POLITICS

B.C. premier touts six-month-old jobs plan as critics question her numbers

03/13/2012 03:52 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT
NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. - British Columbia's premier gave her six-month-old jobs plan a glowing review Tuesday, as she took credit for tens of thousands of new jobs — many of which were likely created before her plan was actually announced.

Premier Christy Clark used the backdrop of Seaspan Marine Corp.'s shipyard in North Vancouver to release her six-month progress report on a plan she announced last September.

Clark said her government has spent the past six months promoting trade through conferences and international trips, speeding up approvals for projects such as mines, and expanding training programs for workers.

The premier cited a number of "results" from the past half-year, such as Seaspan's $8-billion federal shipbuilding contract, which was awarded just weeks after she unveiled her plan, the approval last October of an export licence for the liquefied natural gas facility in Kitimat, and developments at four mines that include new construction, approvals or expansion.

And while Clark said in September it would be irresponsible to set jobs targets or judge the success of her plan by playing a numbers "game," she had no problem Tuesday linking the creation of jobs in the past 12 months to a jobs plan that is just six months old.

"These are early days, but I think you'll see as you go through the report that we've come a long way," Clark told a crowd of reporters and Seaspan shipbuilders.

"By making B.C.'s economy our No. 1 priority, we are protecting and creating jobs for B.C. families. And in the past year, our economy has added 39,900 jobs, and that is results."

Clark later clarified that she believes businesses, not governments, create jobs.

The Liberal premier announced her $300-million jobs plan during a tour of the province last September.

It called for infrastructure and port upgrades to boost trade with Asia, eight new mines by 2015, faster approval for natural gas projects, an increase in the number of foreign students in B.C., tax reform, and the creation of a major investments office to promote trade abroad.

The progress report lists many of those initiatives as "ongoing," but says there has been progress, such as through the announcement of new training programs, new legislation that was passed last year for the shipbuilding industry, TV and radio ads launched in December promoting B.C., and the addition of certain business tax credits.

The Opposition New Democrats were quick to accuse Clark of cherry picking figures, particularly when it comes to the creation of new jobs .

Finance critic Bruce Ralston said seasonally adjusted figures would put the real number of additional jobs at around 2,000, and he said it's still an open question whether any of those jobs are linked specifically to Clark's jobs plan.

"I think the point is whether this can be attributed to the so-called jobs plan," he said.

"When jobs go up, the premier claims credit. When jobs go down, it's all due to world economic pressure. It's like (Jobs Minister) Pat Bell taking credit for the (B.C.) Lions winning the Grey Cup, but not for the (Vancouver) Canucks losing on Saturday night."

Matilde Bombardini, who teaches in the University of British Columbia's business school, said it's notoriously difficult to determine how many jobs, if any, a specific government policy actually created.

Bombardini, who stressed she wasn't familiar with the specifics of Clark's jobs plan, said economists are reluctant to link specific government policies with job growth.

"We don't know how to precisely link policies to outcomes — it's very hard statistically," said Bombardini.

"There are so many things that change from one period to the next. One thing is the policy, but there are so many things that you're not controlling for."

Bombardini said it's unlikely any major industrial projects that have been announced recently can be directly attributed to government policies that are only a few months old.

"This is more common sense, you don't really need an expert to tell you this," she said.

"If these things require years of planning, probably some of these things were already underway."