On August 30th, the provincial government issued a review of job creation since the last election, and a preview of an update to their jobs plan, which was intended to be released in full this fall, however, an announcement has yet to be made.
In short, this is the precursor to a pre-election platform statement. Fair enough. But after the LNG boondoggle that dominated the 2013 election, we should take the government’s current statements with a grain of salt.
It is remarkable that the government takes credit for the job creation figures when their hands-off, neo-liberal policies likely hampered economic growth, if they had any effect at all.
To the best of my knowledge, the current government has never credibly demonstrated how their policies are linked to employment rates. The evidence clearly shows, both in British Columbia and elsewhere, that “getting government out of the way” and lowering taxes does not, to any great extent, create more jobs. Rather the primary effect is more corporate enrichment.
Ever-changing worldwide geo-political and environmental factors, along with the vagaries of boom-and-bust industries, have greatly influenced job markets in BC. This, however, is not a combination to rely on as a solid foundation for success in the future.
A significant proportion of new jobs are temporary, part-time, poorly paid, and dead-end.
More importantly – and rarely acknowledged – is the fact that a significant proportion of new jobs are temporary, part-time, poorly paid, and dead-end. These positions, while essential to the poorest families, have very little to do with genuine community economic development. A government that takes credit for this sort of “growth” leaves itself open to criticism.
Instead of belaboring its record since the 2013 election, let’s instead take a look at what the government is proposing in terms of job creation. From a late August media release we can conclude that the government no longer thinks that LNG is the one-trick pony that will solve all economic problems, including how to create large numbers of truly good jobs.
Now the government wants to focus on clean technology, life sciences, digital media and advanced manufacturing. As someone who has been actively involved in international economic and business development for almost 30 years, my first reaction is to say “glad you finally get it, but please go to the back of the queue.” Let me explain.
In my opinion, only one of these areas, advanced manufacturing, has any chance of bearing fruit, assuming the government takes the correct steps, which would be completely at odds with their record to date.
The economic development literature, and my experience in other jurisdictions, allow me to say that clean technology, life sciences and digital media are sectors of economic activity where the barn doors are pretty much closed. They are not exactly mature industries but they are getting there. Market saturation means that competing against those jurisdictions that have been active in these areas for some time will be extremely challenging.
Other provinces, US states, and countries long ago developed impressive clean technology, life sciences and digital media sectors, however, investors and industry insiders will likely be skeptical about taking a chance with a new-kid-on-the-block.
The economic development literature, and my experience in other jurisdictions, allow me to say that clean technology, life sciences and digital media are sectors of economic activity where the barn doors are pretty much closed.
Simply stating aspirations in a government announcement does not mean they will actually materialize. The B.C. government’s escapade with LNG proves this point.
If the government wants to succeed with advanced manufacturing then it will have to proceed very differently from past practices. While the private sector and free market will be key to success, a strong, informed government – unlike any that has been seen in British Columbia for some time – will be a necessary balance.
Advanced manufacturing is defined as being clean and sustainable, research and development based, and employing primarily technical personnel at various levels of expertise, many of whom are from the so-called STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This sector presents a significant number of concrete opportunities that are nascent and currently underdeveloped.
If the government wants to succeed with advanced manufacturing then it will have to proceed very differently from past practices.
Future advanced manufacturing opportunities will need to be carefully examined after meticulous government scrutiny to determine which ones show enough promise to warrant aggressive efforts. Winners will have to be picked, industrial strategies adopted, and credible action plans enacted. Crown corporations may even be necessary, and new forms of incentives to business will be required.
Government will need to be re-established with human resources that have the analytical capacity to bring together the necessary data and complicated factors to choose the best advanced manufacturing opportunities and then lay out a credible action plan to bring them to fruition.
For more information on this issue, see a 2015 article I wrote for a good jobs conference hosted by the CCPA-BC: A Pivot to Manufacturing Jobs in British Columbia: Imagining What It Would Take.