British Columbia·FACT CHECK

Did the NDP really spark a 'decade of decline' as Liberals claim?

A new B.C. Liberal ad takes aim at the B.C. NDP's economic record — more than 16 years ago. Economists say the numbers have less to do with policy brought in by any politician and a lot to do with external factors.

Two economic experts 'fact check' B.C. Liberal attack ad and find the message is being massaged

B.C. Liberal Party ad claims New Democrat leader John Horgan will repeat the economic mistakes of old NDP governments (B.C. Liberal Party )

A new B.C. Liberal election attack ad claims when the NDP were in power, British Columbia suffered a 'decade of decline' — and it warns a New Democrat government formed by John Horgan will "take us back" to those times.

The ad alleges that "when the rest of Canada was booming, the NDP took B.C. from first to worst in job creation, forcing 50,000 British Columbians to leave to find work," and that, "B.C. ranked dead last in investment and job growth."

The NDP reigned in B.C. from 1991 to 2000. The Liberals have been in power since 2001.

The Liberal ad cites Statistics Canada as the source of the information.

But are the claims completely true? Not according to two prominent B.C. economists, who analysed the assertions at the request of our CBC Fact Check team.

"Sometimes, it's politics, in terms of how you shape the numbers," says Bryan Yu, deputy chief economist with the Central 1 Credit Union.

Jock Finlayson, executive director of the Business Council of B.C., agrees.

"Depending on the numbers you look at, they can certainly find some data that will help to embellish that or help support [their] argument," he says.

So, was the B.C. economy really that bad under the NDP in the 90's?

Liberal Claim #1: Job Growth plunged under NDP

A check of the province's credit rating assessed by the Dominion bond rating service shows it has barely changed since 1991; from an "AA" rating until 1999, an "AA" minus rating through to 2004, then a bump to "AA" plus rating from 2007 to the present.

Stats Can figures, cited in the Liberal ad and checked by the CBC, show the first of the B.C. Liberal claims are partly correct — that job growth slumped during a portion of the 90's when the NDP were in government and unemployment numbers climbed. But the rate of unemployment was also high under the Liberals after they took power.

Unemployment peaked at 10.1% in 1992, the year after the NDP took power — but dropped to 7.7% by the time the party was ousted from office in 2001.

Then, under the B.C. Liberals, unemployment climbed to 8.5% in 2002 shortly after the 9-11 crisis — dropped in half a couple of years later — but climbed to 7.7% in 2008 following the world economic downturn.

Our experts say internal B.C. policies have less impact on our economy, than outside forces.

B.C. Liberal Ad about NDP record in the 1990s says job creation declined. (B.C. Liberal Party )

"(Provincial policies) have some influence, but it's a lot less than people I think tend to believe," said Finlayson.

"We had the Asian financial crisis in '97-'98, We had 9-11... and then of course we had the global financial crisis and crash in 2007…all of these things had quite a big impact on B.C., and none of them have anything to do with the government of British Columbia, or any politicians in B.C."

Bryan Yu of Central 1 credit union concurs.

"I think it's difficult to say it's really reflective of the politics or policies in place at the time. It's largely a macro-economic driven event."

Liberal Claim #2: Job Seekers forced to leave

So what about the Liberal claim 50,000 British Columbians were forced to leave the province to find work under the NDP?

A Statistics Canada 2006 report shows there was an exodus — but it extended during the early years of the Liberals as well, beginning with "a net outflow in 1998, which continued until 2004" — three years after the Liberal's took power.

B.C. Liberal party ad says thousands of job seekers left B.C. under the NDP because of bad economic policies — but Stats Can figures show the exodus continued under the Liberals. (B.C. Liberal Party )

Most job seekers, the report notes, were attracted by the "surging economies" of Ontario and Alberta at the time.

Liberal Claim #3: B.C. ranked 'dead last' in investment

As for the Liberal claim under the NDP, the province was "dead last" in investment growth, Finlayson confirms B.C. was last among 10 provinces in the average annual growth of business investment from 1991 to 2000.

B.C. Liberal party ad says the NDP was bad for investment and job growth. (B.C. Liberal Party )

But he warns that while the B.C. Liberal ad can claim the economic high ground right now because the province's economy is performing well, that might not continue.

"We do expect the economy to slow down here a bit in 2017-18," said Finlayson.

"[But] an election is not the time to be careful," he said, referring to the claims made against the NDP in the B.C. Liberal ad.

"It's an age-old reality of political life." 

If you have an issue you'd like us to fact check during this election campaign, email at us or use the form below to send your confidential tips.

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.

With files from Michelle Ghoussoub & Manjula Dufresne