Stripped of its hyperbole, Premier Christy Clark’s jobs manifesto can be boiled down to this telling disclaimer on page 4: “But we should be under no illusions; there are no silver bullets; no quick fixes.”
Yes indeed, to find promise in the slogan “Canada Starts Here” requires a generous extrapolation of wishful thinking from a jobs strategy that is heavy on new committees, new directions and new projections, and light on hard hats.
Generally, a government impacts job creation in three basic ways: it cuts business taxes; it cuts its own initiative-stifling red tape, and it puts shovels in the ground through infrastructure investments.
However, B.C. is faced with three limiting realities: our tax regime is already as attractive as we can afford; we have been cutting red tape ineffectually for decades; and we have no fiscal wiggle room to underwrite a new generation of billion dollar infrastructure spending.
These realities are amplified by the fact that the premier’s job plan ignores such factors as our embedded political schizophrenia regarding resource extraction, as well as pervasive and sophisticated environmental lobbying.
Nothing illustrates this better than the bold undertaking to open eight new mines in four years. Looking at the government’s own statistics makes me wonder what kind of magician’s hat this eight-mine miracle was pulled from.
In the past decade, 10 new mines have opened in B.C. In the same period, 13 mines have shut down. Do the math. We’ve experienced a net loss of three mines in 10 years. By that measure, the benefit of eight new mines by 2015 will be negated by the closure of at least that many existing operations.
In the global scheme of things, B.C. is not a mining pleasure dome. The Fraser Institute’s 2010/11 “policy potential index” places B.C. way down at 38th on a list of 79 international jurisdictions. The index measures a number of factors influencing exploration managers, such as environmental regulations, bureaucratic delay, land claims issues and protected area limitations. We’re sandwiched in no man’s land between Mexico and Spain, while Alberta bobs at the top of the list as the most attractive place in Canada to invest.
Here on Vancouver Island, the controversy swirling around the proposed Raven underground coal mine south of Courtenay is a perfect illustration of the B.C. condition.
Regulatory issues aside, the project is awash in opposition. Last weekend, Council of Canadians high priestess Maude Barlow bestowed her national blessing on the enviro-tribes of the Comox Valley who are drum beating in opposition to the mine.
Having observed the provincial government duck for cover in the face of lesser environmental opposition, I think it is a safe bet that the Raven mine will not be one of the eight approved by 2015 — if ever.
From a Vancouver Island perspective, a glaring flaw in the jobs plan is its failure to support the Victoria International Airport runway expansion. As infrastructure projects go, it represents a modest investment of $32 million generating more than 250 jobs to add 444 metres to the runway and thus better connecting the island with direct links to Europe.
Despite fiscal restraints, the jobs plan did manage to commit $65 million in infrastructure improvements to port facilities in Delta and Prince Rupert. The omission of the airport expansion has many Vancouver Islanders asking the legitimate question: “Why doesn’t Canada start here?” M