Jobs minister talks up regional, provincial economies

There is "every reason" to be optimistic about the economy heading 2020, B.C. Jobs, Labour and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston said this week in a year-end interview.

"Certainly there will be challenges, I wouldn't want to minimize those in the forest sector, but in broad terms, the opportunities in British Columbia and the region of Prince George are pretty good for the year to come and so I'm optimistic and I hope your readers and viewers share that," Ralston said.

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In support of that claim, Ralston noted the Royal Bank is predicting B.C. will be the fastest growing province in Canada at an estimated 2.4 per cent over the coming year. Although revised down slightly from the 2.6 per cent growth rate it had predicted a year ago, the B.C. finance minister's economic forecast council also projects 2.4 per cent growth in 2020, he said.

As for the Central Interior and Prince George, he emphasized a Western Investor story that placed Prince George as the second-best city in Western Canada to invest in.

Indeed, Ralston cited many of the points raised in the story, such as the multi-billion-dollar Coastal GasLink and LNG Canada projects that are expected to create significant spinoff for the city.

On the troubles in the forest sector, he made reference to the $69-million support package for displaced sawmill workers.

"The forest industry, I think, will come back but probably not in the same strength as it was before," Ralston said in reference to the major lumber producers. He made note of relative buoyancy among the pulp and pellet producers.

B.C. is also home to the second-lowest income tax on small businesses and the sale tax has been taken off electricity "which benefits small business," Ralston also said.

In response, Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond disagreed. While Ralston has said more than 70,000 jobs have been created since the NDP was elected, she said the province has lost jobs in five of the last six months.

She accused the NDP of lacking a jobs plan and of being "out of touch on the forestry file in particular."

"It took months to get this government's attention on behalf of thousands of British Columbians who were either losing their job or were laid off," Bond said.

On taxes, Bond said B.C. is out of step with neighbouring jurisdictions in terms of competitiveness. "What has this government done? It has actually created 19 new or increased taxes," she said.

Bond, who is the Opposition finance critic, said the $2-billion surplus the NDP inherited when it took over as government has dwindled down to $147 billion and labeled the NDP a "tax and spend government."

"We have been telling that government that they need to be thoughtful about a softening economy, about raising taxes and creating a lack of competitiveness in British Columbia," she said. "If we can't compete, people are going to choose to go elsewhere to invest their money."

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