Good Jobs And Real Economic Growth

By March 5, 2015Hot Topic, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. The need for the kinds of economic development and planning changes on which Mayor Henry Braun as well as the AbbotsfordFIRST candidates campaigned has never been more apparent.

A report in Thursday’s Globe and Mail describes the slow erosion of well-paying, full-time, permanent jobs in the Canadian economy over the last eight years.

In 2013 Canada was ranked #3 in the world for most low-paying jobs behind the US and Ireland.

Job quality in Canada has sunk to its lowest level in more than two decades, analysis released Thursday says.

An employment quality index compiled by CIBC, which tracks part-time versus full-time work, paid versus self-employment and compensation trends, has fallen to its lowest level on record, according to a report by Benjamin Tal, the bank’s deputy chief economist. Data for the index go back to 1989. – Globe and Mail 3/3/2015

Abbotsford, which has never offered many jobs of quality, is in a more precarious position than most Canadian cities when facing this dillemma.

While City Manager George Murray, with the help of the planning department, has succeeded in a major review and rewriting of the planning bylaws, and has instilled a new sense of purpose with a less political agenda at City Hall, there is a great deal more to do.

Some new councillors are discovering, in some cases to their horror, just how dysfunctional our City has become under the vacuum in leadership exhibited by the old guard.

Despite some very positive changes both the economic development and planning departments still suffer from a regulatory mindset – telling business what they can and can’t do – rather than an accommodating, welcoming and encouraging mindset exhibited by other municipalities.

The need for well-paying, full-time, permanent and lasting employment has never been higher. And Abbotsford has very little to offer either our children graduating from high school or potential citizens considering moving here.

“The damage caused to full-time employment during each recession was, in many ways, permanent,” he noted. “That is, full-time job creation was unable to accelerate fast enough during the recovery to recover lost ground.”- Globe and Mail 3/3/2015

While we are perfectly aware that the wheels of government turn exceedingly slowly, this is a crucial issue in Abbotsford. It took over a decade to instil an unproductive mindset. We cannot wait a decade or more to be solve it.

Despite what the local newspapers – which only seem to report economic news when it is positive – may tell us, the economic outlook looks anything but rosy and the days when local politicians could rely on the old truism that reliable, positive and unlimited growth would cover up their mistakes and solve everything for them are long gone.

It is tme we stop relying on the over-priced, over-heated Vancouver real estate market to save us from our own ineptitude.

If Abbotsford is going to be able to afford to fix its infrastructure, reduce its ridiculously high water rates, stop nickel and diming citizens to death with fees and charges or plan on any real growth as a community, we must start attracting the right kind of businesses.

Those businesses will have to offer well-paying jobs with good benefits and the provide the ability for families to set down roots.

The drop in job quality is more structural than cyclical in nature and likely can’t be reversed by monetary policy, Mr. Tal added.

The Bank of Canada “continues to warn us that the headline unemployment rate is not as rosy as perceived and…[that] labour slack is still significant,” he said. But “the bank’s prescribed remedy of low and lower interest rates might not cure what ails the labour market.”- Globe and Mail 3/3/2015

We have to stop blaiming other levels of government or waiting for them to rescue us.

In order to accomplish real change (some of which is most certainly in the process and being driven hard by the new council) we need a change in attitude. Without it, all the political changes in the world will matter little and have even less impact.

Our planning and economic development departments have to become welcoming and accommodating to the right kinds of companies, and they have to start defining what kinds of business we want to attract and begin seeking them out.

One of the biggest shocks in my career as a journalist came when I found out that, under the old regime, our economic development department didn’t actually seek businesses or industry out. We simply processed applications and requests as they came in.

That attitude has certainly changed at a political level but it is not yet clear it has sunk in anywhere below the top management level at City Hall. In much the same way as the new outlook on how to treat marginalized citizens has certainly changed at the top at City Hall but is taking time for it to change at the bottom, change will take time.

We do not need any more retail, warehousing, or fast-food, part-time, low-paying jobs. If Abbotsford is to experience effective and lasting economic growth it needs to start attracting companies which offer reliable, long-term and well-paying jobs. Protecting the small, established businesses which have had the ear of municipal politicians for too long has not helped.

Both the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) have to learn to contribute to the growth and success of the community as a whole rather than simply driving their own, narrowly defined agendas.

Going out and finding good employers, instead of just telling companies who express an interest what hoops we want them to jump through, is a must. And the sooner the better.

Unless we do, the good jobs will continue to flow to Maple Ridge, Surrey, Langley and Chilliwack.

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