr. Leitao, at least, predicts that if the world avoids a recession, the market for minerals will remain “robust.”