Now that another holiday season has come and gone, we are looking ahead to 2017 and working towards economic growth, low unemployment and new opportunities - in short, the embodiment of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce’s vision: Community Prosperity Through Business. In the spirit of the season, we have put together a wish list for 2017 to see this vision become reality.
Getting Costs Under Control. 2016 was a tough year for business costs in New Brunswick, with increases to personal income tax, the minimum wage, HST and corporate tax. Already in 2017, businesses are facing a massive 33% increase (on average) in worker’s compensation premiums, with signals that 2018 will be just as dramatic, another increase in the minimum wage and a new provincial budget coming down on January 31st. With a pending carbon tax in 2018 and a hike in the Canada Pension Plan in 2019, businesses are nervous with cost uncertainty.
New Brunswick is not going to be able to tax itself to prosperity; economic growth and business success is the only sustainable way for the province to prosper. As costs rise, this becomes more and more challenging. There are many positive things happening in Fredericton and across the province, but each new tax increase is a roadblock that takes us further away from true prosperity.
Natural Resource Development. The past several years have seen many ups and downs in the natural resource sector in New Brunswick. Biosciences are thriving, forestry is resurgent and local agriculture is gaining steam. On the other hand, natural gas development, the Sisson Project and Energy East have been met with roadblocks and frequently, assessment processes that have been derailed, regardless of any findings that they can be done responsibly.
The Government of New Brunswick granted conditional approval to the Sisson Mine over a year ago, but the federal government has yet to render a decision five years into the development process. Energy East saw insightful hearings and support in New Brunswick, only to see the NEB hit the reset button after protests in Montreal. Companies looking to make investment in natural gas in New Brunswick have left the province and have moved on to opportunities elsewhere. In 2017, we hope to see faith restored in these assessment processes that can allow evidenced-based decisions to be made bringing these much need opportunities to fruition.
Population Growth. A weak economy and an aging/stagnant population are two sides of the same coin; a Catch-22 situation. We need more people to grow the economy, but without economic growth and jobs, they cannot stay. In fact, 2016 was the first time in four years that the province saw its population grow - partially buoyed by the influx of Syrian refugees, but at least moving in the right direction. Gains in the economy and the population must be in-step to be sustainable and we hope to see incremental growth in 2017 and beyond.
Airport Expansion. The need for an expanded Fredericton International Airport is clear. It is operating well beyond capacity and the airport authority is preparing to fund temporary fixes to its security line log jam. A long-term solution is needed and we hope to see this come to fruition in 2017. It appears to have the support of all levels of government and the local business community has told us in our most recent survey that an expanded airport was its top infrastructure priority. As our economy becomes increasingly globally focused, effective air travel access will become even more important and the airport terminal should not be a roadblock. An expanded airport would support our strengths in exporting, the knowledge sector, professional services and startup businesses.
Primary Health Care Reform. We were pleased to hear from New Brunswick Medical Society CEO Anthony Knight at the end of 2016 that physicians are in talks with the provincial government about changes to primary health care in the province. This has been an advocacy priority for us for several years and with the new bilateral funding agreement in place, it makes good sense to align more extensive changes this year. We eagerly await details of those discussions, which we expect will complement the gains we’ve made in reducing the Patient Connect waiting list and building a permanent community health centre in downtown Fredericton.No doubt 2017 will bring its share of challenges for our province and the business community, but there are reasons to be optimistic. Communication, cooperation and continuing to align the priorities of all levels of government, business and our communities will be keys to our collective success. We look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead.
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. It’s vision is Community Prosperity Through Business.