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In December, MLA Gerry Lowe introduced Bill 9 into the New Brunswick legislature, which, if implemented, would include the value on machinery and equipment on commercial properties in property tax assessments – which would cause property tax bills to skyrocket. Real estate and tax experts Turner Drake calculated that "Manufacturers can expect to see a 5 to 10 fold increase [in their property tax bill] while other businesses may see anywhere from 20% to 100%”.1 The City of St John made a similar proposal in the fall of 2017 (where Mr Lowe was a city councilor at the time), which was dismissed by then-Finance Minister Cathy Rogers. Of course, Mr Lowe and Ms Rogers are now both members of the Liberal opposition caucus.

Bill 9 would have a devastating impact on private-sector capital investments, as companies would be heavily disincentivized to invest and innovate, since their reward at the end of the day will be an increase in property taxes. That would be a big problem in any jurisdiction, but perhaps even moreso in New Brunswick as the province’s current Economic Growth Plan (introduced by the previous government) identifies the lack of capital investment and innovation as two of the five ‘challenges’ to expanding our economy2.

There has been quite a lot of interest recently - both in the media and in the community - about the changing face of Fredericton’s downtown. Downtowns are dynamic entities, the look and nature of which are always evolving. It is not uncommon to have turnover - just in 2018 alone, nearly 20 new businesses opened downtown, not to mention expansions and renovation projects on nearly every block - and new owners bringing fresh perspectives to some long term businesses! In Fredericton’s downtown, most of the recently vacated space has already been filled or will be in the very near future. Multiple office buildings are being built, which will feed the businesses surrounding them with customers. The downtown vibe - with its wide range of restaurants, pubs, shops, festivals, markets and more - is a magnet for many people wanting to work, live and/or play in a diverse and energetic setting.

Despite all the positives, despite the new businesses, despite the growth and new developments, each year, some businesses will choose to close and this year is no exception. These closures impact all of us, the business owners, the employees, the patrons, and our community as a whole - which depends on a vibrant business ecosystem to create economic growth and prosperity. Every closure has its own unique circumstances - likely a multitude of factors in most cases - some controllable, some not; some financial, some personal, some professional.

Quickly-rising WorkSafeNB premiums have been a top concern for businesses, non-profit organizations and municipalities since it was announced in late 2015 that rates would be jumping by 33% for 2016. This jump was alarming, to be sure, but it was still unclear what exactly was driving such an increase since injuries had been (and continue to) trend downward for several years. Little did we know then what was in store and rates subsequently nearly tripled by November 2018 when the 2019 rate was announced.

Make no mistake, the situation is serious - and remains so - and so the Higgs Government deserves praise for acting immediately to begin implementing the recommendations of the employer-employee led WorkSafeNB Task Force. Payroll taxes such as WorkSafeNB premiums are particularly difficult for small businesses to absorb because there is no correlation to revenue the way many taxes do - such as the small business tax - which applies once a business has turned some profit; payroll taxes, however, are a tax on your costs, not on your revenue or profit.

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.