BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Jobs Plan: Growth Is Slow, But Christy Clark Remains Optimistic

12/10/2013 04:00 EST | Updated 02/08/2014 05:59 EST
Globe and Mail
VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark says her goal to transform British Columbia's economy into one of Canada's top job-creation engines has hit a rough patch, but she's not about to ditch her jobs plan or call it a lemon.

Clark, in a year end interview with The Canadian Press, said she expects job creation to pick up next year as potential deals with liquefied natural gas companies reach the signing stage.

Clark refused to call her jobs plan a failure, but admitted it's been slow going.

"We haven't seen all the fruits of our labours yet, but we will," she said. "I hope in 2014, we'll get to some final investment decisions on some of the LNG plants. I hope we'll see some of the fruits of these labours, but it's just not the kind of thing that's going to happen overnight."

In the fall of 2011 when Clark announced her Liberal government's jobs plan, she set lofty job creation and economic growth goals to put B.C. on top in Canada.

The premier — who has placed much of the province's economic hope development of natural gas and export of LNG to Asia — said she wanted the province to strive for economic gold.

The jobs plan will remain in place, but the climb to the top remains formidable, she admitted.

"We've set a goal to create jobs, to grow the economy, to create economic development," Clark said. "You do not get to that long term goal without sticking to a plan over a good period of time, so, it's going to take a little longer."

Clark also discussed child poverty, fiscal discipline and aboriginal treaties during the interview.

She said a growing economy fuelled by natural gas revenues and creating jobs is the best way to help needy families, balance the budget, reduce debt and reach economic and treaty settlements with aboriginals.

She said B.C.'s consistently high national child-poverty rating can be reduced through a growing economy that is creating jobs.

"Too high," is how Clark describes B.C.'s child-poverty rate. "Way, way, way too high. We can do better than that, but the only way we will do better is by creating economic growth, creating jobs for people. Because child poverty is parent poverty."

The goals of Clark's "Canada Starts Here: The B.C. Jobs Plan:" include placing B.C. in the top two in Canada in gross domestic product growth and new job growth by 2015.

Other goals include, eight new mines in operation by 2015 and upgrades and expansions to nine currently operating mines; at least one LNG pipeline and terminal operating in Kitimat by 2015 and three in operation by 2020.

But the Opposition New Democrats have seized upon recent national jobs statistics revealing B.C.'s sluggish performance in creating private sector jobs.

Since the jobs plan was launched more than two years ago, B.C. has lost 6,700 private sector jobs, the worst record in the country and the only province to have suffered an absolute decline, said NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth in a statement last week after the release of Canada's November employment numbers.

The NDP said the numbers also show more than 14,000 British Columbians have moved to Alberta in search of work since the launch of the jobs plan.

Farnworth said Tuesday in a statement that Clark is asking British Columbians to wait longer for jobs after two years of declines.

"Since the premier launched her jobs plan, she's wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in ads telling us how great it is, but the truth is we’ve been going in the opposite direction,” said Farnworth. "She should be answering tough questions about why her plan is an utter failure, but to say we’ll just have to wait a little longer isn’t good enough."

Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong admitted last month that B.C. is not where it wants to be for job growth.

The government's second-quarterly financial statement, which updates the province's financial situation at the halfway point of the budget year, revealed employment growth in B.C. contracted by 0.1 per cent over the same period last year, translating to 2,600 fewer jobs.

"The reality is we are now living in a world where economic growth is slow," said Clark. "That's the reality of the Western world."

But she said her government has chosen to grasp an opportunity to develop the natural gas industry in northern B.C. and build pipelines and terminals in the Kitimat and Prince Rupert areas of northwest B.C. to export the gas to Asia.

The premier has said LNG development represents a trillion-dollar economic opportunity that could create up to 100,000 jobs and eventually generate enough tax revenue to pay off the provincial debt, forecast to hit $62 billion this year.

Clark, who is travelling to Kenya this Christmas with her son Hamish to participate in a Free The Children school construction charity project, said she expects B.C.'s determination to attract LNG investors will pay off next year as several deals will reach final investment decision stage.

Her government will table its LNG tax and royalty structure laws and regulations early next year. But Clark said the package is detailed and she doesn't expect it to be passed immediately into law.

"It's a very complex piece of legislation," Clark said. "But we're hoping that that will move some of these decisions to final investment."

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