It is certain, if you are attending Gordon Fuller’s breakfast club in Nanaimo, that you are down on your luck. It is possible, when this week began, that you were hopeful about Premier Christy Clark’s promise of a job creation plan for B.C. It is doubtful, at end of the week, that you are expecting brighter prospects any time soon.
Mr. Fuller dislikes the term soup kitchen. At the Nanaimo 7-10 Club, people are seated as they would at a restaurant, with volunteer servers taking orders. “We want to make the process as dignified as possible,” Mr. Fuller explained.
Last week was the busiest ever for the community kitchen, with about 400 people each day coming for a free hot meal – homemade soup or porridge – and a bagged lunch to take away.
The Premier’s many announcements this week – promising eight new mines, four liquefied natural gas plants, more international students, bigger B.C. ports, “smart” deregulation – are supposed to deliver job creation in every part of the province.
And there is more to come. An international marketing campaign, tax reviews, streamlined permitting processes – members of the Vancouver Board of Trade offered the Premier heavy applause Thursday as she sketched out her plan.
But Mr. Fuller thinks he’ll have to expand the hours of service before his clients will see the benefits. He wishes Ms. Clark had brought her jobs tour to Nanaimo this week – it is, after all, the city with the highest unemployment rate in the province.
The Clark government can’t be accused of ignoring Nanaimo. Not two weeks ago, the Premier’s parliamentary secretary, John Les, visited. Grilled about the unemployment situation, Mr. Les suggested young people should be prepared to look for work elsewhere in B.C. instead of waiting for the unemployment picture to turn around.
His remarks were taken as an affront to hard-luck Nanaimo’s dignity. Ms. Clark offered damage control on Tuesday in her Kamloops jobs speech when she stressed: “You shouldn’t have to move to get a job in British Columbia, and we need to make sure those opportunities are there for communities all across the province.”
In the short term, however, Mr. Les’s ill-received advice looks more practical. An unemployed forest worker in the Interior today will still be unemployed tomorrow – Ms. Clark’s plan promises no immediate relief.
Kamloops resident Sue Scott has watched the Premier’s announcements closely this week. Two years ago, Ms. Scott lost her forestry job but landed on her feet at an agency called CSI Home, a non-profit organization that provided services to seniors. Subsidized by provincial government grants, the organization retrained unemployed workers to provide low-cost services to seniors, from lawn maintenance and painting to housekeeping and snow-clearing.
She was hopeful, when the Premier visited Kamloops on Tuesday, that Ms. Clark would see the benefit of restoring the program, which closed its doors on April 1 because the provincial funding dried up. Instead, she was promised regional reviews of apprenticeship programs.
“They’ve had plenty of time for panels and reviews,” Ms. Scott said. “My job prospects at the moment are nil.… I was hoping the Premier would say something, anything, that would give us a hint that we would return to work.”
Pat Bell is Ms. Clark’s jobs czar. Since the spring he has been doing the legwork for the plan Ms. Clark is unwrapping now. After months of promising something big, he’s trying to rein in expectations.
“This is built around B.C.’s unique competitive advantages, and what industries does it make sense for us to aggressively support,” he said. “It’s not necessarily sexy or flashy.”
The jobs will come, Mr. Bell promised, but he said it requires patience. “Six months from now, people will start looking at it and saying, ‘Maybe it’s starting to work.’… And three, four years from now, people will say, ‘Holy cow, this really worked.’ ”
John Little worked in a Nanaimo sawmill for 31 years. Despite retraining in Web design, computers and cooking, he’s had 14 days of work in the past 23 months.
Mr. Little heard nothing in the Premier’s announcements this week to persuade him that there is any reason to stay in Nanaimo and hope for a turnaround. Instead, he is counting down the days until he expects to be eligible for severance. “If there are no jobs here, I’m looking to visit my kids in Alberta,” he said.
“Canada starts here,” goes the Premier’s new slogan, but right now Mr. Little sees the jobs are elsewhere.