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.
So what can we do to get the province’s economy moving? The business community has some ideas.
Earlier this year, an alliance of New Brunswick business organizations launched the “We Choose Growth” pre-election platform. We Choose Growth is based on five pillars to enable private-sector growth and prosperity for all New Brunswickers. Since releasing the platform, the alliance has met with each political party in New Brunswick to discuss the pillars and earlier this month launched a website that has already attracted over 100 endorsements by New Brunswick businesses and organizations.
The pillars are:
- A Private Sector Driven Economy
- Responsible Resource Development
- Improved Export Performance
- Labour Force Development
- Responsible Financial Management
In August the alliance announced 10 We Choose Growth policy objectives - two for each pillar. With the addition of these specific, actionable priorities, our alliance will be using the We Choose Growth objectives well beyond the election to ensure that government maintains an extended focus on growing the economy and reducing the debt - otherwise New Brunswick isn’t a sustainable province. We are looking for a sustained commitment to growth from the provincial government, not campaign promises that are quickly forgotten.
It has been encouraging to see other individuals and groups planning to hold the next government to account - UNB economist Herb Emery and his students have launched BoostNB.com. As per the website: “BoostNB is a website created and continuously updated by post-secondary Economics students in New Brunswick. The goal of BoostNB is to provide the public with easy access to straight-forward, fact-based information about the New Brunswick economy.”
Let me ask one question - is the NB economy doing well?
Listening to the candidates this fall - it would be impossible to tell - according to them it’s somewhere between red hot growth and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. We’ve added between 1,500 and 15,000 jobs. The deficit shrinks, but the debt keeps growing. What’s a person that is busy living their life outside of the political bubble to think? Why put in the effort to be informed? This is unacceptable.
We cannot expect people to make informed decisions without having reliable information. This is an urgent matter. As Konrad Yakabuski recently wrote in the Globe and Mail: “Coming on the heels of a lost decade in which the provincial net debt doubled to more than $14-billion, or to about $19,000 for every one of New Brunswick’s 747,000 residents, the situation calls for drastic action in order to avert a fiscal crisis. As it is, rising interest rates and a declining working-age population make for an explosive fiscal cocktail that could blow up at any time.” All New Brunswickers should have an understanding of these figures, how they drag down the economy and how that degrades services over time.
That’s why the work of the We Choose Growth alliance, BoostNB.com, the Auditor General and others is so important - to raise the bar for our governments - tell us how it really is, plan with stakeholders how it can be fixed and then just get on with it.
Want to fund healthcare? Grow the economy. Want to give young people a chance to stay in NB? Grow the economy. Want to take care of our seniors? Grow the economy. Want to retain immigrants? Grow the economy. Want to fund the Creative Sector? Grow the economy. Want higher average wages? Grow the economy.
Simple enough. But how? Neither the government or business can do this alone. Governments have to create the conditions for business to grow, prosper, create jobs and generate the revenue that pays for the services New Brunswickers deserve. Once New Brunswick can demonstrate that it’s ‘open for business’, the private sector then has to invest in their businesses, in their people and in our province.
We can do it - the private sector is ready to be a true partner with government and together we can achieve our collective goal of a prosperous and sustainable New Brunswick.
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 ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity'.