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VIEW: BC job growth stalled for over a year

[Editor's note: This is an opinion piece by former NDP MLA David Schreck, originally posted on his blog and we offer it to you for your consideration. The Tyee clearly labels all op-eds on the Hook as "VIEW."]

Premier Clark's government seems to be in denial over job growth stalling for more than a year. While government focuses on events which may or may not take place in six or seven years, B.C.'s 2013 economy has stagnated. 

Clark announced her "jobs plan" on Sept. 22, 2011. On Sept. 17, 2013 Jobs Minister Shirley Bond released the "BC Jobs Plan 24 Month Progress Report." In the accompanying news release she claimed:

"Of the 19 targets originally set in the BC Jobs Plan, 11 have been achieved on time or ahead of schedule. The remaining eight are on track for their timed completion deadlines of between 2014 and 2020." Most of what the government claims as success in reaching its targets invites argument, but none so much as where B.C. ranks in job growth.

The Progress Report said:

"B.C. generated 44,900 jobs between August 2011 (just prior to the Jobs Plan launch) and August 2013, as reported by Statistics Canada. That puts us third in the country for job growth, up from fourth place when we gave our 18 Month Progress Update. While jobs statistics fluctuate from month to month, the general trend toward positive job growth over the past two years is encouraging. We continue to target a second place growth standing in Canada by 2015."

It is refreshing that the report acknowledged that it is claiming credit for a statistical quirk of jobs reported by Statistics Canada starting a month before the jobs plan was announced. The actual change in employment in B.C. between September 2011 and August 2013 is 20,700. The most recent data is to October 2013; the change between September 2011 and October 2013 is 10,000. That's right, "progress" between August and October 2013 meant the loss of another 10,700 jobs! 

The government seems to think provinces with substantially lower populations than B.C. don't count. The B.C. government's comparisons of rank in job creation are done on the basis of absolute numbers, not percentages which adjust for differences in labour force and population size. Access to most data from Statistics Canada is free. By clicking on CANSIM series 282-0087 and using the add/remove tab, you can check the government's claims.

Using absolute numbers like Bond often does, B.C. ranked fifth in job growth comparing August 2013 to September 2011 (behind Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec). The comparison to Oct. 13 put B.C. in sixth place as Newfoundland and Labrador passes B.C. In terms of percentage growth, from September 2011 to August 2013, B.C. had growth of just 0.9 per cent, putting it in seventh place. Looking between September 2011 and October 2013, B.C. had growth of just 0.4 per cent, putting it in eighth place. Contrary to the claim in the Progress Report, compared to other provinces B.C. is near the bottom and sinking. 

The graph shown below illustrates the problem facing British Columbia. Job growth has stalled for over a year. Look at the section of the total employment graph that is circled. It is not just flat; it shows a slightly downward trend. The negative "growth" for that period compared to the rest of the country is highlighted by looking at growth measured as employment in a month divided by employment in the same month from the previous year. Those data shown in the graph titled annual job growth August 2012 - October 2013 show Canada starting and ending the period around one per cent per year growth while job growth in B.C. plunged into negative territory. 

The third graph below takes a longer view, comparing annual job growth rates (calculated monthly) for Canada and B.C. between January 1977 (as far back as CANSIM 282-0087 goes) and October 2013. A long term downward trend is apparent in both cases. B.C.'s current problem could be similar to past slowdowns or it could be that job growth in B.C., as well as in Canada, is slowing over the long term due to underlying changes in demographics and in the structure of the economy. As they say in many papers, that is a topic for further research. 

David Schreck is a political analyst and former NDP MLA who publishes the website Strategic Thoughts, where this article first appeared. Find his previous articles published in The Tyee here.

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