Premier Clark’s jobs plan must address inequality

By ADRIAN DIX, Special to The Sun   www.vancouversun.com

October 2, 2011

Adrian Dix, leader of the B.C. NDP.

Adrian Dix, leader of the B.C. NDP.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Vancouver Sun

Over 10 years, the Liberals have presided over a period of widening inequality in British Columbia, in which middle-class incomes have stagnated and lower income earners have fallen further behind. This has translated into a deep sense of insecurity and uncertainty among British Columbians.

A growing chorus of economists, including the likes of Andrew Berge and Jonathan Ostry from the International Monetary Fund, point out that policies that reduce inequality reinforce economic growth and job creation.

Against this backdrop, British Columbians were looking for a jobs plan that addressed the reality that the middle class are the real engine of economic prosperity. Yet Premier Christy Clark’s plan leaves working families and the middle class out in the cold.

The reality is that the plan Premier Clark revealed recently was for the most part an exercise in repackaging existing plans and programs, heavy on self-promotion and light on substantive measures.

To be sure, there were some positive elements. We welcome the restoration of resources in government staffing to reduce the delays in approvals and permitting. But let us not forget that the original problem was self-inflicted when the Liberals gutted resource ministries in the first place.

Investments in infrastructure that support exports and other economic activity are also positive developments that will pay dividends in the future.

Those measures aside, Premier Clark’s plan leaves vital investments in people out of the equation and fails to offer anything for many sectors such as forestry, arts and culture, tourism, construction and the green economy. Instead, it offers a multitude of boards, councils and panels, many of which are just new names for existing bodies. Her plan also lacks clear job targets, which poses the question as to how seriously it takes the creation of real jobs.

There is nothing for education and skills training, which are essential to ensure young people have the skills for the jobs of the future. With this plan we are more vulnerable to creating an economy where there are “jobs without people” and “people without jobs.”

BC New Democrats will create a $100-million needs-based student grant program, funded by restoring capital tax on banks, that will reduce barriers that hinder access to post-secondary education and training.

B.C. is not on track to graduate enough workers to meet future labour market needs. In the absence of education and training, we are creating “fly in, fly out” jobs that benefit workers and companies from outside the province. A classic example is BC Hydro awarding the contract for construction of the $500-million Northwest Transmission Line to an Alberta subsidiary of a Texas company.

The forest sector is absent from the B.C. jobs plan. Forty per cent of trees harvested from our coast are now exported as raw logs, which is symbolic of the Liberals’ failure to make value-added processing and manufacturing a priority in the resource sector. A New Democrat government under my leadership would impose a tax on the export of raw logs designed to encourage more value-added processing and manufacturing, which creates five times the number of jobs with the same volume of wood. We would strive to revitalize forest jobs and forest communities by pursuing new initiatives like a second growth mill on Vancouver Island.

The lack of a comprehensive international trade plan with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific is a major missing piece in the B.C. plan. A trade plan should deliver economic development assistance to businesses and use government contacts overseas to connect B.C. businesses with trade and investment opportunities internationally.

No approach to job creation can ignore the need to dismantle the HST sooner rather than later. It defies all logic that the Liberals could bring in the HST in 11 months, but say it will take 19 months to remove it. The uncertainty created by this delay continues to hurt B.C. families and key sectors such as tourism and residential construction.

New Democrats also advocate a Buy B.C. Build B.C. approach that sees government use its buying power to support local businesses and diversify our economy. For example, in the agricultural sector, we have proposed local interior hospitals purchase fruit and produce from Okanagan orchardists and growers. In addition to the health benefits for patients, it would help boost the region’s economy. This approach has the potential to be expanded to other regions and sectors of our economy.

New Democrats would roll back corporate income tax to 2008 levels in order to end the situation in which the carbon tax is subsidizing corporate tax cuts. We would use the revenue generated to invest in transit in large urban centres, while tailoring our approach to less densely populated areas by investing in environmental infrastructure.

Finally, it is shocking that entire regions, such as Vancouver Island and the Southern Interior seem to be absent from Premier Clark’s thinking. B.C. needs a plan that does not ignore huge swaths of the province.

Premier Clark missed an opportunity to provide leadership and a vision for the B.C. economy.

BC New democrats will continue to press Premier Clark to improve her plan by offering positive proposals that will address the widening inequality that plagues our economy and offers tangible improvements to the middle class and families across B.C.

Adrian Dix is the leader of the B.C. New Democratic Party official Opposition.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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