Business New Brunswick reported Thursday it created nearly 1,700 jobs in the last fiscal year – far short of its original objective.

The department set a target two years ago to create 3,000 jobs annually, designed as a key indicator of the Liberal government’s self-sufficiency agenda.

But with global financial turmoil and tightened credit markets, the government reached less than 60 per cent of that goal, falling short by about 1,300 jobs.

After presenting the Telegraph-Journal with job creation figures for the fiscal year ended in March, government officials were pleased with their performance, but observers questioned the value of the benchmarks.

Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne was optimistic.

“Ultimately, the goal is self-sufficiency and clearly the key is job creation. Obviously, we’re going to have to grow our economy and we have to have more people working if we are able to support all the services that people expect and are entitled to,” Byrne said.

“We’re pleased that in this economic climate to be able to have created almost 1,700 jobs. On a comparative basis, when you look at what’s happening right across the country and internationally, that is a significant achievement.”

The government department’s figures reflect the real number of new jobs – not just the number of jobs the province announced in the last fiscal year.

The figures also indicate the province’s investment in private industry maintained a little more than 4,000 jobs during the last fiscal year, well above its goal of 2,500.

“We indicated that we would step up to the plate to assist those companies that were having difficulty accessing capital,” Byrne said. “We’re talking about companies that had sound financial footing, great success in the past, but they are experiencing a tightness in the financial markets.

“We have stepped in to provide assistance to allow them to undertake expansions and productivity enhancements, to assist them to be better positioned to face the challenges now and in the future.”

But job creation and retention figures are not the most appropriate measurement for government’s performance in the economy, said Denis Losier, chair of the New Brunswick Business Council and former Liberal minister of economic development under Frank McKenna.

“It’s very easy to say we’ve maintained or created so many jobs, but you don’t know if it was because of your intervention or other factors,” Losier said.

“Sometimes companies apply for government assistance because it’s there, but if it wasn’t available would these companies still have gone somewhere else, to a bank or a credit union or angel investors to create those jobs?”

The government, Losier said, should gauge its performance based on the types of jobs, their value to the broader economy and how long they last, among other factors, rather than simply the actual number of jobs created.

“It’s good that they are trying to measure some of their activities, but it has to evolve into meaningful measurements,” Losier said.

Charles Cirtwill, executive vice-president of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, shared Losier’s skepticism over the value of the Liberal government’s performance indicators.

“I’m skeptical of many of these kinds of numbers, no matter how well-meaning they are or how reliable the source is, because of course we will never know whether or not they would have happened without government investment,” Cirtwill said.