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.
Worse, any competitive advantage in the province was steadily eroded by a laundry list of new and increased costs for business, such as gas/diesel tax, property tax, income tax, minimum wage, WorkSafeNB rates and the EI rate (not to mention the upcoming carbon tax, CPP increase and a new February holiday among other increases in 2018 and 2019), plus a shrinking labour force.
The potential consequences are more far reaching than the effect they are having on New Brunswick’s current businesses. They are sending a signal to the world that New Brunswick is not open for business, further exacerbated by such things as the demise of Energy East and the natural gas industry in the province, and the ongoing property tax issues - one of the reasons we have joined the New Brunswick Real Estate Association in calling for a provincial property tax task force to complete a full review of our system, which we hope to see in 2018.
We are also eagerly anticipating the report from the WorkSafeNB Task Force early in the year. The provincial government should be commended for taking on the sustainability of WorkSafeNB head-on and striking the task force last spring. Kudos are also due to the individual members of the task force that have consulted extensively and approached the issue in a non-confrontational manner, a recognition that getting the system right is collectively critical for both workers and employers.
In September, New Brunswickers will vote in the next provincial election. We implore all parties and candidates to carefully consider what commitments are made during the campaign - particularly in their platforms. Our chamber is focused on fiscal responsibility with our provincial government for several years. This doesn’t mean austerity, it doesn’t mean leaving anyone behind and it certainly doesn’t mean not providing the services that New Brunswickers deserves.
What it does mean is making every dollar spent count. It means looking at the books and thinking beyond four years. And it means knowing the difference between government ‘investing’ and government ‘spending’.
The expansion of the Fredericton International Airport is a good example of investing. The case for expansion is clear. It was designed to accommodate 200,000 passengers annually but has seen steady year-over-year increases, expected to exceed 400,000 to finish out 2017, once final numbers are available in the coming weeks. The local airport authority is prepared to invest one-third of the total cost. The airport’s current economic impact is 586 jobs and $24-million in GDP and the airport authority reports that an expansion would mean 1,015 jobs and $41.5-million in GDP to New Brunswick by 2030 - in addition to the short-term construction-based economic impacts and job boost of 319 positions. The proposed expansion is necessary to maintain the airport’s growth and achieving these targets and government will recover its cost within six years through increased tax payments. That’s real investment.
As 2018 moves along, we look forward to continuing to work with our members, government and other stakeholders to grow our economy and realize our organizational vision - Community Prosperity Through Business. The upcoming election will facilitate a robust public policy discussion in 2018 and we are looking forward to Premier Gallant beginning that discussion at the State of the Province Address later this month.
Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with nearly 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Community Prosperity Through Business'.