BC Premier Christy Clark hits the road to push mystery jobs plan

It's not clear what she'll do as economy shrinks and job growth sputters, but she's hinting at skills training, resource development and Asia Pacific trade.

Photo of Christy Clark courtesy of www.christyclark.ca.

Strap yourselves in, folks. It's Jobs Week, and the premier is jetting across the province to tell us all how she's going to increase work opportunities.

The Canadian Press has the story:

VICTORIA -- Premier Christy Clark is about to introduce her first major policy initiative since her election as premier last February: a jobs plan that comes as the B.C. economy shrinks and job growth sputters.

Clark is hitting the road Monday for a cross-province tour that sees her making stops in Prince Rupert, Kitimat Village, Kamloops, Surrey and Vancouver that ends up Thursday with a speech at a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon.

Clark will be at the Prince Rupert port facility and at Kitimat Village on Monday to discuss an aboriginal initiative connected to plans for the development of a liquid natural gas plant in the Kitimat area of northwest B.C.

She's at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops on Tuesday and in Surrey on Wednesday for a breakfast meeting at the Surrey Board of Trade.

Liberal officials familiar with Clark's jobs initiative said they could not discuss specifics of her plan, but were willing to provide a general outline.

The plan is aimed at a series of regionally focused job creation announcements, as opposed to a single, one-day splashy media event, said the officials.

They said it will focus on three themes Clark has been raising in public in recent months, including getting goods to market, opening new markets and making things easier for business to do business -- things like chopping through permitting backlogs.

Education and training are also areas of focus for Clark as are forestry, mining, tourism, natural gas, energy, ports and airports, clean technology, green technology, agribusiness and international education, said the officials.

"I have spent the summer thinking about how we can enable the creation of jobs in the province and how we can defend the jobs that we have in the face of what's going on globally,'' said Clark last month after British Columbians voted to dump the government's harmonized sales tax.

"The jobs plan is going to partly be about how do we continue to open up new markets for British Columbia in Asia-Pacific,'' she said. "We need to be there in the face of what's going on worldwide.''

Clark has planned a trade mission to China and India in November.

Helmut Pastrick, chief economist at the Central 1 Credit Union, said Clark faces a somewhat daunting task as she tries to create jobs as the B.C. economy is battered by outside and internal forces.

British Columbia's largest trading partner, the United States, faces an uncertain economic recovery and growing financial troubles in Europe could dampen the worldwide business climate, he said.

Pastrick said he's downgraded his earlier forecast for B.C.'s economic growth this year to 2.4 per cent from 2.6 per cent and he believes job creation in the province will end up below one per cent this year.

"Employment growth this year in B.C. is going to be less than one per cent,'' he said.

"I have 0.8 per cent and we already have eight months worth of data for the year, and it's running currently at 0.7 per cent.''

Pastrick said the government could offer businesses payroll tax credits to create more jobs, but businesses need to feel confident the jobs they will receive a tax break to create are required.

"To some extent, there's not much that can be done. On the other hand, government could find some ways of stimulating (job creation),'' he said. "It's conceivable there could be some short-term stimulus effect.''

Liberal officials did not mention any tax incentive program or financial stimulus package as part of Clark's jobs plan.

University of Victoria political scientist James Lawson said Clark is wise to take her jobs strategy to the province's regions, where locally focused initiatives can produce economic and political gains.

But he said governments face uphill struggles during economic downturns because they are inevitably held responsible for the bad times during bad times.

Lawson said he has yet to completely understand what Clark wants to achieve with her jobs plan.

"It depends what you mean about the job ahead of her: win the next election or solve the problems of the B.C. economy,'' he said.

Lawson said Clark's jobs plan fits with her overall "families first'' agenda because it shows that she cares about the problems facing B.C. families.

"It's becoming a situation in policy making where it's more important to be seen to be doing something about the B.C. economy than actually dropping the unemployment rate by five points,'' he said.

But Opposition finance critic Bruce Ralston said a decade of Liberal governments has resulted in dim job prospects for British Columbians.

He said the Liberals have not provided enough training opportunities for B.C. workers and have allowed too many raw resources to be sent out of the province.

"Their assumption has been if you create a low tax and low wage environment your economy is going to run better,'' said Ralston.

B.C. federation of labour president Jim Sinclair said if Clark was serious about job creation in B.C., she would convene a series of meetings with business, labour and economic experts to get together to develop a job-creation strategy.

Sinclair said he is not aware of any labour groups being part of Clark's jobs plan.

"Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic that anything's going to change because even the pre-conditions for change, which is getting the people in the room that can make it change, isn't happening,'' he said.

But Kevin Evans, chief spokesman for the Crown agency that promotes and develops apprenticeship training, said he's looking forward to Clark's jobs initiative.

Skilled trades jobs are expected to increase in coming years and any government focus on education and training programs will be welcomed, he said.

The Industry Training Authority forecasts 134,000 openings for skilled trades jobs by 2019 in B.C., said Evans.

"Skills training is going to be one of the foundation tenets of the jobs strategy and we see this as a tremendous opportunity to ensure that the apprenticeship program in British Columbia is the best in Canada,'' he said.

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