Friday, September 23, 2011

Clark job plan does little for today’s unemployed

Premier Christy Clark’s job plan, despite all the flying around the province and flashy announcements, is a bit of a letdown.
There are some good measures. It’s worth trying to attract more foreign students, creating teaching jobs and bringing economic activity. Speeding up approvals for mines and logging and other activities, without compromising environmental standards, would be helpful. So would the promised agreements with First Nations to bring greater certainty for potential resource developments. And maybe all the new panels and committees and agencies will help bring economic activity.
But based on the advance hype, the more than 200,000 unemployed people looking for work probably expected more. After all, Jobs Minister Pat Bell promised a “seismic” impact from the strategy back in May. That suggested big changes and a lot more opportunities.
Instead, Clark delivered a package of promises that, for the most part, won’t result in increased employment for several years. There were promises of funding for infrastructure related to ports in the Lower Mainland and Prince Rupert, so, assuming speedy progress, there will be some construction jobs in the near term.
Most measures won’t produce significant results for years. Clark set a goal of eight new mines in operation by 2015, for example. That would bring many good jobs — but not now.
And the jobs plan is highly dependent on global economic recovery. Government can make B.C. a more appealing jurisdiction for mining companies committed to increasing production, for example. But they will only be interested if commodity prices are strong enough to encourage investment.
That’s the reality of the B.C. economy. We remain highly resource-dependent. Demand for minerals, logs and lumber and energy in other countries is required to fuel growth.
But it’s surprising, given the extent of joblessness in B.C. right now, that the plan did not include some short-term measures that are within the province’s control.
The federal-provincial stimulus program, now completed, offers one model. The infrastructure projects — with a few exceptions — were needed long-term investments in communities. Governments moved them up to provide jobs when they were needed, accepting the additional interest costs and earlier increase in the debt.
Jobs are still needed, and communities have a list of worthy projects. Clark could have announced a stimulus fund.
Or the government could rethink its commitment to make balancing the budget by 2013-14 it’s main priority.
Returning to a balanced budget as the economy improves should be a goal. But clinging to an arbitrary date could be bad policy. The federal government, for example, has given itself an extra year to return to eliminate its deficit.
Delaying the return to balanced budgets would give the government the ability to consider spending aimed at easing the impact of unemployment in the near term. Immediate measures could be taken to protect and increase employment — a subsidy for B.C. Ferries to allow a tourism promotion, for example. The government could protect families from the impact of prolonged job losses by funding training for people whose Employment Insurance has run out, or programs to fund needed community projects.
In fact, the fixation on the deficit could increase unemployment in B.C. Given the defeat of the HST and the slumping economy, the government is faced with making deeper spending cuts to meet its deficit targets, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon says. Those cuts will inevitably mean job losses at a time when prospects for new work are slim, and likely mean a reduction in community services when they are most needed.
A long-term focus is certainly valuable. But for many families, the impact of joblessness — or the threat of joblessness — is immediate, and dire. And when they can’t spend, their communities suffer.
Clark’s jobs plan has many commendable features. But for those seeking work today, it has little to offer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Liberals' attack ads both incompetent and destructive

The Liberal attack ads aimed at B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins show that Christy Clark was wise to ditch the idea of a fall election.
Because if the campaign matched the ads for sleazy, self-destructive incompetence, the Liberals would be routed.
The Liberals launched the attack last week with radio ads, a website and news releases, with Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak, apparently because of her conservative credentials, charged with leading the attack.
The radio ads capture the tone. A man and a woman are talking about Cummins.
“He opposed Christy’s minimum wage increase but takes a $100,000 pension from taxpayers,” the snarky woman says. “Another unprincipled politician,” the guy responds.
“He says he quote ‘owes it to his offspring,’” the woman snipes. You can’t trust Cummins, they conclude. (The quote about accepting the pension for the sake of his children is 16 years old.)
It’s a fair criticism, but not from the Liberals. They ran on a promise to get rid of MLA pensions, then brought in a rich pension plan that would be the envy of anyone in the private sector. Gordon Campbell will actually be eligible to collect a higher provincial pension — around $125,000 while still on the federal government payroll as high commissioner to London.
In the other ad, the couple grumble that Cummins, who says he voted NDP in the last provincial election, isn’t a real Conservative.
“A joke,” the guy grumps.
“So Cummins pretends he's a Conservative, then votes NDP,” the woman says. “Just what we need, another unprincipled politician."
“How can you trust a politician like Cummins who says one thing and does another?”
Challenging Cummins conservative credentials is ludicrous. He was elected as a Reform MP in 1993, then as a Canadian Alliance member and a Conservative. He’s a strong social and fiscal conservative. (Probably too strong for many B.C. voters.)
His NDP vote just illustrates his disdain for the provincial Liberals.
And how could Clark and company have been so tone deaf as to include the line criticizing politicians who say one thing and do another?
They’ve just been slapped for doing exactly that with the HST. Then there are the promises not to sell B.C. Rail, rip up contracts or expand gambling, all examples of politicians who say one thing and do another.
Cummins has the Liberals in a panic. They are concerned, rightly, that the Conservatives could attract enough of their support to allow an NDP victory. In 1996, Reform took just nine per cent of the vote, and the New Democrats won. The Conservatives were at 18 per cent support in a May Mustel Group poll.
But the ads were a gift to Cummins, who remains unknown in much of the province. The Liberals brought media attention, largely positive, to their nemesis. It was remarkably dumb.
The radio ads, and the anti-Cummins website with the standard attack ad creepy photo and allegations, also tie Clark to dishonest, sleazy, American-style attack ads — hardly a good thing for someone promising a new style of politics.
The ads sometimes work. The federal Conservatives attacked Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff relentlessly with slimy ads, and succeeded in defining them in negative ways.
But they are fundamentally dishonest and destructive to democracy and public life, encouraging mindless division and contempt for all politicians.
There are lots of reasons to criticize Cummins and the Conservatives and their policy positions. But these ads are about smearing a person, and presenting him not just as wrong, but as corrupt and “a joke.”
That should concern anyone who hopes for a functioning democracy.
And Liberals should also be concerned that the party has spent money on an amateurish smear campaign that does more damage to its own cause than the target.
Footnote: Cummins is a challenge for the Liberals. He’s skilled and quick — almost two decades in federal politics will do that — and has a reputation for speaking his mind and representing his constituents’ interests. He’s too extreme for many voters, but offers an alternative for people who would never vote NDP, but are angry at the Liberals, as well as voters who sat out the last few elections because they didn’t see a credible party that represented them.