In September 2011, the BC Liberals introduced the BC Jobs Plan, an ambitious multi-faceted economic strategy, promising to create tens of thousands of jobs, by targeting eight of our most promising industries. At the time of its inception, it was presumed that the Jobs Plan would position BC as one of the top two provinces in both GDP growth and new job growth by 2015. Yet two years after its inception, BC is still below the national average in terms of GDP growth. Our current unemployment rate of 6.7%, is precisely the same rate as when the plan was first introduced. BC also remains the national leader in child poverty, a position BC has held for nine of the past ten years.
The press and opposition parties have delivered harsh criticism. When I began wading through the data, I was also critical; despite the very recent spike in production, my own industry (film and television) has been floundering, and many of my friends and colleagues remain unemployed, as producers leave for provinces with higher tax incentives. And the film and television industry is not alone; the public sector, higher education, and other industries are facing difficult times as the government tightens its belt.
But is this criticism justified, or shortsighted? BC Jobs Plan was never intended as a band-aid treatment. It is a long-range economic strategy, focused on bolstering some of our most promising industries and resources. Its potential success cannot be accurately measured at the two year-marker, and particularly since the goals for each targeted industry were not expected to be realized until 4-13 years after the date of inception.
Over the past several decades, BC has evolved from a mainly resource based economy to a knowledge-based economy with a strong orientation on the service industry and small businesses. However, the plan indicates that BC is shifting the balance back toward the middle, with the inclusion of three resource-based industries: Natural Gas, Mining and Forestry. The plan also focuses on the development of Agrifoods, Tourism, Transportation, Technology and International Students, through foreign and domestic capital investment and job training. (For a snapshot of the BC Jobs Plan, click here.)
So just how is BC faring? Five years before the launch of BC Jobs Plan, BC had already begun to strengthen economic ties with Asia. This earlier groundwork, combined with BC’s prime geographical position and the proposed further expansion of BC’s infrastructure, should give BC an enormous edge over inland provinces as the world economy recovers. Full statistics aren’t yet available, but at a glance, things seem to be progressing.
In looking at a few of the targeted industries, expansion work has already begun on three existing mines, and the Agrifoods industry increased foreign exports in 2012, albeit by a modest 1%. The technology industry continues to grow, and despite tough economic times, the Tourism industry continues to rank amongst our top three industries. Foreign student registrations continue to increase, and presumably the intention is that their tuition fees will help reduce the deficit made by recent cuts to higher education, without the need to displace domestic students.
However, of all the targeted industries, few hold as much promise and controversy as the new Natural Gas industry. BC’s immense pride in its vast tracts of wilderness and breathtaking vistas have long made BC politics divisive when it comes to the exploitation of natural resources. However, Natural Gas might well become to BC what oil is to Alberta – only cleaner. With the average Albertan’s income at over $27,000.00 more per year than the average resident of BC, few would argue that British Columbians crave their wealth. In fact, Alberta currently has the highest real GDP per capita of all the provinces and states in North America, with their average resident’s income at $72,689.00 compared to BC’s $45,083.00 per year (BC Stats, 2012).
BC may continue to suffer a gross wage disparity with Alberta, but it seems that the gap will eventually narrow. The BC Liberals have tightened their own belt, and created a plan with a balanced focus on both service and resource based industries. With strengthened ties with Asia, and the further development of our transportation infrastructure, the foundation has been laid for eventual success. However, it may not happen by 2015, as the ebbs and flows of the world economy will always affect us. Global economic recovery has been weak, emerging markets remain volatile, and further economic instability seems all but inevitable. However, BC appears to be on the cusp of newfound prosperity, as we enter into a very different looking future.