Graph from the B.C. Progress Board's final report shows B.C.'s performance relative to the rest of Canada through two decades and two economic slumps.

Progress Board served B.C. well

Provincial rankings were often misused, but core findings tell a valuable story.

How is B.C.’s economy doing?

This question occupies a great deal of time in our political debate. But since that debate is mostly an exercise in selecting facts and passing blame back and forth, it’s difficult to tell.

Former premier Gordon Campbell set out to change that in 2001 with the establishment of the B.C. Progress Board. Independent directors established six “core targets,” environmental, health and social indicators as well as economic measures, and tracked them annually with comparisons to other provinces.

This created a 10-year database that doesn’t exist anywhere else. But it hasn’t exactly been flattering, a sign that it has been kept free of political interference.

Premier Christy Clark’s recent decision to replace the Progress Board has sparked another round of political blame-storming. The NDP opposition was accustomed to jumping on the annual rankings and trumpeting the ones that cast the B.C. Liberals in a bad light. Predictably, they portrayed the remake of the board as an effort to sweep embarrassing results under the rug.

Media often focus on the political horse race rather than details of dull old policy. When the board’s annual reports came out, they typically covered the political fight and glossed over the findings.

The key flaw with the Progress Board turned out to be its emphasis on provincial rankings. B.C. ranked first for the entire 10 years in health and environmental conditions, and near the bottom in a complex measure of “social condition” that was often oversimplified as poverty.

In most measures, including economic ones, the rankings barely changed in a decade.

In his final report, board chair Gerry Martin noted that B.C.’s improvements in economic output and income were significant, but didn’t move them up the rankings because other provinces had similar success. Big recoveries in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland meant that B.C. sometimes slipped in the relative rankings despite major gains.

Martin noted that on crime, “initial performance was so poor that B.C.’s best-in-country improvements over several years were needed just to move B.C. to about average.” (There’s an example of how independent this board has been.)

Crime is part of the board’s “Social Condition Index,” along with low-birth-weight babies and long-term unemployment. This has been a favourite of opposition critics, because B.C. started low and slipped lower.

But they won’t tell you the whole story, through the NDP 1990s as well as the B.C. Liberal 2000s:

“B.C. ranked sixth in the Social Condition Index in 1990, improved to third in 1993, but deteriorated through the rest of the 1990s and into the next decade such that it sank to last place for 2001 and 2002,” the final report says.

“Improvements between 2002 and 2007 saw B.C. reach fifth place in 2006 and 2007, but rank changes on low birth weights and long-term unemployment brought B.C. to seventh in 2008 and ninth in 2009.”

Does this mean the NDP government of the 1990s did a bad job, or that the B.C. Liberals did better and then screwed up? It could be spun that way, but there are external factors involved.

The B.C. Progress Board didn’t just do rankings. Its policy suggestions were implemented in regulatory reform, energy self-sufficiency, creating community courts and UBC Okanagan, and proceeding with the Site C dam.

Martin notes that the successor organization, the Jobs and Investment Board, will carry on the performance monitoring and “hold government’s feet to the fire,” in particular on its ability to attract investment.

It’s time to stop arguing about the level of poverty and find new ways to alleviate it.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Just Posted

Greyhound cleared to end routes in northern B.C., Vancouver Island

Company says nine routes have dropped 30% in ridership in last five years

How the provincial budget will play out in northwestern B.C.

Price of gasoline to rise and expect MSP premiums to disppear

Snow bikers have a lucky escape on Claque Mountain

Their experience highlights the importance of being properly prepared in the backcountry

Access to naloxone kits made easier

They’re now available from pharmacies

Airport registers modest passenger increase

Manager anticipates further growth in 2018 as expansion project nears completion

VIDEO: What you need to know today at the B.C. Games

B.C. Winter Games athletes work for gold in the last full day of competition

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

B.C. Games: Athletes talk Team Canada at PyeongChang 2018

From Andi Naudie to Evan McEachran there’s an Olympian for every athlete to look up to

Snowboarders sliding into fresh territory at B.C. Games

Athletes hit the slopes for first appearance as an event at the B.C. Winter Games in Kamloops

Cariboo woman raises funds for Seizure Investigation Unit beds at VGH

VGH Foundation gets VCH approval to begin fundraising for SIU beds; local efforts are paying off

Looking back at the 1979 B.C. Games: Good memories, even better jackets

39 years later, Kamloops is hosting the Winter Games again, with some volunteers returning

OLYMPICS 101: Oldest and youngest Canadians to reach the podium

This year, Canada sent its most athletes in Winter Games history, here’s a look at record breakers

BCHL Today: Cowichan Caps play spoiler and Nanaimo wins 10th straight game

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Federal budget to unveil incentive for 5-week second parent leave: official

Goal behind the measure is to give parents more incentive to share child-rearing responsibilities

Most Read