Betting heavily on British Columbia’s ability to cash in on emerging Asian markets, Premier Christy Clark unveiled a jobs plan Thursday that she said will help the province become one of the country’s fastest-growing economies by 2015.
The long-anticipated plan was notably short on government spending, which Clark called a deliberate attempt to help B.C. avoid the kind of severe debt woes now plaguing Greece and the European Union.
“High-debt policies won’t work for tomorrow, and they won’t work for today either,” Clark said in a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, labelling the government spending in her plan “pretty modest.”
Instead, her plan offered a grab bag of measures aimed at attracting new foreign investment, reducing governmentimposed roadblocks and finding new buyers for B.C.’s most promising exports.
“Our plan is premised on a focused pursuit, not of the dollars we already have, but of dollars out there in other economies,” she said.
“We are facing a generational opportunity. We have a chance to lead Canada into the next century.”
Clark did not set any specific job targets for the overall plan, saying later she believes doing so would be irresponsible.
“We’ve seen other governments do that and it’s not responsible,” she said after the speech.
“It pretty much always turns out to be phoney.”
Clark’s plan did, however, set firm targets of placing B.C. among the top two provinces in GDP growth by 2015, and among the top two provinces in new job growth by 2015.
For 2011, B.C. is ranked seventh among 10 provinces for projected employment growth, and fourth in projected GDP growth.
The plan also projects that eight new B.C. mines will be in operation by 2015, and that nine existing mines will be upgraded or expanded within the same time period – measures the government estimated would create as many as 1,800 new jobs.
Clark’s plan also targets 10 new non-treaty agreements with B.C. first nations by 2015 – a measure she said will improve economic stability – and the creation of three new liquefied natural gas terminals by 2020.
New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix said Clark should have clearly laid out how many jobs she believes her plan can create.
“You would think that a jobs plan would set targets and not have its principal target being how the B.C. economy is doing relative to New Brunswick,” said Dix.
“I think that if you’re unemployed in Nanaimo right now you hope they do well in Moncton, but your target is to get the training you need to get the job of the future and the premier seems to have left real people out of this equation.”
Dix also said the plan doesn’t do enough in areas like training and education, forestry and tourism.
“The government has singularly failed to address the key issues facing the province,” he said.
“It’s not really a plan that invests in people, in human capital, in the future of our province,” he added.
“It’s a plan to try to get re-elected.”
Although many of the targets in plan don’t come due until 2015, Clark promised on Thursday to release updates twice each year on its incremental progress.
Under the schedule, Clark will release an update in March 2013, shortly before the next provincial election, scheduled for May 14, 2013.
Bernie Magnan, chief economist with the Vancouver Board of Trade, called the plan’s promised creation of a one-stop shop for investors “a great idea.”
He saw it as an opportunity to eliminate needless duplication and bureaucratic red tape that slow the process down, as well as a chance to clean out obsolete or duplicate regulations.
“In today’s world, dollars travel. They can invest anywhere in the world . and if you can reduce the amount of time it takes to do that here, then you become competitive,” he said.
Magnan said the jobs plan provides a good foundation for growth, but the work is only just beginning.
“Now we’ve got to get down to the nitty-gritty, get down to putting the plan together and getting it into action,” he said.
Clark released her plan against a backdrop of global market turmoil and widespread concerns about another painful global recession.
The SP/TSX composite index fell more than three per cent Thursday to its lowest point in more than a year.
Experts attributed the drop to a disappointing statement from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s open market committee on Wednesday, and to worsethan-expected economic reports from China, Europe and North America.
On Thursday, Clark used the grim news to underscore the importance “that we keep our focus on this plan.” “Our province is a place of relative calm and stability, but we are surrounded in almost every corner of the world by economic turmoil,” she said.
“Today alone we have seen a global market sell-off, a significant decline in our own currency and escalating crisis in the eurozone. Our best friend and our closest neighbour, the United States, is grappling with high unemployment and high debt,” she added.
“I don’t think I have to sugar-coat anything for the people in this room. There’s tough sledding ahead for all of us. But we will not keep our heads above water by hunkering down.”
In her plan, Clark proposed about $300 million in government spending on a variety of initiatives.
In some cases, it is one-time project spending, while in others it is spread over two or three years.
One of the main highlights of the plan is $50 million to improve the provincially owned corridor connecting Deltaport to Canada’s rail transportation network.
“With this contribution, the Port of Metro Vancouver can move forward with a $200-million expansion to increase container capacity, enabling the creation of over 600 jobs at port operations and ensuring goods move much more efficiently,” Clark said in her speech.
Clark also announced $24 million over two years to allow natural resource ministries to eliminate a backlog that is keeping many projects from moving ahead.
She also announced a Major Investments Office, meant to offer direct assistance to potential investors, and a BC Jobs and Investment Board, which she said will be running within 60 days.
“[The board] will include citizens from all across the province to promote economic development by holding government’s feet to the fire, to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to make B.C. competitive and not standing in the way of good jobs,” said Clark.
“B.C. will only win if we win together. And so this board will bring together business leaders, labour leaders, community leaders and government to fight for jobs like never before.”
Clark said she will unveil the final portion of her jobs plan at a speech today, where she is expected to announce a reorganization of the province’s foreign trade and investment offices.
“We are launching an investorfocused international marketing campaign,” she said in her speech Thursday. “I will have a lot more to say about the specifics of that when I speak to the Business Council’s Asia-Pacific forum [Friday].”
[email protected] With files from Darah Hansen and Postmedia News