Dec 19, 2011

Business dominated think tank winds up with report showing little progress in BC


The British Columbia Progress Board came out with its last report today. Gordon Campbell started the think tank in 2001 and now Christy Clark has ended it.

The report shows progress, but often in the wrong direction. You can find the whole report here but it will take patience. It weighs in at a hefty 20 MB in PDF format.

The report shows a decline in BC’s standing in Canada in many important areas in the last 10 years. We have gone from 4th to 5th place in the economy, from 3rd to 4th in personal income and from 5th to 7th in jobs.


In terms of social conditions BC sits in 9th place among the 10 provinces. BC sits in last place in terms of people in poverty (below the low income cut-offs). We are second worst in terms of long term unemployment.

Some of the information is an eye opener given 10 years of very business friendly government. Business productivity grew by 6.3% between 1997 and 2000 and by about 3% in the next ten years. More surprising was that BC ranks 25th out of 34 OECD jurisdictions when it comes to exports per capita. We ranked 4th in Canada on per capita spending on research and development.

We did better on items like the environment, university completion and business investment.

In its final press release the Board says:

The provincial government demonstrated great vision and courage when it established the BC Progress Board in 2001 to monitor British Columbia’s performance and advise on ways to improve it. What was remarkable, and what remains unmatched, was the board’s dedication to transparency and independence.

As well as great “vision and courage” the government showed great caution. The Board was made up entirely of captains of industry supported by a few academics and consultants. This may explain why it took the Board several years to publish its first report on social conditions in the province. A more representative group might have noticed people were hurting earlier.

Despite that, over the years the Board has produced reports that shone a critical spotlight on many issues, particularly social issues, in BC.

The Vancouver Sun’s Craig McInnes was moved to tweet:

No wonder Clark’s shutting down Progress Board, no progress to report.

The business dominated Board will now be replaced by the new Jobs and Investment Board.

According to a government press release:

The BC Jobs and Investment Board will provide advice and direction to government on policies and programs to help attract sustainable investment, foster economic development and support job creation. It will focus on the eight key sectors in the BC Jobs Plan – forestry, mining, natural gas, agri-foods, technology, tourism, transportation (ports, marine and aerospace) and international education.

Presumably the awkward issues of poverty and unemployment will no longer be considered.

The government has promised the new board will be more broadly representative. The first two appointments this month have included as co-chairs a business boss and a First Nations Chief.  I guess we will just have to wait and see if the other appointed members are more than the usual suspects.

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