FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – There are those in this region who suggest the Liberal government is playing out-of-sight, out-of-mind, with the “recessionary economy” in the northeast corner of the province.
They point to a BC Stats unemployment rate in the area of nine point two percent or more, in each of the last five months, and the even more alarming local statistics when unemployment is measured by occupation.
Natural Resources and Agriculture are considered together in the BC Stats report and although June is traditionally a robust agricultural sector employment month, the occupational jobless rate in question was nine point seven percent.
In the last 18 months, dating back to the beginning of last year, the same occupational rate has been in double digits 15 times, and the average monthly rate was over 15% last year, and was over 16%, in the first 6 months of this year.
Add to that the fact, the province just missed posting a record low bonus bids total from natural gas and petroleum land rights sales last year, and now appears even more likely to do it this year, and there’s ample reason to suspect this region has lost its status as a major driving force behind BC’s economy.
However, a call last week to the office of Finance Minister Mike De Jong to determine if there’s government agreement and/or concern, and perhaps some remedial response was referred to Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman, and a call to his office then failed to generate any ministerial response.
In addition, the out-of-sight, out-of-mind theorists may now have even more argumentative fodder this week courtesy of Mr. De Jong, who has just released a report suggesting the province is doing just fine without its hitherto oil and gas industry cash cow.
After a February budgetary forecast of a provincial surplus of $264 million for the current fiscal year, Mr. De Jong now says, without yet providing any specific dollar amounts, first quarter revenues are likely to be better than anticipated.