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Since WorkSafeNB announced on July 17, 2018 that workers’ compensation rates were expected to increase again in 2019 to such an extent that they will have effectively tripled since 2015, the old ‘employees vs employers’ narrative seems to have arisen once again. It seems to me that employer and employee group should mostly be in agreement when it comes to the current workers’ compensation situation.

We all have a stake in the system and all employees and employers should be highly incentivized to ensure that the system is efficient and sustainable. At this point in time, it is clear that it is neither. The system is broken and in crisis. To state otherwise is to say that the business community, the government-appointed task force, the WorkSafeNB CEO, its entire board of directors along with the auditor general are disingenuously ringing alarm bells. ​Since 2016, all provinces, with the exception of New Brunswick, have seen their workers compensation rates decrease. The average decrease for the other nine provinces is 8.3% (2016-2018). New Brunswick, however, saw a 53% increase in the same period (which is about the get much worse) – this is not a national trend – New Brunswick is the anomaly.

Great things are happening in New Brunswick, but there are foundational, underlying financial issues that have the potential to negate good work being done by government, the private sector and non-profit groups such as ours. The province’s debt load, which has been accumulated over many years and several changes in government, pressures the Province to keep taxes high while providing fewer services - which could ultimately discourage business investment, immigration, repatriation, and economic growth. This inhibits growth and negatively affects governments’ ability to provide services to New Brunswickers - which is exacerbated by every demand we make.

Those of us outside government need to do a better job at understanding and remembering that government is spending our money. Anytime we ask - or demand - something from government, remember how hard you worked so that government has that money to spend and particularly remember that we only have so much of it. It’s how we think about spending our money within our households, so why don’t we think of it that way when its government? Collectively, we have to be more thoughtful about what we actually need, what we can actually afford.

Canadian companies are dying a death by 130,000 cuts—or 134,754 to be more specific. That is the total number of federal requirements as reported by the federal Treasury Board that impose an administrative burden on businesses. These requirements are part of Canada’s complicated network of overlapping regulations from all levels of government that have created a costly and uncertain environment in which to invest and operate a business.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has released a new report, ​Death by 130,000 Cuts: Improving Canada’s Regulatory Competitiveness, which recommends that the government immediately convene a business-government working group to support the development and implementation of improvements to the federal regulatory environment. Canada needs improved collaboration among elected officials, regulators and stakeholders to identify more efficient ways to achieve policy objectives while maximizing economic growth.

With a provincial election quickly approaching in September, I have a request of all New Brunswickers: get informed and vote. Parties and candidates will be out in full force to tell their stories - take advantage of every opportunity. I encourage all New Brunswickers to keep in mind that whichever party end up being elected works for us - all of us. They serve New Brunswick as long as enough of us think they are doing a good enough job and let’s remember, they only have our money to spend.

If you can’t find a candidate to talk to personally, I have two suggestions: (1) seek them out on social media to engage; or (2) take advantage of the efforts of groups like our chamber of commerce. Many groups throughout the province are planning to host candidates at various events leading up to the election - I encourage all New Brunswickers to take in as many as possible.

We have been hearing plenty of talk about immigration lately as well as the importance of attracting and retaining even more newcomers in the future. Our organization fully supports the effort underway to grow our population through immigration, but I do understand why this push for immigrants may be confusing for some people - after all, New Brunswickers have been heading west to look for work for decades, parts of the province have unemployment rates nearing 20% and job growth is slow. It’s reasonable in that context to ask why do we even need immigration anyway? Why not just focus on repatriating those that have left or retaining youth or upskilling unemployed workers? The short answer is that we should absolutely be doing those things as well, but not at the expense of our immigration efforts. We need them all.

As more candidates put their names forward to seek riding nominations and ultimately run in the 2018As more candidates put their names forward to seek riding nominations and ultimately run in the 2018provincial election, the business community looks forward to engaging with all of the candidates, partyleaders and other stakeholders. To this end, an alliance of business groups has come together inadvance of the election to put forward five key priorities that will allow the next government to create aclimate that attracts new business investment to the province while allowing existing businesses to growand thrive. Along with the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, the initiative is being led by Le Conseiléconomique du Nouveau-Brunswick, the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce, the Saint JohnRegion Chamber of Commerce, the New Brunswick Business Council and the Atlantic Chamber ofCommerce. Our organizations agree: New Brunswickers have tough choices to make in the coming yearsand ultimately we can choose to manage growth or manage decline. We choose growth.

 We all want to see a prosperous New Brunswick now and in the future. We want our children to have opportunities to live and work in their home province. We want to deliver quality services to seniors and students and everyone in between. The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce’s vision is ​Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity and I think this vision is equally applicable across the province as it is to Fredericton. And each of us has a role to play to make that vision a reality.

Governments would not have money to spend if not for successful businesses. The tax dollars and other revenue that the business community creates funds every hospital visit, every inch of highway and every lesson our kids learn in school. It is important that governments understand and remember that - the better the business conditions that government is able to create, the more prosperous we can all be. The problem is, the further that New Brunswick digs itself into debt, the less government is able to make that happen.

Thank you, Marshall and good evening ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs.

Allow me to also welcome you to the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce’s 44th annual State of the Province Address. I hope you enjoyed our reception and are looking forward to a wonderful, locally-source meal. And of the course, a little later on, the reason we’re all here this evening - to hear from our Premier, the Honourable Brian Gallant. I also want to thank tonight’s many sponsors - we could not host this important event without your support and involvement. Our emcee, Marshall, listed the full list of sponsors a few minutes ago and I also want to draw your attention to the program, where they are all featured, including Platinum Sponsor Siemens. I am looking forward to hearing from Siemens Canada CEO Faisal Kazi later this evening as he makes his first appearance at this event after taking over from Robert Hardt in 2017. I also thank the team who put this event together led by our Event Manager, Tanya Senechal. And of course, I would like to thank all of you in attendance for not only being here this evening, but for your contributions to business and public life in our province.

Welcome everyone to the 2018 State of the Province Address.

I am delighted to have nearly 1,000 guests here this evening. It shows there are an awful lot of New Brunswickers that are engaged in politics or business or public policy and maybe all three. We need as many of us as possible to take an interest in government and the economy. Only then will we be truly rowing in the same direction.

Take the public debt for instance. I think a big part of the engagement problem is that people cannot wrap their heads around how big a number a billion actually is. For a bit of perspective - One billion seconds ago it was 1986. One billion minutes ago it was the 2nd century. One billion hours ago it was the Stone Age.

As we begin another year, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is optimistic that 2018 will be good for business in New Brunswick, but there is work to do to turn that optimism into reality. We hope to build on some of the good policy decisions made by the provincial government in 2017 such as introducing Pooled Registered Pension Plans, striking the WorkSafeNB task force and introducing health coverage for international students. Federally, we were pleased that Minister Morneau ultimately relented, listened to the concerns of the business community and made some badly-needed adjustments to his tax planning proposals. Those proposals still aren’t perfect, but they’ve come along way since they were released in July.

However, 2017 was a challenging year overall for business in the province, with cost increases continuing to accumulate and weighing heavily on small business. New Brunswick has not, in recent memory, been a favourable tax location – as exemplified by the double taxation regime on commercial and non-residential properties.

When​ ​federal​ ​Finance​ ​Minister​ ​Bill​ ​Morneau​ ​proposed​ ​changes​ ​to​ ​tax​ ​planning​ ​policies​ ​back​ ​in​ ​mid-July, the​ ​first​ ​feedback​ ​that​ ​we​ ​heard​ ​was​ ​from​ ​accountants.​ ​Amongst​ ​many​ ​other​ ​concerns,​ ​they​ ​were​ ​telling us​ ​that​ ​even​ ​if​ ​those​ ​changes​ ​were​ ​implemented​ ​at​ ​that​ ​time,​ ​it​ ​would​ ​be​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​get​ ​their​ ​clients ready​ ​by​ ​the​ ​January​ ​1,​ ​2018​ ​deadline.​ ​Perhaps​ ​a​ ​surprise​ ​to​ ​Minister​ ​Morneau,​ ​changes​ ​to​ ​the​ ​3,300+ word​ ​tax​ ​code​ ​takes​ ​some​ ​time​ ​to​ ​consider​ ​and​ ​apply​ ​to​ ​each​ ​business.

When​ ​the​ ​proposals​ ​were​ ​first​ ​released​ ​we​ ​asked​ ​questions​ ​like:​ ​has​ ​an​ ​economic​ ​impact​ ​study​ ​been conducted​ ​on​ ​the​ ​proposed​ ​changes?​ ​Has​ ​government​ ​evaluated​ ​the​ ​increased​ ​compliance​ ​burden​ ​and financial​ ​cost​ ​to​ ​small​ ​businesses?​ ​Has​ ​government​ ​evaluated​ ​the​ ​increased​ ​cost​ ​and​ ​administration​ ​for CRA?​ ​How​ ​will​ ​the​ ​proposed​ ​changes​ ​be​ ​managed?