B.C. Premier Christy Clark has unveiled the first part of her plan to protect and create more jobs in the province, but critics say it looks a lot like one proposed by her predecessor.
Clark began in Prince Rupert on Monday by announcing the B.C. Liberal government will contribute $15 million to help develop a road and rail corridor at the port.
The project involves a $90-million expansion of CN Rail lines and utilities in the area to help meet Asia's demand for natural resources, including coal. CN Rail and the Port of Prince Rupert will add $30 million each.
The announcement came with promises of 570 new construction positions and about 4,000 jobs at the port terminal once the expansion is complete. But it's unclear how many of those will be new jobs and how many are already filled by CN workers.
Clark said the Port of Prince Rupert, about 750 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, is closer to China than any other in North America, giving it a prime position to cash in on the Asia-Pacific market.
"From here we are two or three days closer to any other port on the North American continent," she said. "A century ago this was where a lot of maps ended, but now this is where the map of the future begins."
NDP MLA Carol James was quick to point out Clark's plans are similar to a 2006 announcement by former premier Gordon Campbell that B.C. should take advantage of the Pacific Gateway.
"It's been months where the public's been waiting for her to actually put something on the table and today to see that it's more slogans and funding an old announcement from 2006? The public expected better. I expected better," said James.
B.C. led the country in job losses earlier this year and saw its unemployment rate dip to 8.8 per cent in February. Job creation for the year is expected to come under one per cent.
"Defending and creating jobs is the primary mission of my government," said Clark. "It will be my primary mission until I finish this job as premier."
Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said there's benefit for the economy only if the work is contracted here.
"Giving money to build infrastructure such as this doesn't guarantee one B.C. job or one local job," he said. "B.C. Place stadium — many many of those jobs were created across the border in Washington and in Quebec, not here with taxpayer's dollars."
Helmut Pastrick, chief economist for Central Credit Union 1, said the capital investment in the Port of Prince Rupert should help with creating jobs but would like to see a broader plan to go beyond construction.
"Also target other types of infrastructure investments and also investments in human capital — education, retraining for the unemployed — that would also be very desirable," he explained.
The premier also met with First Nations in Kitimat on Monday to promote plans for a natural gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas plant. The project, which could create up to 1,500 construction jobs and 140 permanent positions, would require federal approval.
The gas would be cooled to the point where it turns to liquid and can then be sent to Asian markets. Natural gas in Asia is currently selling at three or four times higher than the price in Canada.
Clark is scheduled to visit Kamloops and Surrey this week before revealing her entire agenda on Thursday in Vancouver.