VANCOUVER—British Columbia Jobs Minister Shirley Bond says the Liberals’ jobs plan is working but she’s added a few more pillars to prop it up, including a sector just for First Nations.
Bond released an update on the plan this week, including a renewed economic blueprint for the province that makes specific mention of aboriginal participation in the economy.
First Nations, international trade, small business and manufacturing sectors join eight existing key sectors, such as agrifoods, forestry and energy.
“It isn’t that we haven’t done it before,” Bond said. “We’ve made that part of the jobs plan, but I think it’s appropriate now to look at how we engage their workforce, how we support their economic endeavours so it will be a new highlight of the jobs plan.”
The resource development landscape across Canada has changed dramatically since a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in June recognized land-title rights for the Tsilhqot’in Nation in the B.C. Interior.
Nowhere could the ruling have a greater effect than in the westernmost province, where most aboriginal bands have no treaties with the Crown and where every inch of land is subject to First Nations’ land claims.
Bond said B.C. has exceeded its target for non-treaty benefit-sharing agreements, in the absence of progress in treaty talks with the federal government.
The Liberal cabinet met with chiefs and aboriginal leaders last month to discuss the path forward from the Tsilhqot’in decision.
“From my perspective, when I’m looking for a workforce of the future, almost 50 per cent of First Nations in British Columbia are under the age of 25, so they are a significant component in terms of our workforce of the future,” Bond said.
The focus on First Nations is one of the few bright spots in the three-year update, said Opposition New Democrat jobs critic Shane Simpson.
The jobs plan has been a failure, he said.
The Liberals said the province has gained 55,000 jobs since the plan was announced in 2011, but the NDP say B.C. has lost almost as many.
The net gain of private sector jobs was 2,800, Simpson said.
B.C. had the second-worst job numbers in Canada and the third-worst wage growth numbers, he said.
“I think the plan was pretty shallow. It was pretty rhetorical,” Simpson said.
The Liberals have been preoccupied with liquefied natural gas (LNG) development to the detriment of other industries, he said.
“The claims were pretty phenomenal. We now know the reality is we’ll probably get one or two and that’s important and significant and we should hope for that,” Simpson said.
But “if you weren’t involved in LNG, you weren’t much of a conversation for the government.”
Bond admitted the economy has been sluggish and B.C. saw less than two per cent growth last year.
But the province remains on track with LNG and remains committed to the jobs plan, she said.
There are now 18 LNG proposals, she said.
“We’re going to continue to work to bring liquefied natural gas to reality in the province but it’s never at the exclusion of other sectors,” Bond said.