It’s not hard to understand why politicians vying for elected office routinely proclaim the number of people they intend to put back to work, if only the great unwashed would be so kind as to hand over the keys to the garden.
After all, job creation is the lowest-hanging fruit on the vine of campaign promises.
Who, among us, doesn’t understand the importance of a fully employed, adult citizenry? More to the prosaic point, who doesn’t want steady, reliable work for himself? And who isn’t, at least once, willing to swallow whatever sweet and succulent promise a politician offers, especially if it has to do with one’s livelihood.
Still, the problem with low-hanging fruit is that, all too often, it’s past its ‘best before’ date.
New Brunswickers witnessed this during former Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward’s term in office, in which he promised to create jobs across the broad spectrum of the provincial economy, only to preside over losses approaching 4,500.
Now, perhaps, we prepare ourselves for a repeat performance by the Liberal government of Brian Gallant (different party, same story), which, according to its own Department of Finance, appears fated to watch the provincial labour market shed hundreds, perhaps even thousands, more by 2018.
The reasons are pretty straightforward, and can apply to any government in this age of perennially straitened circumstances, regardless of ideological stripe and partisan palaver.
According to the Economic Outlook 2016-2017, which accompanied the most recent New Brunswick budget, “Weaker growth at the national and global levels, challenges in the export and manufacturing sectors, slower-than-expected growth in investment and continued weakness in the labour market contributed to subdued growth in 2015. . .Real economic growth of 1.3 per cent in 2015 (is estimated), down from 1.8 per cent projected at budget last year. This estimate is consistent with the latest consensus among private sector forecasters.”
On the other hand, “Economic activity is expected to be tempered by demographic realities, private sector investment, fiscal measures and the recently announced suspension of operations at the Picadilly mine. Private sector forecasts may not reflect the latter development, which will put downward pressure on their projections.”
In fact, “Growth conditions will be further limited by PotashCorp’s announcement that it was indefinitely suspending operations at the Picadilly mine. The economic impact will be partially mitigated in the short-term by transitional measures being offered by the company. However, the effect of the suspension will continue to be felt well into 2017.”
Add to this boiling cauldron of trouble New Brunswick’s rapidly aging population and low birth rate and you have the perfect recipe for moribund economic conditions and, at best, stagnant job prospects. Or, as the finance department’s report observes, “Looking ahead to 2017, external demand and further government capital spending will drive economic activity. However, an aging workforce, overall population decline and weak private sector investment will curb growth.”
Naturally, all this translates into job losses, not growth.
Indeed, evidence of deep-rooted rot in the province’s economic garden has been extant for several years. And, except for specifically dunderheaded moves by certain elected officials, none of it is actually any individual’s or even government’s fault.
It’s a product of decades of short-sighted policy, calcified programming, and uncompetitive and complacent private-sector players. And, don’t underestimate the effects of rolling, increasingly deep recessions on resource-based, export-oriented jurisdictions, such as New Brunswick’s.
Despite their proclamations, politicians don’t create employment in the private economy.
But when they fail to deliver the fruits of their campaign promises – jobs – perhaps it’s only right that they should lose their own.