Jobs plan a work in progress

The sooner the better. That’s the timeline local business and civic leaders want in calling for swift action to create employment opportunities in B.C. after Premier Christy Clark unveiled her much-vaunted “Canada Starts Here” jobs plan last Friday.

  • Sep. 29, 2011 7:00 p.m.

The sooner the better.

That’s the timeline local business and civic leaders want in calling for swift action to create employment opportunities in B.C. after Premier Christy Clark unveiled her much-vaunted “Canada Starts Here” jobs plan last Friday.

Clark told trade leaders in Vancouver that she aims to double B.C.’s international trade presence in growing markets like China and India by tapping expanding middle class markets with a growing appetite for the province’s goods and commodities.

“By taking advantage of the rapid growth of the middle classes in India and China, we are accelerating job growth right here in B.C. The more these countries buy from us and invest, the more jobs are created here at home,” Clark said in a release.

Jason Cox, Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce president, said he and local business leaders were among those polled by the premier and other MLAs for input on the plan, and the resulting document shows “promise.”

“We’re encouraged that the provincial government continues to recognize that government doesn’t create jobs, it creates an environment for jobs. It’s the business community, predominantly small business that drives job growth,” he said. “In this time following the ’08 recession and world markets being what they are, an emphasis on job growth is exactly what this province needs, particularly what this area needs.”

Cox did stress, however, that business leaders would “wait and see” before rendering verdict.

“I don’t want to just sing their praises. The proof’s in the pudding. The results are all that matters,” he said. “If this turns out to be a lot of talk — which I don’t sense it is — but if that’s all it is, … we’re looking for something more significant than that. It’s an absolute priority. But I’m glad that this is one of the first things the province is talking about.”

Cox said he was happy to see the premier key in on agri-business as a growth sector to be marketed abroad for Okanagan crops like cherries, apples and soft fruits.

“We obviously have a strong background of agri-business here and growers, orchards and vineyards. Opening new markets particularly for those fruit growers is exceptional,” he said. “We hope that it has a quick uptake. The sooner, the better in that industry.”

He also saw opportunity in the premier’s desire to expand international education, as the Okanagan College Centre of Excellence could draw additional students to the area who are likely to spend money on accommodations and living expenses where they study.

There was also a shift to recognizing tourism as a knowledge sector, he said, with proposed investments into training and improving markets for year-round tourism.

“Obviously tourism is not the main industry in this town, but it’s a significant industry and we do depend on it,” he said.

A good portion of the plan focused on B.C.’s natural resource sector, highlighting the 10-per-cent improvement in lumber exports to China after offices were set up under an innovation investment program.

A new hosting program will work with municipalities, regional development offices and other business interests to arrange tours, site visits and meetings for overseas delegations considering B.C.

Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said the plan’s focus on natural resources seems to head “in the right direction,” but stressed the sector needs to be enabled, not hampered as it grows.

“I think government has to move out of the way. There’s too much red tape,” he said, adding all levels of government need to review approval processes including environmental assessments to make it easier to begin projects. “With environmental issues, I’m glad that there are checks and balances as these requests for approvals go through, but the time needs to be considered and it needs to be shortened. In my opinion, it’s a much too long, drawn-out affair. Remember that old adage, ‘Time is money?’ Well, time is jobs these days.”

External factors have been weighing on natural resources in the last two weeks, as commodity prices plunged on world markets. Ashton said it’s imperative that senior and local governments respond more quickly to the pendulum swings of market demand by reducing the number of agencies responsible for approvals to become “efficient and proficient organizations.”

“Unfortunately it’s the external factors which control that growth in jobs. But when that demand is there, B.C. has to respond to it quicker,” he said, citing the example of the Princeton mine project, which was only able to obtain permits so quickly because it was based on an existing mine site.

“A lot of regulatory hoops they had to go through had been gone through years ago. To get a new mine site in play now, you’re looking at a decade or more. That can literally be two economic cycles — it’s seven up and seven down.”

Meanwhile, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce called on Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates to renew their focus on job creation as they discuss issues — issuing a dire warning about the consequences of inaction.

“Local government must resist the urge to cave into the demands of the NIMBY segment at the expense of the many benefits that economic development brings to the community, the region or the province,” B.C. chamber president John Winter said.

“Without strong local businesses and without timely new project approvals, the local tax base erodes, jobs dwindle and services and taxpayers suffer.”

The premier is set to leave for a 12-day trade mission to eight cities in China and India on Nov. 4. She will promote B.C. business in the cities of Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Amritsar and Chandigarh.