Now that we’ve all had more than a week to digest New Brunswick’s 2016­17 budget, it seems clear that the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. Various individuals and groups have differing reasons for their disappointment, but for the most part it seems to come down to the feeling that after more than a year­long strategic program review process we don’t seem to be any further ahead and it’s unclear where we are going. We (the people of New Brunswick) can support feeling some pain to get through a difficult fiscal situation, but we need to be able to see progress and the road ahead, which requires a logical and well­articulated vision for growth.

It was quite surprising to see that New Brunswick is projecting a $347 million deficit in the coming year (although to be fair, this figure does include a “contingency reserve” of $100 million). This, despite the fact that the government ‘found’ nearly $600 million in new revenue and expense savings. Throughout the strategic program review process and in the immediate aftermath of the budget, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce has focused its efforts on encouraging decisions that will promote economic growth and allow the business community to create jobs. We ­ nor any other individual or group ­ are in a particularly good position to make specific recommendations to government in this regard. It is really only those working inside government that can identify where there is waste, where there is opportunity and what we can do without. As a business community we let the government know what is important to us and how they can best support our job creation efforts.

Sometimes we can lose sight of the fact that every dollar which government has to spend comes from business and that generally speaking, what is bad for business is bad for the government and bad for our communities. This is one reason why our chamber of commerce’s stated vision is “community prosperity through business”. The only way for our province to find a path  to  prosperity  is  through growing our economy.   This means supporting business by creating an environment where business can grow ­ if business succeeds we all succeed.

Raising taxes provides a short­term cash infusion to government coffers, but it also weakens the economy and makes our economic growth trajectory lower. Every time taxes are increased or the government accumulates more debt it makes it harder (and less likely) to achieve the economic growth needed to make New Brunswick a sustainably viable province again. The idea that raising the HST is somehow ‘protecting’ healthcare and our education system is misguided
­ they are the two budget items most desperately in need for some strategic reviewing. Health and education will only be protected through fundamental changes to how those services are delivered and through economic growth.

It remains imperative that the province follow through on its commitment to change how care is delivered to New Brunswickers. The chamber recommends that the government take a step back and listen carefully to the leadership of our health authorities ­ they are in the best position to determine the most effective and efficient way to provide better care to patients and families. Those are tough choices. But they are necessary.

The program review and the 2016­17 budget were supposed to make these ‘tough choices’ and be transformative. I think we can agree that was not delivered on February 2nd and perhaps that is too much to expect from governments. What we can all expect and demand is a meaningful growth plan to move forward that makes sense for the entire province. Through working collaboratively with government over many years, we know there are many highly competent people working on this very thing and we have confidence in their work and their ability to deliver such a plan ­ but the vision has to come from our elected officials. A vision that will be transformative, one that we can all buy into and yes, one that may require tough choices.

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment.