General Improvement Among Themes in 2009 Progress Board Report

VANCOUVER, Dec. 17 /CNW/ - The British Columbia Progress Board released its ninth annual benchmark report today. The Board tracks changes in the economic performance and social wellbeing of British Columbia through review of the most comprehensive data on the province's economy, innovation, education, environment, health and societal performance. Several familiar themes arise when one considers British Columbia's economic and social performance through the benchmark indicators.

The first theme is that British Columbia's performance on ranks relative to other provinces, US states and OECD countries has generally improved since the Board began its work in 2001. Even where ranks have not changed, BC has often had absolute improvements.

"Core Target 5, Health Outcomes, is a good example," Gerry Martin, Progress Board chair, said. "British Columbia has had the top rank on the index since 1990 and top three ranks on its components in most years. In absolute terms, British Columbians born last year could expect to live three years longer, on average, than those born in 1991. Mortality rates for cancer have dropped by 13 percent since 1990 and those for cardiovascular disease by 38 percent. Infant mortality is down by 37 percent and premature mortality is down by 29 percent."

Strong employment growth prior to 2008 resulted in absolute and relative improvements on Core Target 3, the Employment Rate. British Columbia achieved a rate last year that was more than five percentage points higher than the low reached in 1998. In those ten years BC gained 28 places in the North American comparison.

Other than a second-place rank in 1990, British Columbia has placed third on Core Target 2, Personal Income (formerly Standard of Living), for the better part of two decades. This consistent rank masks substantial changes. British Columbia's average income was $1,100 above Canada's in 1990, which deteriorated steadily to $544 below in 2000. The gap began to narrow in 2004 and all but vanished last year. In addition, BC has closed four-fifths of the gap that existed between it and second-place Ontario since 2000.

Another theme is the volatility inherent in certain indicators. General familiarity with GDP growth makes it an important indicator to track but its fluctuations mean it needs to be considered as part of a broader set of indicators. In the past ten years all but two provinces have ranked first or second and only one has avoided the bottom two ranks on Core Target 1, Economic Growth.

British Columbia ranked ninth in 2008 for growth in real GDP per capita. On a popular variation - without the adjustment for population growth - BC earned the seventh place rank. Just as it is important to remove the effects of price changes by using real as opposed to nominal GDP, the BC Progress Board adjusts for population growth to present as complete a picture of GDP growth as possible. A doubling of GDP over ten years would yield an impressive growth figure but if population tripled the average person in the jurisdiction would actually be producing less than before.

"Another recurring theme is that of limited advance on Core Target 6, the Social Condition Index," noted Martin. "Board interest continues to focus on LICO and the crime rate which have had noteworthy advances in absolute terms but little or no progress on relative rank."

The proportion of families and unattached individuals with incomes below the after-tax Low Income Cut-Offs (LICO) was almost one-third lower in 2007 than at its peak ten years earlier and the gap between BC's and Canada's rates has narrowed. This has not translated into better ranks because other provinces are seeing similar improvements.

Similarly, crime rates have fallen dramatically throughout the country and in spite of the fact that BC has experienced the largest decline over the last ten years and the second-largest decline since 1990 its rank has only improved by one place - from last to ninth. However, BC's improving situation has resulted in a ten-place jump in the North American comparison - from 60th to 50th place.

The final recurring theme, productivity, is not a Core Target but is crucial to their long-term improvement. Harmonization of the PST with the GST due to its effect on investment and hence productivity was the main recommendation in the Board's 2008 Report, Investment in British Columbia: Current Realities and the Way Forward. The proposed HST will decrease BC's Marginal Effective Tax Rate by 40 percent and will do more to stimulate investment than complete abolition of the province's general corporate income tax would.

Readers of past BC Progress Board benchmark reports will see familiar themes throughout this one. Going forward, Board attention will continue to focus on those aspects of BC's social and economic performance that require improvement as well as areas of strength that the province can build upon.

The Progress Board issues its Benchmark Report annually in December. A Summary report is printed and distributed and the full report is available at: http://www.bcprogressboard.com/.

SOURCE BC PROGRESS BOARD

For further information: For further information: Media Contact: Gerry Martin, Chair, BC Progress Board, (604) 775-2116

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