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September 9, 2011

Update: It now looks like the legislature will meet briefly on the morning of October 3rd to prorogue and then come back in that afternoon for the Throne Speech, meaning October 4th will provide another question period for a total of 23 in the session.

Christy's Fall Session

Premier Christy Clark is turning the first six days of the fall legislative session into an unnecessarily wasteful gab fest. The rules of the Legislature provide for six days of speeches in reply to the Speech from the Throne. Fall sittings of the Legislature traditionally continue the spring sitting, with Throne Speeches only when they follow an election.

By closing the spring session, and having a Throne Speech on October 4th, Clark is treating the session as if it were her victory lap following an election, although its nothing more than her decision to get on with governing after creating months of needless speculation regarding a snap election. She closed the door on the possibility of changing the set election date to the fall of 2012 and every four years thereafter when she said the next election will be as scheduled for May 14, 2013.

The Clark government made it known the fall session will end on November 24th. We can expect week long recesses for Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day which means there will be 22 question periods during the short session. It will be interesting to see if the government’s legislative agenda earns more media coverage than the question periods. Clark only sat in the Legislature for four days following her narrow Vancouver-Point Grey by-election win. The fall session will be the first opportunity to see how she performs under sustained pressure from the opposition.

Clark violated the political rule: understate and overachieve. In extinguishing the election speculation she ignited, she said her focus would be on creating and protecting jobs. The 2011/12 First Quarterly Report, released on September 8th, showed the challenge facing Clark. A graph titled “BC Employment Recovering Slowly” showed that employment in July 2011 was 2,000 lower than in July 2008. The Quarterly Report said:

“The Ministry forecasts employment in BC to increase by 0.7 per cent in 2011, or approximately 15,000 jobs. The pace of employment growth in 2011 is weaker than previously anticipated due to a number of factors including weaker than expected domestic activity (particularly retail sales), as well as expectations of an outflow of people from BC to other provinces in Canada for the year as a whole.”

Statistics Canada released the August Labour Force Survey the day after the Quarterly Report was made public, showing employment in BC increased by 0.0% between August 2010 and August 2011 (no change), compared to an increase of 1.3% for Canada. BC lost 6,000 jobs between July and August; 12,500 full-time jobs were lost.

For the last twenty years, BC has had average employment growth of 2%; that would yield over 40,000 new jobs in 2011, not 15,000. BC has a long way to go to get back to normal. By saying she can create and protect jobs, Clark has made the monthly Labour Force Survey a key measure of her performance. We won’t see what performance measures she sets for herself until an updated government strategic plan is tabled with the budget in February 2012. What matters most for Clark is how voters measure her performance. From August 10 to August 16, 2011, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 6,557 Angus Reid Forum panelists. The survey found that Clark’s approval rating increased to 42% from 36% in May; however, it also showed an increase in the approval rating for all nine premiers in the survey; perhaps voters are just in a friendlier mood in August than May. Comparing approval ratings, Clark found herself in the middle of the pack, four premiers with higher approvals and four with worse. Her disapproval rating was 46%.

Twenty months is several lifetimes in politics. Clark will have to produce something other than daily photo-ops over that long time. It will probably be late October before her government tables much of its fall legislative agenda; that’s when we’ll begin to see what substance lies beneath the rhetoric.