COLUMN: Governments lose touch with reality

Wright Turn

First we had John Les in town saying our out-of-work residents should simply look north for jobs.

There’s plenty of work up in the northern communities, he said during a three-stop ‘consultation’ with Island Chamber of Commerce representatives a few weeks ago.

Then Premier Christy Clark decides to skip an Island stop altogether as she announced her jobs strategy this week.

Forgive us if we’re feeling a bit slighted on the employment priority front.

With an unemployment rate that topped out above 16 per cent earlier this year and continues to hover in the double digits, jobs remain high on the agenda in Nanaimo, even if the provincial decision-makers don’t care enough to even pay lip service to job-creation in the region.

Les’s ‘leave town for work’ comment stings all the more since he was supposedly gathering input in advance of Clark’s big jobs strategy announcements this week.

Those announcements took place across the province, with stopovers in all the major regions – except the Island, of course.

Maybe – like the geography whiz-kids at the Economist, who recently downgraded Vancouver’s livability ranking due to the transportation inconveniences experiences on the Malahat, a major body of water away on a completely different land mass – our ‘families first’ premier simply considers Vancouver and Vancouver Island all part and parcel of the same region.

Sure, if the federal shipbuilding contract Clark pledged millions of tax dollars toward bidding on pans out, the Harbour City is likely to reap a few new good jobs down at Nanaimo Shipyards, and Vancouver Island University might see a surge in enrolment in welding and other shipbuilding-related trades, but it’s hard to stomach that our provincial leaders aren’t giving us the time of day even as we have the highest out-of-work numbers anywhere this side of the Rockies.

Clark poured money into Prince Rupert – $15-million for the $90-million Road Rail Utility Corridor project, Phase 1 of a planned $300-million development at that city’s port – at her first stop Monday, reminding me that Nanaimo’s port authority has its own deep sea facility sitting mostly idle out at Duke Point. The most action it’s seen is when the multi-million dollar crane caught fire in the spring of 2007.

There’s plenty of potential there for economic development, with the existing resources and facilities in place but seldom used.

Of course, most of the attention (and government dollars) out at Duke Point goes to Harmac.

The employee-owned operation certainly deserves all the kudos and cash since it was rescued from bankruptcy, saving hundreds of jobs, but it wouldn’t hurt those holding the purse strings to look a little further outside the mill gates, where harsh economic reality is hitting this region hardest.

Ignoring reality seems to be the way for the federal government as well.

With its parliamentary majority, the Conservative government is barrelling ahead with its ill-conceived omnibus crime bill.

With our inadequate prisons already overcrowded, our federal Conservative government is making things even worse, imposing harsher sentences that will put more people in jail, and spending billions on new prisons.

Our government is getting tough on crime despite all credible evidence indicating crime in our country is falling, and has been for some time.

While construction of those prisons might create some much-needed employment, it’s a ridiculous waste of financial resources that are sorely needed in other sectors for jobs and services.