On May 10th, New Brunswickers will head to the polls to vote in their local elections. This election and campaign have been unique in several ways – starting with the ongoing pandemic and the one-year delay. This has limited traditional campaigning activities and put more emphasis on social media and other online resources. In Fredericton, there have been numerous high-profile and controversial municipal issues over the past few months that have put local government in the spotlight. Hovering in the background (for now) is the provincial government’s current push for local government reform, which may substantially change how municipalities function and alter their relationship with the Government of New Brunswick.
I am hopeful that these factors will push voter turnout beyond the 34.5% we saw in 2016 and 35.5% in 2012. For most people, the municipal government is the most accessible level of government and has the most immediate impact on their daily lives. A better understanding of the functions of various levels of government along with more engagement from citizens would better inform our elected leaders and make the process more meaningful.
On April 22nd, the Fredericton Chamber hosted a mayoral forum with all four candidates and while they may have different visions for moving the city forward, it is clear that they are united in their passion and commitment to our community. We have also provided all candidates for council and mayor with our seven “Questions that Count” for the 2021 election with business issues that have been identified by our members and the community-at-large. We will publish these responses on our website and share via social media on Monday, April 26.
This is an important and insightful exercise, not only for the businesses, but the community in general. Businesses generate the revenue that allow governments to function – to provide infrastructure, services and the amenities that make our communities livable.
At all levels of government, the money that is ultimately spent starts with a business transaction. That’s why our vision is Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity and why we encourage elected officials to view decisions from a business lens. This means that regardless of what your personal priorities are, you should be concerned about business and economic growth. For the most part, solutions to our issues require money – sometimes lots of it – not to mention the various infrastructure needs in every community. If elected officials cannot recognize the relationship between business, sustainable economic growth and the ability to provide services, they are not serious about finding viable solutions to important problems.
One of the most pressing issues in the province is population growth – we’ve asked all candidates how the community can best work to attract and retain more newcomers. We are encouraged by the candidate’s clear expression of support to work together in this regard. I am hopeful that we will continue to receive broad support from municipal officials for the “Lost Votes” campaign, which asks the Government of New Brunswick to allow permanent residents to vote in future municipal elections. Although this change could not be implemented for 2021, we must not lose sight of this important initiative. Increasing immigration is a priority for jurisdictions across Canada and throughout the world. Newcomers are key to economic growth in our communities by creating jobs, paying taxes, injecting capital, and sharing expertise. Making this change to the Municipal Elections Act to allow voting in municipal elections takes us a step beyond “talking the talk” – this is “walking the walk” and would send a clear message that New Brunswick welcomes newcomers with more than just words – we welcome with action and respect. Municipal voting rights are an opportunity for New Brunswick to be a national leader.
One of the big takeaways for me as we prepared for our forum and solicited questions from our members and the public was the wide variety of issues that were presented to us that would traditionally be seen as solely social issues but are now understood to be relevant to business. Community issues like homelessness, housing, racism, reconciliation, transit as well as community assets like a performing arts centre, pool and Officer’s Square are top-of-mind for citizens and businesses alike. One of our chamber’s policy priorities is fostering a competitive and attractive business landscape – and in today’s environment that now means a lot more than low taxes and cutting red tape.
The other big takeaway from our forum was that we are in good hands in Fredericton – all the candidates presented themselves well, articulated their priorities and demonstrated a community-first attitude. I hope that voters across the province get informed about the candidates and the issues, and turn out for the vote in a big way. An active democracy is a healthy democracy.
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’.