Newly installed New Brunswick Lieutenant-Governor Brenda Murphy delivered the 2019-2020 Higgs Government throne speech earlier this week. The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce listened carefully to the speech and were pleased to hear strong alignment with our own priority areas for economic growth reflected in the speech. The speech sent a message to both the domestic and international business community that NB is taking business concerns seriously and acting on them.
The chamber’s key policy areas are:
- Developing a competitive business environment, including a modern tax system, red tape reduction and reduced provincial debt
- Workforce development and immigration
- Natural resource development
It’s important that “Energize the Private Sector” was the most detailed of the government’s six priorities in the Throne Speech. We see this as the foundational priority that allows government to deliver on their other priorities, continue to reduce the net debt and to provide the services that New Brunwickers need and deserve. It’s one of the reasons why our organizational vision is Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity.
A key sentence appeared at the beginning of this section of the speech: ‘The role of government is to help create an environment where companies can thrive.’ We couldn’t agree more.
To that end, the Throne Speech touched on some of our largest, long-term issues such as access to primary healthcare, increased immigration, natural resource development and red tape reduction. Maybe the biggest one though is the commitment to review “all major taxation programs” in the province through a tax reform roadmap. We have been in contact with Ministers Steeves and Carr to ensure the business voice is heard through this process. We are hopeful that New Brunswick’s double tax on non-owner-occupied properties will be a key issue addressed by this review.
Perhaps just as important as these large, generational issues is the reflection of a business-minded attitude which led to such things as plans to amend the Days of Rest Act to allow real estate transactions on Sundays. This was an issue that the chamber and the NB Real Estate Association brought to the government recently. The fact that the government is acting on sensible suggestions from the business community bodes well for building confidence in New Brunswick as a good place to do business. Making changes to worker’s compensation legislation, the tourism marketing levy, eliminating the physician billing number system, linking minimum wage increases to CPI and adjusting passive income rules to reduce the burden from recent federal changes are other good examples – all of which have been previously proposed by our chamber.
Of course, the government can’t put everything into the throne speech, but an area that we encourage increased focus and would like to see the government taking a leading role is leveraging our position as a hub for technology, cyber security, innovation and startups. The success that New Brunswick and specifically Fredericton have had in these areas in the past decade presents an obvious opportunity for future growth and it is well worth investing the time, money and effort required to continue down this road. Moving forward, the chamber is hoping to see a government statement regarding an innovation strategy that leverages our world-class post-secondary institutions and ensures Fredericton’s status as a global cyber security leader to maintain the positive momentum that has been created in this community and throughout New Brunswick.
The chamber also commends the government on recent moves to increase transparency measures with reporting quarterly actual results along with annual projections, the recent development and launch of an economic indicator dashboard along with releasing the cost to government for all tax revenue concessions. These moves increase confidence in doing business in New Brunswick and allow for more informed engagement by businesses and individuals in the province.
The Throne Speech refers to establishing a new mandate for Opportunities NB – the government has heeded our call for a collaborative effort that includes the business community to help guide ONB’s future direction through a review process which began earlier this fall. We have long called for an economic development model that transcends politics and changes in government. This could be the government’s opportunity to bring stakeholders together to agree on a model that institutes global best practices, makes sense across the province and then give it time to work. ONB itself has also recently adopted a client-service model called Business Navigators aimed at addressing red tape and helping to guide businesses to the correct resources they need within government much like a concierge service.
There remains work left to be done. One area mentioned in the speech that should get immediate attention is the Liquor Control Act. Our members affected by the Act, such as event organizers, craft brewers, restaurants, bars, and hotels come to us frequently with a host of issues that hold back their businesses. A comprehensive review and consultation with industry is required to ensure this industry is operating on all cylinders. Adjustments to the liquor control act could also be an integral part of a refocused tourism strategy – as TIANB past-chair Dan Myers said earlier this week, NB has to work towards being a year-round tourism destination with a variety of draws and options. Increased tourism represents potential new money injected into the New Brunswick economy.
Another area of concern relates to the processes surrounding settling newcomers. We are most familiar with newcomers coming to NB through the Province’s entrepreneurial stream and while we certainly agree with increasing our immigration numbers, we have anecdotally heard about issues at both the policy and communication levels that, if unaddressed, will limit our ability to achieve the government’s goal of a one-year retention rate of 85%. The variety of challenges faced by newcomers are complex and we must do our best to make their transition to life in Canada and a new business culture by not unnecessarily complicating their first two years here. The chamber has recently formed a dedicated immigration advocacy committee to try to have more impact in this area.
A clear and present area of opportunity is with the announced All Nations and Parties Working Group on Truth and Reconciliation. Our chamber has already established an Indigenous Task Force and pledge our willingness to work with the provincial government and First Nations in this regard to ensure mutual respect and understanding.
The government should be commended for showing leadership by announcing their plan to develop an accessibility act in conjunction with the Premier’s Council on Disabilities. Groups like chambers of commerce, including ours, can play a role in the promised engagement of New Brunswickers by the government. We can act as a liaison with business and work to encourage our members to participate and be accessibility leaders in the private sector.
As a final thought, here’s a quote from the speech that we take as government ‘getting it’ in relation to business: “Every minute a business in New Brunswick spends complying with rules and regulations, is a minute lost in growing their business and helping build a stronger economy. Every dollar spent complying with rules and regulations is a dollar not spent on machinery, equipment and hiring more New Brunswickers.” If we are to grow our economy, that allows New Brunswick and New Brunswickers to prosper, the private sector must lead the way. The government has to continue to listen to business, provide targeted support and investments and not create roadblocks. The throne speech was a big step in that direction.
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’.