Good evening. My name is Karen Grant and I am the President of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. On behalf of our board of directors I want to welcome and thank you for joining us this evening.
I would also like to thank Premier Higgs, MLAs from all parties, and other officials for their participation and attendance.
The State of the Province, perhaps particularly because it comes early in the New Year, is a chance for reflection, renewal and a fresh start. I know the Fredericton chamber and business representatives throughout New Brunswick are eager to hear the Premier articulate his vision for the next year and beyond.
The business community understands very well the relation between economic growth, business success and government being able to generate the revenue required to provide the services that New Brunswickers need and deserve.
There are serious issues ahead that we have to face head-on if we are going to collectively be able to meet these challenges and solve our problems.
I say “collectively” purposefully, and I know that kind of language gets thrown around from time-to-time – but it really is the reality of the situation. The province’s demographics, slow growth and shrinking workforce are challenges that were decades in the making, so we really shouldn’t expect a quick fix as solutions.
Working better with our indigenous communities, increasing immigration levels, and retaining more New Brunswick graduates are all important and all are long-term solutions that will require patience and persistence. These are all areas where our chamber is actively working.
We launched an Immigration Advocacy Committee this past fall to try to address some of the roadblocks faced by our newcomers and we think that the province needs a newcomer advocate within government and an independent oversight body for policy-based decision-making that can better inform officials of conditions ‘on the ground’.
At the provincial level we need to try to articulate a long-term vision that is at least substantively embraced by all of the political parties. If it’s not possible for our elected officials to figure that out themselves, I implore you to engage with the business community and other stakeholders to create that collective vision.
I also think it’s important that federal and municipal levels of government are involved and on the same page. New Brunswick has never had such a colourful political landscape – I know that presents challenges, but also opportunities to consider more perspectives and to be a more inclusive New Brunswick. Business investment is drawn to consistency and predictability. There’s a big world out there with unlimited options to invest limited funds – we can’t give investors reasons to look elsewhere – they will. They already are.
So let’s focus on the positives as there have been recent decisions that our chamber has advocated for that I would like to highlight:
- All parties deserve credit for tackling the WorkSafeNB sustainability issues over the past year or so. This is the best example in recent memory of policy decision-making done right: the problem was apparent, the previous Liberal Government initiated an expert task force which brought forward sensible recommendations which were then implemented by the current PC Government with the support of all parties. More of this, please.
- The federal government approving a “Made in New Brunswick” Carbon plan was welcome news and will improve competitiveness – particularly in relation to the other Atlantic Provinces
- ONB Business Navigators program is exactly the kind of personalized service that our members have been asking from government.
- Finally, the improved fiscal position of the province lowers costs for government, allowing them to tax less – making New Brunswick businesses more competitive and make key investments that will propel the economy forward. In Fredericton, this means critical projects such as the Cyber Centre, currently under construction in Knowledge Park as well as in the post-secondary sector which drives so much of our innovation, skilled labour force and entrepreneurship. It must be well-understood that our universities and colleges aren’t just credential-granting institutions – they are of central importance to the 21st century economy and we should appreciate the world-class schools we have here.
Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, let’s build on these positives. We are looking forward to participating in the tax review process being undertaken by the Department of Finance and Service New Brunswick. We are also keen to learn more about red tape reduction plans mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, and how we can contribute to hitting our new immigration targets.
Our organization’s vision is Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity and I think that sums up the province’s current situation perfectly. We all want a prosperous New Brunswick for generations to come. We want to provide the best healthcare and deliver the best education. We want to take care of our youth and our seniors and everyone in between. In order to achieve that vision, economic growth and business success is a pre-requisite. I look forward to hearing from the Premier shortly on how we plan to get there.
Thank you and enjoy your evening.