“Canada begins here” was the often repeated motto at the announcement of the government’s new job strategy by the Premier Christy Clark, in Prince Rupert on Monday.
The plan – The BC Jobs Plan – will be fully revealed Thursday, but judging by Monday’s announcement, the plan emphasizes long-term trade with Asia to create resource-industry jobs across B.C.
Business leaders and area politicians were crowded into a workshop at the port’s Fairview container terminal to hear Clark talk about the millions of dollars the province, Prince Rupert Port Authority and CN Rail intend to spend In Prince Rupert.
“We are facing the future of B.C. and of Canada, and I’m optimistic about the future we have,” Clark said.
“Because from here we are two or three days closer to Asia than any other port on the North American continent . . . From the docks here at Fairview Terminal we can walk out and see the opportunity across the ocean. It’s not just an opportunity for B.C., its an opportunity for Canada, and it begins right here, at this port, in Prince Rupert,” Clark said.
It should be noted the average difference in travel time to Asia comparing Prince Rupert’s port and its nearest competitor in Vancouver is actually closer to one day.
Despite using the container terminal as a backdrop for the announcement, the pProvincial government isn’t actually spending any money at Fairview Terminal. It will spend is $15-million on Road Rail Utility Corridor Project on Ridley Island.
Prince Rupert Port Authority announced it will spend $30-million on the project; to be matched by CN Rail.
Clark made allusions to negotiations between the Province and the Federal Government about a contribution of the remaining $15-million for the project, but they have not made a decision yet.
“They’re still working through their process. They’ve been a good partner at the table, things have been very constructive while working towards this. But they have a process to work through, so I will leave it to them to comment,” said Clark.
The project would make improvements to the rail lines going to and from the grain and coal terminals located on Ridley Island, once building begins on the project it is expected to create 570 construction jobs. When its done, the government hopes that it will create 4,000 operational jobs, although there appears to be some disagreement about that number, since the Port’s CEO Don Krusel estimated the job count to be much lower.
“4000 construction-years worth of employment will be created just from the construction of this, one the terminals are done and fully operation we’ll be providing 1,500 full-time, well-paying job in this community,” says Krusel.
According to Krusel, the railway improvements will allow Ridley’s capacity to expand by over six times its current size to 70 to 100-million tonnes a year. To put that in perspective, last years total tonnage was a record holder at 16-million tonnes, and this year is projected to be another record year at 18-million.
The Premier says that this won’t be the last amount of funding to go to Prince Rupert in the next while. The Provincial Government is making it clear with this plan that they’re looking across the pacific to China and Asia for job-creating opportunities, rather than looking south to United States which is being rocked by its own financial problems.
“So far this year, BC has sold $8.7 billion worth of goods to Asia. That’s 29 per cent over last year, in Asia. Asia has become the number one destination for good in British Columbia, it is the most important destination,” says the Minister of Forests, Mines and Lands, Pat Bell who also attended the announcement along with the Minister of Transportation Blair Lekstrom.
The hope is that by investing in industries and infrastructure for long-term trade with Asia, BC will be Canada’s connection to those emerging markets, which the Liberals hope will spur growth and create jobs in resource-based industries — specifically mines and forestry — in BC and even across the country. The government says it wants to make sure that BC has ports that are ready to supply the goods that China’s rapidly emerging middle class.
The Liberal government has been warning British Columbians about the cuts in government spending ever since the HST was defeated in a referendum a few weeks ago. Now the Premier is announcing a multi-million dollar project which is only a small part of a much larger spending program aimed at creating private sector jobs. The Premier justifies the mixed messages by saying that the private sector needs strengthening in order to pay for social programs. She also accused the NDP of wanting to grow government and “hope that everything will work itself out.“
“My recipe is that we grow a thriving private sector, because when we have a thriving private sector and people and paying taxes, That money goes to the provincial treasury, and that’s how we pay support things like healthcare and education,” says Clark.
Supporting education is also essential for a better economy, says Local MLA, Gary Coons. While he is in favour of the new spending on the port, Coons says that just throwing money at Ridley Island will not create jobs for local people. Coons says that the government should be spending money on training British Columbians by giving extra funding to things like the Northwest Community College.
“When we look at the skills training that’s needed in this area for this and for other projects such as the [Northwest] Transmission lines, there’s a huge shortage with the necessary skills. So one thing I was disappointed about was that there was no funding for the college or post-secondary in general,” says Coons.