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September 20, 2011

Two Days of Christy's Job Plan

Did Premier Christy Clark review her government’s Strategic Plan when she launched her jobs plan?

The BC government’s Strategic Plan 2011/12 – 2013/14 is framed in terms of Gordon Campbell’s “Great Goals for a Golden Decade”. The fifth of five goals is: “Create more jobs per capita than anywhere else in Canada.”

By February 2012 when the next budget is tabled, Clark will have to relate her jobs plan to the documents that are required under the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. Specific objectives and performance measures should be provided for each component of her jobs plan.

Clark kicked off her jobs plan in Prince Rupert where she promised $15 million for port expansion. (Part of $90 million for phase one of what will be a $300 million project.) The federal government is to provide part of the funding, but Clark’s news release said: “The federal government continues to work through its process to determine its participation with respect to the remaining $15 million.” There’s no word on what will be done if the federal money is not forthcoming, or why the photo-op was staged without that crucial detail being resolved. Of course, cynics suspect an inventory of announcements had to be generated for the Premier, half-baked or not.

Clark also traveled to Kitimat on Monday where she promised to take steps to make the Kitimat liquefied natural gas plant operational by 2015; she went on to say provincial officials will work with stakeholders to establish up to three LNG plants by 2020. Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer summarized thirty years of BC’s history in trying to get an LNG plant up and running. The proposal has received political support from all parties, but a successful plant requires more than political support; in particular, it requires signed sales contracts at the right prices. To date BC has been losing to competition from Australia.

On Tuesday Clark focused her jobs plan on education and training. Unfortunately, her promises raised more questions than they answered. She announced “the Province is setting a goal of increasing the number of international students by 50 per cent over four years.” The problem for Clark is that her government is not the first to try to make a buck off of international students. Who can forget the scandals as private institutions recruited foreign students only to go bankrupt and tarnish the province’s reputation? Clark said that one component of her plan is to “Create an international education council to help build strong relationships in both existing and emerging economies, like China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.” The Vancouver Sun’s Jonathan Fowlie quickly Tweeted: “Why does BC need two councils on international education.” He followed up with a link to a 2010 Vancouver Sun story by Janet Steffenhagen on the already existing British Columbia Council for International Education. With three deputy ministers on its board, you have to wonder why no one told Christy that her promise would make her look ill informed.

After mentioning that the post-secondary education budget amounts to nearly $2 billion annually, Clark went on to say under her jobs plan the Province will ensure funds being spent on labour market and training programs are better targeted to meeting regional and industry needs. A backgrounder elaborated on the training component of her promises. It said: “The B.C. Jobs plan will invest in new online tools to better inform British Columbians about the job opportunities in the areas where they live.” That’s a bold promise, coming as it does within days of the Minister of Education admitting that the computer system that was forced on school boards is a failure that will have to be replaced. Perhaps Clark should look at the online job finding tools already available from Service Canada.

Clark’s government is big on eliminating duplication between the federal and provincial government on environmental reviews, but appears anxious to duplicate federal programs that assist job hunters. The backgrounder said: “New Employment Service Centres located in 98 communities across the province will provide a single point of entry to employment services. Opening in April 2012, the employment centres will provide job preparation support, skill assessments, and referrals to local training to help British Columbians prepare for and find jobs.” It is possible that Clark’s 98 centres are a repackaging of the job finding programs that are part of the welfare system, but it is also possible that they will duplicate services available at Service Canada offices throughout the province. To have 98 up and running in just seven months, suggests someone in government has detailed information that has yet to be released.

British Columbians may be surprised that Clark’s backgrounder concluded by saying: “The Province will work to connect international students to British Columbia's regional job opportunities and assist them to be successful so that they choose to remain in British Columbia.” Clark needs to say what her government will do to help BC families with children who are leaving advanced education programs deeply in debt.

Christy Clark appears to be doing everything she can to reinforce the image that she is a kilometer wide and a millimetre deep. She needs to demonstrate that she understands what she is talking about.