B.C.'s Liberal government will be pushing for new jobs in the natural-resources sector by helping companies open eight new mines in the province within four years and working to complete at least 10 non-treaty agreements with first nations.
The two key pieces of Premier Christy Clark's long-awaited jobs policy were unveiled Thursday in her speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade. After a provincial tour this week during which Ms. Clark released parts of the plan, she released the entire B.C. Jobs Program that she said would cost less than $300-million over several years.
Ms. Clark committed to helping create eight new mines in B.C. by 2015 – two years after the next provincial election, scheduled in May, 2013 – as well as the expansion of nine other currently operating mines, which she said would generate $1.6-billion per year of additional revenue for the government and create 1,800 new jobs.
The government would not be funding the mines but would speed up approvals and cut red tape to get the project rolling.
"We believe the interest and investment is there. The markets are certainly there. The question is: How do we make sure that those mines become a reality, respecting the environmental and social needs in British Columbia?" she told a news conference after a speech outlining a jobs program aimed at rebranding the government after 10 years of leadership by former premier Gordon Campbell.
Jobs Minister Pat Bell later said the province was being discreet about disclosing the specific mining projects. "We don't want to name specific mines that we expect will be opening. These are all private sector companies that are publicly traded and it could certainly influence the value of those companies if we were to name them. However, we are confident that we will be able to get those eight mines moving forward," he said.
The jobs plan also commits to 10 new non-treaty agreements with first nations by 2015 to improve economic certainty.
"What we recognize as a government is there are lots of opportunities outside the treaty process to give economic opportunity to first nations," Ms. Clark said at the news conference.
Mr. Bell said economic agreements would revolve around such major projects as new mines, natural gas pipelines, Liquid Natural Gas ports, and forestry-based activities.
Some pieces of the program have specific job targets, but Ms. Clark ruled out an overall job target for the programs announced Thursday, which include a Major Investments Office for Mr. Bell's ministry to work with investors proposing significant projects in B.C.
At best, Ms. Clark said she could commit to B.C. placing among the top two provinces in Canada in terms of GDP growth by 2015 and new job growth in Canada by the same date.
"I think it's irresponsible to put a whole bunch of numbers on jobs in the plan," Ms. Clark said. "I'm not going to get into playing that game."
The plan also includes a commitment to invest $50-million to improve the provincially owned corridor that connects the Deltaport Terminal to Canada's rail-transportation network as part of a $200-million terminal expansion that will add between 600 and 800 new jobs to port operations.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix said the "extremely disappointing" plan gives "short shrift" to the forestry sector, and tourism.
He also noted that Ms. Clark did not get to Vancouver Island, hard-hit by unemployment, during her jobs tour this week or offer policies specific to the needs of the region.
Mr. Dix said he found the absence of targets odd.
"You would think a job plan would set targets and not have its principal target be how the B.C. economy is doing relative to New Brunswick," he said, alluding to the Premier's focus on B.C.'s relative economic performance.