Liberal decade average at best, say its own reports

By the numbers, the Liberal decade is looking distinctly average.

By the numbers, the Liberal decade is looking distinctly average.

Not my numbers, but the report card from the B.C. Progress Board, established by Gordon Campbell in 2002 to report on the government’s performance using quantifiable measurements.

Based on 21 key indicators set up by that board – initially chaired by David Emerson – it’s been a disappointing decade.

The board compares B.C. with other provinces. The goal, it said in the first report, was to see this province first or second in Canada in key measurements.

It hasn’t happened. In fact, the most recent report found the province has slid backward in more categories than it has improved.

B.C. ranks fourth in economic output for capita, the same as spot it was in the board’s first report in 2002. It’s second in real average hourly wage, also unchanged from the NDP years. (The data used in the first report was generally two years old.)

Employment has improved – up from fifth to fourth in the percentage of adults with jobs.

But in personal income, B.C. has fallen from third to fourth. In productivity – a key measure – from fifth to seventh among provinces. Exports per capita have fallen from seventh to ninth.

For a government that touted its commitment to a stronger economy, it’s a weak performance. On balance, the economic measurements show a slight decline from the final NDP years.

The record is equally mediocre on management of the government’s finances, according to the Progress Board. The 2002 report, using the most recent numbers available, found B.C. had the second lowest level of taxpayer-supported debt in the country.

Now it has slipped one place, to third lowest. (That’s not necessarily bad, if the debt is prudently undertaken and will pay future dividends.)

B.C. had the second-lowest tax rate for big earners back then; now it has the third lowest.

The province has moved from seventh to fifth in per-capita tax burden, a positive from the board’s perspective.

But the 2002 report found B.C. had the third lowest deficit, in relation to GDP, among provinces. The 2010 report says B.C. has fallen to fifth.

The province is doing better in terms of graduating people from high school and research and development spending. B.C. ranked sixth for that kind of investment in the 2002 report; now it’s third. Investment in fixed assets has increased, and the province has jumped from eighth to third among provinces for in-migration. People are moving here.

But university completion is unchanged from a decade ago; and the province has gone backward in terms of developing science, engineering and tech workforce.

Sorry about all the numbers. Two things should stand out. First, on the board’s economy, innovation and education indicators, the province improved in six measures, went backward on seven and stayed the same on three.

It is a middling performance. B.C. has done a little worse than other provinces, but basically stayed with the pack average.

Second, the Progress Board expected better. The first report said that by 2010 B.C. should be first or second in expanding GDP per capita, pesonal income and jobs. It’s fourth, as it was when the Liberals took office.

The Progress Board looked at social and health measurements too. B.C. improved in two measures – cancer mortality and crime. We’re best in the country for cancer survival rates; the crime improvement is a less impressive move from tenth to eighth.

But B.C. has fallen from the sixth-worst province for poverty to last. Infant health, as measured by low birth weight, has gone from second to fifth.

And in greenhouse gas emissions per person, supposedly a priority, B.C. has gone from third lowest to fourth.

Overall, it’s a profoundly average record. For all the brave promises and enthusiastic spin, the Campbell government did no better – maybe slightly worse – than other provinces. None of the Liberal leadership candidates have said they are aiming higher.

Footnote: The report is surprising. For all the rhetoric – from both sides – you would have expected greater change.

But based on the numbers – which are only a snapshot – the impact was not that great. B.C. rolled along in the middle of the Canadian pack. Full credit though, to Campbell for establishing and continuing the Progress Board. Reports are available online at bcprogressboard.com.

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Willcocks@ultranet.ca