Start singing a happy tune on jobs

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On the hit parade of promises political candidates make, number one with a bullet is always job creation. It’s also the first to fall off the charts once the aspirant to public office becomes the duly elected.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” contenders from all points on the partisan spectrum thunder righteously as if they, alone, know where the keys to the castle are buried. And, yet, when the expected employment fails to bloom, the mantra suddenly turns neo-conservative, like a tract plucked straight from the pages of an Ayn Rand manifesto: “Government doesn’t create jobs; the private sector creates jobs.”

Oh, so that’s how it works. Thanks for sharing. I’ve always wondered.

In fact, generations of politicians have relied on the sturdy “jobs and growth” agenda to get themselves elected for the single reason that it tends to generate happy results. At least, it produces better ones than almost any other platform, apart from the one candidates increasingly use to sling mud and rotten tomatoes at one another.

The irony, of course, is that job claims, vows, pledges or any other projection of the labour market’s condition are probably the least useful measure of a political candidate’s suitability for elected office.

No one individual controls the economic and commercial forces that usher cycles of recession and recovery. And unless a particular government is determined to spend a bunch of tax dollars hiring civil servants to push pencils and pile paper all day, publicly engineered job creation is a game of estimates, not certitudes.

This fact, alone, seems to have escaped the attention of both Liberal Premier Brian Gallant and interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bruce Fitch, who spent an inordinate amount of time last week hammering away at each other over the proper definition of job creation specifically, whether the former has wasted no time breaking his first important campaign promise.

“I was very clear,” the premier told reporters outside the legislature on Thursday. “These are jobs that would be created through the mechanisms and the projects we would support. This isn’t talking about a net gain in jobs. There’s a big difference here.”

He was, of course, referring to the 5,000 jobs he had promised to generate in the first year of his mandate. Technically, he insisted, the province could still lose jobs, overall just not the ones for which he is determined to be responsible.

For his part, Mr. Fitch wasn’t buying the distinction. “Absolutely, it’s a promise broken,” he said. “If it’s not a promise broken, it’s certainly a commitment that was made without the proper details, which is something the public should have been made aware of.”

Fiddle-faddle, Mr. Gallant rejoined: “I am surprised to see the questioning today, because the past government would use this argument all the time. They would say they were creating jobs and stand up in the legislature and say,’50 jobs were created there,’ but yet when it came to the economy, we’d have a net loss of jobs.”

Almost nothing is funnier to a fan of political blood sports than an utterly meaningless debate over an allegedly broken promise that was probably impossible to fulfill anyway.

Still, it’s exchanges like this diversions and distractions that lead people to conclude, not unjustifiably, that politicians actually enjoy wasting their time in public.

At least as important as the quantity of jobs the provincial economy produces is the quality of those positions. Are they full-time or part-time, seasonal? Are they salaried positions with benefits, or casual terms under contract? Do they require a high degree of skill and expertise to perform, or are they low-wage and disposable?

Rather than emphasize job numbers, government and opposition members might spend  their sojourn in Fredericton more productively by working together to build the economic capacity that breeds and keeps promising new start-ups, encourages existing, successful ventures to expand and export, and attracts investment for industrial and community economic development.

Given the apparently unfordable gulf between them on shale gas in this province, it is, perhaps, not too much to ask our elected representatives to, every so often, sing from the same song sheet.

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