Two months after Premier Christy Clark said British Columbians should not have to uproot themselves to find a job, her government is preparing an advertising campaign that will encourage the unemployed to go North to find work.
The ads are being developed to promote the Premier's jobs agenda, which was announced in September.
But when pollsters assembled focus groups last month on the government's behalf, they discovered the public doesn't really understand Ms. Clark's plan. The feedback persuaded the government to revise its ads to include advice on how people can take advantage of existing employment opportunities.
"We want to let people know, 'Here's where there are jobs,' " Jobs Minister Pat Bell said in an interview.
"Right now anything north of Quesnel, unemployment rates are pretty low. You can find individual places where that is not the case, but the job growth in the north has been extraordinary in all trades-related fields."
In early September, the Premier's parliamentary secretary, John Les, created a uproar in Nanaimo – the city with the highest unemployment rate in the province – over similar remarks. "If you're a young person looking for a job, maybe horizons need to be expanded a bit," he said then.
Ms. Clark seemed to distance herself from that approach when she announced her jobs plan two weeks later. "You shouldn't have to move to get a job in British Columbia," she said.
The new provincial ad campaign will begin in December. A larger, international campaign will be launched in the new year that aims to attract investment dollars to the province.
Mr. Bell said he doesn't yet know what the ads will cost, but he said they are needed to engage communities in job creation because the pollsters discovered the public doesn't understand how it is supposed to work. "There was a high level of awareness about the jobs strategy, but not a detailed awareness of it," Mr. Bell said. "There was a desire for way more information on it."
Adrian Dix, Leader of the New Democratic Party, said the ad campaign will be a waste of tax dollars.
"The problem is not their failure to communicate, the problem is their failure to deliver," he said.
Ms. Clark abandoned plans for a fall election and promised instead to focus on job creation. Her plan includes a long list of ambitious economic development targets including new liquefied natural-gas plants and eight new mines. But in the absence of provincial stimulus funds, the plan relies heavily on cutting red tape and promoting B.C. investment opportunities.
"They were caught short on the substance," Mr. Dix said. "There is nothing new on skills, manufacturing, access to post-secondary – why should the public take them seriously?"
Mr. Bell however said communities need to come together to realize their potential. "The purpose of these ads will be to try to drive people to action." Later this week, he will announce a pilot project in four communities. The communities will be asked to identify potential jobs, and the government will seek private-sector partners to step in with investment dollars.
The pilot project is modelled on the success story of the forestry town of Mackenzie, in Mr. Bell's riding, where the government, local government and unions collaborated to help get the town's shuttered mills reopened.
Go north, job seeker? The B.C. government has wavered on the advice this fall.
"Everybody is looking for work around home, but [they]may not be aware that there are jobs available in Kitimat or in Terrace or Fort St. John. That's not for everybody, but if you're a young person looking for a job, maybe horizons need to be expanded a bit." John Les, Sept. 6, Parksville
"You shouldn't have to move to get a job in British Columbia, and we need to make sure those opportunities are there for communities all across the province." Christy Clark, Sept. 20, Kamloops
"We want to let people know, here's where there are jobs and here are the careers where jobs exist right now. If you are interested, great; if not, someone else will come along and take it." Pat Bell, Nov. 21, Victoria