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Welfare and unemployment rise while job numbers shrink in BC

Premier Gordon Campbell and finance minister Colin Hansen have suggested B.C. is sheltered from the worst of the global financial downturn, but in a column released today economist and former NDP strategist David Schreck argues there are clear signs a growing number of people are suffering.

For evidence Schreck pointed to the most recent statistics on the expanding provincial welfare caseload, the rise in people collecting unemployment benefits and the drop in the number of people who are employed.

“When you see all three heading in the same wrong direction, that's something to be concerned about,” Schreck said in an interview.

In November, 2008, the number of “expected to work” cases in B.C.'s welfare system was up 24.3 percent from a year earlier. The rise continues a trend dating to 2006 that housing and social development minister Rich Coleman in October told the Tyee was related to the economy.

The number of British Columbians receiving employment insurance benefits also grew, wrote Schreck. In October 2008 the number was 18.2 percent higher than in October 2007, a jump in the number of people needing help second only to the one made in Ontario in the same period.

Finally, he wrote, using seasonally adjusted figures from Statistics Canada, the number of people working in B.C. dropped by 22,200 between August and December, 2008.

With an election scheduled for May 12, both Campbell and NDP leader Carole James will be positioning themselves as the best choice to manage the province through the downturn.

The conventional wisdom, which isn't necessarily right, has that the Liberals are the best party to manage the economy, Schreck said. But James could turn a weak economy to her advantage, he added: “I think she will point out these are external factors and the best we can do is protect citizens while the business cycle turns.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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