VANCOUVER - British Columbia has a "generational opportunity" to lead the pack when it comes to creating and keeping jobs throughout Canada, Premier Christy Clark said Thursday as she outlined the long-awaited jobs plan she hopes will define her first term in office.
The Liberal premier had been hyping the plan's arrival for weeks, using it to fend off criticism she's been spending too much time campaigning for an early election, which she recently ruled out, and not enough governing a province with a jobless rate that sits just above the national average.
Parts of the jobs plan were announced in pieces throughout the week during a provincewide tour, and it was delivered in full during a half-hour, podium-thumping speech in Vancouver on Thursday.
Clark focused on boosting trade with Asia, largely through infrastructure upgrades at home and promoting B.C.'s economy abroad, but she didn't set any firm targets for just how many jobs she hoped to create.
Help the private sector, Clark's argument went, and then leave the job creation to them.
Reaction was in some ways predictable. The Opposition NDP and labour leaders quickly dismissed it, complaining about the lack of job-growth targets and insisting it won't immediately reduce the unemployment rate. One economist said it sets the right tone.
Clark said at the heart of her plan, which she said will cost less than $300 million, is simple geography.
"The future of the world is in Asia," she said.
"And there's only one province in the world that faces Asia and there is no province in this country that is better connected to it than we are."
She also said B.C. was at an advantage because of its diverse multicultural population and its "natural and intellectual resources," which she said are in demand around the word.
As for setting targets, Clark said it would be irresponsible to name a specific number of jobs that will be created. Instead, the premier said her goal is to ensure B.C. is among the top two provinces when it comes to GDP and job growth by 2015.
"I'm not going to get into playing that game," she told reporters after her speech.
Opposition New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix was unimpressed.
"You have a jobs plan and there are really no jobs in it," said Dix. "That's a disappointment, I think, for the people of the province."
Dix said the plan makes little mention of forestry and tourism, two of the province's most important industries. And there's not enough help for students who need support to train them to fill the skilled jobs of the future, he said.
"Now we have a premier engaging in photo-op politics when real people are feeling real anxieties about their jobs and young people who need our support to fill the jobs of the future aren't getting it."
B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair echoed Dix.
"There's nothing I've seen in the last week which will turn into real jobs, guaranteed," he said. "There will be no new jobs tomorrow for the 200,000 people that are sitting there on unemployment or on welfare or struggling to live at home with no money."
But Helmut Pastrick, chief economist at the Central 1 Credit Union, said he favoured Clark's medium to long-term approach.
"I'd rather see that than just focused on a short-term, temporary pop," he said, noting the alternative would be for the government to make massive cash injections, which would be more about getting votes.
"We just have to be a bit patient. Obviously, it's not going to happen overnight. And plus, bear in mind as always we're going to be subject to the state of the global economy."
Other commitments unveiled Thursday included investing $50 million to upgrade rail and road links from the Deltaport container terminal south of Vancouver, which she predicted will add between 600 and 800 new jobs.
The province hopes to have eight new mines up and running in the next four years and expand another nine, which Clark said will create 1,800 new mining jobs and keep another 5,000 people working.
Some $24 million will go towards eliminating a backlog in authorizations for natural-resources projects.
There will also be the creation of a Major Investments Office, whose central focus will be to help investors open doors to emerging markets in Asia, and work towards improving relationships between First Nations communities, industry and government.
Since Monday, Clark has visited Prince Rupert to support port expansion; Kitimat, where she touted liquefied natural gas exports; and Kamloops, where she said her government will increase the numbers of international students studying in B.C. by 50 per cent in the next four years.
During a stop in Surrey, Clark added $3 million to a small business venture capital program and extended by three years a $31-million apprenticeship program. She also appointed Finance Minister Kevin Falcon to head a panel reviewing the B.C. tax system.