B.C. Jobs Plan is failing

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Photo: flickr/cakeordeath

The B.C. Liberals' Jobs Plan is failing according to a recent report BC Jobs Plan Reality: First Two Years published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The B.C. Liberal's touted the BC Jobs Plan as a success back in December with the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond pointing to B.C.'s unemployment rate falling from 6.7 per cent to 6.6 per cent. The Liberal's boasted 13,000 new jobs created in December 2013, but Statistics Canada reports that all new jobs are part-time, and Canada as a whole, lost 45,900 full-time jobs, pushing the Canadian unemployment rate to 7.2 per cent, surpassing the U.S.

Premier Christy Clark introduced the BC Jobs Plan in September 2011 in order to "create jobs families can count on." The plan is aimed to expand resource exports to Asian markets, strengthen transportation networks (for exports) and expedite resource development. CCPA criticized the plan as "inadequate, noting that very few of the measures included would lead to new employment and those that did would come many years into the future and at great environmental cost." The Liberal's plan focused on the development of the liquified natural gas (LNG) industry and new mining projects -- neither projects yet have the go ahead.

Iglika Ivanova, economist with CCPA and author of the report, found that "currently, we have no forestry plan, no climate plan, no coherent infrastructure plan, no youth employment plan."

Paralleling the Federal Conservatives hands-off approach and market focused job creation mantra, the [Liberal] government's "fiscal policy of budget cuts and frozen budgets has worked against its job market goals. Cost-cutting governments reduce jobs and buy less goods and services, thus prolonging the weak aggregate demand that caused the economic slowdown," said Ivanova.

B.C. youth unemployment and underemployment is on the rise across Canada, and according to the CCPA report only 71 per cent of working-age British Columbians have jobs today, unchanged since the start of the BC Jobs Plan.

The BC Jobs Plan Reality Check, found that two thirds of jobs created since the Jobs Plan are seasonal or casual positions and B.C. has fewer permanent jobs today than before the recession.

In a seemingly dramatic change beginning with former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, the province has shifted its responsibility from investment in public sector industries, skills training and policy making to the market and the private sector.

"We need to shift our thinking and recognize that the government itself can be a source of economic activity and job growth. There are many human needs that markets aren't meeting. These are the areas where government investment will have the most impact," said Ivanova.

For example, the B.C. government's requirement to process logged wood in local mills was removed in the early 2000s and moved to exporting more raw logs and thousands of forestry jobs were lost.

"We should be doing more processing of resources domestically to diversify the products we sell abroad and create more jobs for the amount of resources extracted. Think about it: the benefit we, as a province, get from our natural resources are the jobs created and the royalty revenues we charge. When we export raw commodities (logs, minerals, gas, etc) -- the jobs are few," said Ivanova.

The unemployment rate for young people in Canada is close to 15 per cent -- double that of the general population. Ivanova found that the BC Job Plan does not acknowledge the alarming trend of youth unemployment and underemployment.

"We still have about 40,000 fewer youth working than before the recession (and the youth population has been growing over that period), but instead of addressing this, the B.C. government has been patting themselves on the back for scoring lower youth unemployment rates than the Canadian average," said Ivanova.

Compared to other OECD countries, Canada is doing poorly tackling changes in the job market. In countries like Austria, the Netherlands, Japan and Germany, youth unemployment or underemployment is unheard of.

"All have very strong apprenticeships and work placement programs done in coordination with employers, organized labour and educational institutions. Whereas in B.C. we're seeing more temporary jobs, more part-time rather than full-time positions, and less security for workers of all ages," said Ivanova.

Another dramatic change in the job market in B.C. and across Canada is the normalization of outsourcing jobs and companies unwilling to invest in training new workers.

"First, there are skilled workers coming in as Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) because in some areas, the unemployed population lacks the skills needed for the jobs being created. This speaks to significant problems with our skills training system in the province," said Ivanova.

Last October B.C.'s Construction Association went to Ireland and hired 600 people because of the supposed lack of skilled tradespeople in B.C. Companies are also using TFWs to cut costs.

"What's really at play is employers who don't want to pay more than the minimum wage, or who don't want to provide even basic training to their workers, taking advantage of the loose rules around temporary foreign workers," said Ivanova. The CCPA report found that temporary foreign workers have filled almost a third of the new jobs created since the recession.

Another blow to B.C.'s economic recovery is the recently announced 2014 Federal Budget, coined the "Do-Nothing Budget." The less than lacklustre announcement included the federal government's proposed Canada Job Grant plan. A plan that does not yet exist, but will be paid for by cutting 60 per cent of a $500 million/year transfer used by provinces specifically to fund training programs for marginalized persons, and will now be put into the hands of the private sector. The government's action plan website states that: "businesses with a plan to train Canadians for an existing job or a better job will be eligible to apply for a Canada Job Grant."

NDP Finance Critic, Peggy Nash lambasted the Conservatives budget and in a news release said: "hundreds of thousands more Canadians are unemployed today than before the recession and are looking to their government for action. This budget is another Conservative disappointment."

Ivanova hopes the report BC Jobs Plan Reality Check will spur the Liberal government to face the economic reality in B.C and take action.

"I'd like to see the government acknowledge that the current strategy isn't working and make some changes. We can debate the recommendations I put forward, but nobody benefits from pretending the BC Jobs Plan is working. We have a serious problem on our hands."

Tanya Hill is the rabble podcast network intern and tweets @CalderHill

Photo: flickr/cakeordeath

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