BC Jobs Numbers, Differing Interpretations

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VICTORIA - Finance Minister Mike de Jong says British Columbia's year-old Jobs Plan is doing what it was supposed to do — create jobs and attract investment.

De Jong said Tuesday that B.C. is leading Canada in job growth, having created 51,700 jobs from August 2011 to August 2012, while project investment has topped $80 billion.

He called the Jobs Plan a road map that helps guide the economic development of the province.

"Just as we all know that governments can stand in the way of private sector growth and job creation, so too can governments assist, through the creation of a competitive tax environment, prudent fiscal management and reduction of red tape," he said in a statement.

But while de Jong was highlighting B.C.'s job numbers and investment opportunities, economists were suggesting gloomy worldwide economic outlooks could impact the province negatively.

Premier Christy travelled to Prince Rupert last September to introduce her Canada Starts Here: B.C. Jobs Plan — her first major policy initiative after being elected B.C. Liberal Party Leader and premier in February 2011.

"From here we are two or three days closer to any other port on the North American continent,'' she said last year. "A century ago this was where a lot of maps ended, but now this is where the map of the future begins.''

Clark said her three-pillar jobs plan would involve working with employers and communities to enable job creation, strengthening infrastructure to get goods to markets and expanding markets for B.C. products and services, particularly in Asia.

The plan also involved developing liquefied-natural-gas export opportunities in northern B.C., attracting more international students to post-secondary institutions and helping to open eight new mines by 2015 and upgrading and expanding nine others.

"Defending and creating jobs is the primary mission of my government,'' Clark said last year when she introduced her jobs plan. "It will be my primary mission until I finish this job as premier.''

De Jong said Tuesday the B.C. jobs plan has kept the provincial economy stable despite worldwide economic uncertainty.

He said the most-recent Statistics Canada jobs numbers posted show a growth of 51,700 jobs between August 2011 and August 2012 in B.C., which puts the province in first for job growth in Canada.

De Jong said B.C. economic growth last year measure at 2.9 per cent, third in Canada.

Investment for major B.C. projects, including federal shipbuilding contracts and mining development, is estimated at $80 billion, an increase of $11.7 billion since June 2011.

Investment in the LNG projects is projected at $48 billing from 2013 to 2022, he said.

Some economists were not as robust as de Jong in their assessments of B.C.'s economic prospects.

Central 1 Credit Union economist Bryan Yu said B.C.'s job-creation numbers rebounded in August after a decline in July, but overall the provincial economy appears to be slowing down due to declines in the U.S., Europe and China.

He said jobs numbers are up this year, but they were down last year.

"We have seen employment growth, but at the same time, though, remember, that we did come off a year in which employment growth was quite weak," Yu said. "In 2011 there was less than one per cent growth in employment."

The employment growth number so far this year is about 1.9 per cent, with most of the jobs being created in the January to April period, he said.

RBC, meanwhile, said an $8-billion federal shipbuilding contract and a $3.3-billion modernization at Rio Tinto's smelter in Kitimat will stimulate job and economic growth next year, but sluggish trade performance could also work against that trend.

RBC forecasts B.C. economic growth to dip to 2.3 per cent this year from 2.9 per cent in 2011. RBC forecasts B.C. economic growth to increase to 2.7 per cent in 2013.

Opposition New Democrat finance critic Bruce Ralston said the Liberals appear to using backdated jobs numbers to boost their jobs plan.

He said Clark introduced the jobs plan in September 2011, but the government is quoting jobs numbers starting in August 2011, a month when almost 27,000 jobs were created.

Ralston said he's also concerned some companies can't find enough skilled workers in B.C. to work on projects.

"I don't think it's made a difference in the job market in B.C., but what it has pointed to is some of the real policy weaknesses the Liberals have generated in their time in office, and that is on the training, apprenticeship and advanced education files."

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