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New Brunswick residents are accustomed to paying a little more for goods and services each year; it’s called inflationand it’s a natural by-product of our economy.

But how would you feel if the cost of a service you were obliged to pay nearly tripled within three years? How would youreact if the cost ofyour car insurance tripled over three years? What hard choices would you have to make if the cost of electricity tripled?

That’s what New Brunswick businesses are facing with last week’s announcement by WorkSafeNB that it will raise the 2019 average rate charged to employers from $1.70 to $2.92 per $100 of assessed payroll. The average rate was $1.11 as recently as 2016. The series of substantial rate hikes is needed to cover the growing cost of workers’ compensation in the province.

The six weeks since the provincial election in New Brunswick have been marked by uncertainty,confusion, political maneuvering and division. Now that we have clarity regarding who will be leading the province, we all have to leave the past in the past and focus on the present and especially the future - this means MLAs, voters, business - everyone.

We have serious problems in New Brunswick and none of those have improved while we’ve been figuring out who’s in charge. At the heart of everything is the economy. Economic growth is what allows government to provide the services that New Brunswickers need - it creates jobs, raises wages, opens new businesses, puts cranes on the skyline, builds parks, paves roads and yes - even pays taxes. The government only has so much influence over the economy - but it is imperative that governments at all levels control what they can control in this regard - favourable business conditions, pro-development policies and fiscal restraint. If we can’t count on our government to do these basic things, we are in serious trouble and we’ll get what we always gotten.

The votes have been counted and 49 MLAs have been elected. We may lack some certainty about whatcombination of people and parties will be running the province for the next months and years, but whatremains crystal clear are the challenges and opportunities facing our economy. This will requireleadership and action from our elected officials, but also from the private sector and all citizens.

The business community is feeling some uncertainty like everyone else - we haven’t experienced a minority government in New Brunswick in nearly a century and this will probably take some time to get used to but at the end of the day it doesn’t change anything - the province’s issues still require a functional government acting with urgency. However the politics play out - government must advance important files, render services that New Brunswickers require and make decisions that benefit the province in the short-, medium- and long-term.

We are now into the second half of the New Brunswick election campaign. Party platforms are taking shape, promises are being made and voters are thinking about the future of the province. In some ways, it is beginning to become confusing - keeping track of what party made which promise can be a full-time job.​ The sheer number of issues being discussed can be overwhelming - health, education, power rates, immigration, nutritional policies, carbon tax, job numbers, seniors’ care, student retention and many others are very legitimate issues that deserve to be discussed in full - but there just isn’t time.

I would like to suggest that voters focus in on the one thread that links all of these other issues together - the economy. Healthcare and education are always at the top of everyone’s list - and rightfully so - but let us not forget that providing healthcare, education or any other social programs are intimately related to economy. A thriving economy allows us to collectively pay for the things that make up the fabric of life - successful businesses provide jobs and provide governments with the revenue that are redistributed for the benefit of all.

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.