Jobs? What jobs?

The only major attempt to assess the impact of the multibillion-dollar federal stimulus program suggests it’s been a flop when it comes to creating jobs.

OTTAWA — The only major attempt to assess the impact of the multibillion-dollar federal stimulus program suggests it’s been a flop when it comes to creating jobs.

The Conservatives have long boasted that the Economic Action Plan helped save hundreds of thousands of jobs during the recession. But the parliamentary budget officer has found that the recipients of the money don’t see it that way.

In a survey of municipalities that received Infrastructure Stimulus Fund (ISF) money, 33 per cent said they saw an increase in employment as a result of the funding. Twenty-one per cent said there were fewer jobs, and 43 per cent said they saw no net impact whatsoever.

The responses are part of a survey the parliamentary budget officer commissioned in the summer.

“The results pertaining to perceived unemployment impacts are particularly worthy of note here, given some of the goals underlying ISF,” said Scott Bennett, a Carleton University expert in polling who analyzed the results.

The survey also shows little evidence of job spinoffs as a result of the stimulus spending.

The federal government ran up the deficit to finance its stimulus spending with the expectation that the money would immediately create construction jobs, then trickle through the economy to buoy up the private sector and create jobs elsewhere.

“The stimulus money was necessary to protect our country, to protect our jobs,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Wednesday.

But municipalities said they don’t expect to see higher employment after the stimulus money stops flowing. Rather, eight per cent said they expect lower employment, and 69 per cent said there will be no change.

Respondents in New Brunswick and Northwest Territories were more likely to perceive significant employment benefits from the stimulus spending than other provinces. Municipalities in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec were far less enthusiastic.

According to Bennett’s analysis, the municipalities’ responses are thoughtful and thorough. But they are perceptions of job creation, and not an actual job count.

From other information gleaned in the survey, Bennett figures each of the 3900 ISF projects created 19 year-long jobs on average, paying about $55,000 a year. But there’s no way of knowing if those jobs would have been there in the absence of federal stimulus money.

What is clear, according to the survey results, is that some types of infrastructure projects were far better at creating jobs than others.

Public transit projects were “very effective,” the survey findings show. And jobs at building airports, highways and ports were especially lucrative.

At the other end of the spectrum, solid waste management projects didn’t pay well, nor did they create many jobs.

Generally, the municipalities said they thought the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund was administered well, but they had big problems with the timing. Government approvals of projects were too slow, and reimbursement was too slow, the survey says.

The Harper government has not made any public effort to track jobs created by the $16-billion infrastructure program.

Rather, it has relied on economic modelling at the Department of Finance.

The modelling suggests that the Economic Action Plan as a whole would have created or maintained 220,000 jobs by the end of 2010.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the spending again on Wednesday.

“Unlike other advanced industrial economies, Canada’s economy has recouped almost all of the jobs lost during the recession,” he said.

“In terms of the stimulus program itself, we know, for example, 200,000 jobs were created just through the work-sharing in the (employment insurance) program alone. So I think this is a record to be proud of.”

The survey involved 644 completed questionnaires out of 1,129 sent out. If it was a random survey, the results could be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.