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September 22, 2011

Measuring Christy's Job Plan

Few would quarrel with the province encouraging investment, building infrastructure and expanding markets for goods, the foundation of Premier Christy Clark’s job plan. Any analysis of those initiatives has to focus on whether resources are used as efficiently and effectively as possible which means measuring results and looking at the costs for achieving the results relative to alternatives.

Within hours of launching her plan at a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon, the BC Liberal Party sent an email from promoting the plan and attempting to make it partisan. It said: “The NDP may not like it, but I would rather focus on respecting taxpayers with smart, strategic investments that focus on maximizing Return on Investment instead of maximizing spending.” Ironically, maximizing return on investment requires measuring results and looking at the costs for achieving the results relative to alternatives. Clark went on in her email to make a pitch for donations to the Liberal party, but potential donors would be wise to ask her how she is going to prove that she is maximizing return on investment rather than wasting their tax dollars by taking money from programs and spending it on marketing.

Much of what Clark is branding “Canada Starts Here: The BC Jobs Plan” is a marketing campaign that repackages existing programs or re-announces long term capital plans. Beyond the fancy new websites, it is difficult to determine what is new in Clark’s plan. The example of announcing a “new” British Columbia International Education Council when one has existed since 1991 is not unique.

The Jobs Plan website has a link to which it describes as: “a one-stop window to the world of work in B.C. It is designed for all British Columbians and people who want to work in B.C.” The truth is the Ministry of Social Development operates a similar website, Employment & Labour Market Services which is far more user friendly than the spin heavy new site. Take some time to explore both sites and see for yourself exactly what is offered and how user friendly you find each site to be. The really useful site is the job bank operated by the federal government’s Service Canada. Deep within the many layers of links found in both provincial sites, a determined user can find a link to that searchable job bank.

The provincial employment services operate in large part pursuant to the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Agreement which took effect in 2008 and continues through 2014 with the opportunity for renewal. Under it British Columbia receives a little over $66 million per year to provide labour market programs. Many of those programs are contracted to agencies represented by The Association of Service Providers for Employability and Career Training (ASPECT) which describes itself as having “more than 175 members with approximately 3,000 employees in over 100 communities”. The “over 100 communities” is important because it relates to the second backgrounder in the October 20th government news release which promised: “New Employment Service Centres located in 98 communities across the province will provide a single point of entry to employment services.”

Terms of the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Agreement get us back to measuring results and looking at the costs for achieving the results relative to alternatives. As reluctant as the premier seems to be when she is asked to specify measurements, objectives or targets for her jobs plan, the federal agreement requires annual public reporting on specified outcomes for those services which it covers. The reports issued since 2008 can be found on a website designed to report on the Agreement. As required by annex 2 of the Agreement, reports can be found there on clients expected to be served, clients actually served and wage levels by program. The list of programs in those reports matches the list on the new website, providing another example of how the jobs plan is putting new clothes on old programs. Since many of those old programs required detailed public reporting, perhaps Clark could stop ducking the question on how she will prove that her plan "maximizes return on investment" and get on with setting out a reporting system.