With the provincial election behind us and Premier Higgs set to shuffle his cabinet on Tuesday, New Brunswick businesses are eager for our elected officials to return their focus to economic recovery. Thank you to all of the candidates that put their name forward, to the Elections NB officials and volunteers, to the media members covering the campaign and to the citizens that cast a ballot. Your efforts and engagement are still needed as we debate ideas, consider innovative solutions to old problems, shape what a post-pandemic New Brunswick can look like and collectively move the province forward.
As I wrote in my pre-election commentary, it will be critically important that the government (and all governments) use a business lens when making any major decisions. Of course, many lenses must be considered, but there is more substantial overlap than many people may realize. We all want high-quality services that will produce better societal outcomes – mental health support is lacking, literacy rates are low, nearly 40,000 New Brunswickers are waiting for a family doctor, homelessness is on the rise, high speed internet is not available across the province and our transportation infrastructure needs renewal – to name a few critical (and expensive) issues.
New Brunswick – already carrying a debt load of nearly $20,000 per person – is facing a deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars this year and no one knows when we can get back in the black (by some metrics, we’ve never even recovered from the 2008 recession). We either have to grow the economy much more quickly than in the recent past or hope to receive more funds from the federal government. With the economic powerhouse provinces struggling, the latter is becoming less of an option – at least in the short term.
We have to try to do this ourselves, but with a small and aging population, our options to accomplish this are limited. We have to be creative and every decision has to move us closer to our goals. The challenges may seem daunting, but there is cause for optimism. The pandemic has shown us that elected officials can work well together – at the different levels of government and across party lines – and that they can act boldly and decisively. Let’s retain that spirit of cooperation and accept good ideas wherever they come from.
The election campaign itself brought a number of good ideas to the forefront of the public discourse. The Liberal Party’s plan to provide wholesale liquor pricing to bars and restaurants is a move that is overdue. The Green Party’s push for primary access to health care through community health clinics has long been supported by our chamber, the People’s Alliance focus on supporting local is more important now than ever and the NDP’s push for enhancing our value-added exports makes a lot of sense.
Of course, now with a majority government, much of the attention will be on the Progressive Conservative platform and it’s up to all of us to hold them to account for the content contained therein.
The emerging sectors first identified at the 2020 State of the Province Address – cyber security, digital health and energy innovation – have more sharply come into focus during the pandemic. The world, already in the process of digitizing, has taken a huge leap forward in that regard and New Brunswick is in a good position to take advantage.
Population growth and workforce development have long been one of the business community’s priorities and the issues are worsening. Creating new paths for temporary foreign workers and year-round employment, focusing on international students, credential recognition and supporting experiential learning are priorities for our chamber. I hope all parties can work towards these (and other) good ideas – we need it.
As we enter fall, although we know more economic challenges lay ahead for our businesses, there is also a sense of renewal that we typically feel after an election and at this time of year. The election is behind us, schools are back in session and the Atlantic provinces continue to keep the virus at bay while other jurisdictions slip back into exponentially growing case numbers. Let’s all champion good ideas, view decisions through a business lens and build a New Brunswick together that is better than ever.
Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with more than 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’