Like many NDP supporters across British Columbia, I woke up depressed on the morning after the provincial election. Although I hadn’t been able to bring myself to vote for the New Democrats, I still yearned for change after a dozen years of empty sloganeering from the Liberal government.
Instead British Columbians are facing four years at the hands of Christie Clark, the most facile premier the province has had since Bill Vander Zalm. Now, there’s an endorsement for you.
The Liberals campaign message, when they weren’t slagging the New Democrats, was breathtakingly simple – vote for us and we will bring unmatched growth and prosperity. But, after 12 years in office, where is it?
When Gordon Campbell became premier in 2001, he set up the B.C. Progress Board to measure how far along the province was in achieving his goal of surpassing the rest of Canada in terms of several key economic and social measures.
In 2011, the board was quietly disbanded because over a decade it had been unable to discover any relative, long-term progress – British Columbia had drifted along on the worldwide economic boom in the early part of the decade and then hit the skids in 2008.
In the six key performance targets, B.C.’s economy was ranked fourth by the board among Canadian provinces in 2000 and fifth in 2010; in terms of personal income the province ranked third at the beginning of the decade and fifth at the end; and the jobs ranking had B.C. falling from fifth to seventh place. (The jobs measure was a bit deceptive because it was based on the percentage of adults employed, which is a challenge for a province that attracts a disproportionate number of retirees.)
For the three targets that are not directly economic related– environmental quality, health outcomes, and social conditions – B.C.’s rankings were unchanged over the decade at first, first, and ninth. In its final report, the progress board summed it up this way:
“British Columbia’s outcomes have improved considerably since.. . 2001 but, due mainly to similar improvements in other provinces, this has not generally translated into better ranks.”
That was the case under a premier who, whatever Gordon Campbell’s drinking problems and limitations in the charm department, was a serious worker known for bearing down on all aspects of government and holding 12-hour cabinet meetings. Don’t expect the rate of progress to change under a premier who prefers campaigning to governing and can be expected to be found flitting around the province announcing illusory liquid natural gas operations the way Glen Clark used to trumpet phantom aluminum plants.
Unless, of course, the international prices of lumber, energy, and the rest of British Columbia’s resources spike considerably. In which case, those still in the labour force or business, investors with the right portfolios, recipients of governments services and individual taxpayers – in other words, most of us – should have smiles on our faces as big as Christie Clark’s; and no reason to thank her for our good times.
But then, what do I know – like many others in the nattering trades, I thought she was going to lose the election.
Whenever the Canadian economy is under discussion, the talk inevitably turns to efficiency, productivity and innovation. Standing in a checkout line at Safeway the other day, I witnessed a priceless example of how the battle to improve all three is going.
The tally for the woman in front of me came to something that ended in 26 cents. When the customer handed over the exact amount of money rounded down to a quarter, the cashier demanded another going-going-about-to-be-gone penny.
The customer dug around in her change purse and handed over another nickle, at which point the change system spit out a nickle in change. The customer smiled, I howled and the cashier was left to apologize, explaining that she was at the mercy of the machine and had no other choice on how to proceed.
Perhaps we should stop getting so excited about the Canadarm’s contribution to the space shuttle and the rest of our country’s presence in the U.S space program.
Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.