Job growth in British Columbia has stalled, but it's too early to call Premier Christy Clark's highly-touted jobs plan a bust, Finance Minister Mike de Jong said Wednesday.
Finance Ministry data released Wednesday as part of the Liberal government's November second quarterly financial report show a job contraction of 0.1 per cent – totalling 2,600 fewer jobs – over the same period last year.
"We set more robust targets than what we achieved through 2013," de Jong said at a news conference at the B.C. legislature. "That's why I'm not hesitant to tell you our objectives are and remain to grow jobs, grow the economy and the numbers you see for 2013, so far, fall short of where we'd like to be."
Clark's jobs plan, launched in the fall of 2011, was her government's major push to stimulate job creation in B.C., and it included goals to strengthen infrastructure to get goods to markets and expand B.C. markets and services, especially in Asia.
The premier's plan did not include actual job target numbers, but its overall goals are to place first or second in Canada by 2015 in gross domestic product growth and new job growth.
"Our objectives remain to grow jobs and the economy," said de Jong. "At this stage of the game employment growth in the 0.8 per cent and one per cent is achievable, but it's not something we've achieved thus far."
Opposition New Democrat finance critic Mike Farnworth said the jobs plan is a failure and thousands of British Columbians are fleeing the province in search of work.
"Look at the jobs plan and the employment numbers in this province, by their own admission, they're pathetic," he said. "Their jobs plan has been a big bust."
Despite the flat job performance, de Jong's financial update, which marks the half-way point of the government's fiscal year, included a slightly improved budget surplus forecast from the summer.
The Finance Ministry now is forecasting a surplus of $165-million, higher than September's forecast, but still lower than the original budget surplus forecast of $197-million in last February's budget.
The minister said the revised upward surplus estimate includes $50-million taken from the government's forecast allowance, which serves as a buffer against economic and fiscal risks.
De Jong said the negative factors pushing at the bottom line were a $58-million decline in tax revenues, a $40-million drop in natural resource revenues, and $14-million lost in other miscellaneous revenues and expenses. On the positive side were revenue increases in commercial Crown corporations at $91-million, and the $50-million forecast allowance.
The quarterly report forecasts total budget revenues of $44.3-billion, down $15-million from the September projection. The B.C. economy is forecast to grow 1.4 per cent this year and 2.2 per cent in 2014.
De Jong said data indicates declining levels of economic activity in key areas, including jobs and retail sales. Exports are strong and housing starts, down seven per cent from last year, are out performing expectations.
He said the negative budget pressures, will make it difficult, but not impossible for the government to balance the budget this year and in coming years. De Jong said government belt-tightening, including spending and hiring freezes, are helping hold the line.
"In the short term ... it gets tougher not easier," he said. "Achieving that balance and that modest surplus will require continued vigilance. What we have done, I think, well is to control that aspect of the risk that is within our control on the spending side."
Farnworth called de Jong's projected budget surplus numbers "creative accounting."
"This, quote, surplus could easily end up in the red by the next update because we are coming into some of the biggest cost pressures of the year budget-wise, particularly with health care," he said.