Earlier this week, a group of six New Brunswick business organizations announced our policy priorities for federal parties and candidates in the upcoming federal election on September 20, 2021. Included in our alliance are the chambers of commerce for Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, along with the New Brunswick Business Council, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and the Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick. Together we represent the interests of businesses across the province and are passionate about reinvigorating the New Brunswick economy as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group is focused on three pillars for growth:
- Recovery and Self Sufficiency
- Competitiveness and Fairness
Today, I’m going to dig a little deeper into the “Competitiveness and Fairness” pillar. Other members of our coalition will examine the other pillars further in the weeks to come leading up to election day. The pandemic has shone a light on regional differences and just as a one-size-fits-all approach was eschewed regarding federal Public Health interventions, recovery-focused policymaking must consider regional realities.
In order to make New Brunswick not only on par with other provinces but to make it nationally competitive we need the federal government to tailor policy to achieve competitiveness and fairness for our province and Atlantic Canada more generally. To achieve this, the federal government must:
- Adopt a regional policy lens to address unique challenges of all regions, consider Atlantic-specific platform commitments.
- Work with provinces to remove remaining interprovincial trade barriers.
- Provide incentives, tax credits, or program funding to help small- and medium-sized businesses with the costs of decarbonization and the transition to a green economy.
Canada is a big country with diverse and distinct regions – this is already recognized by the existence of organizations like ACOA and programs like the Atlantic Immigrant Pilot Program. Those are regionally-focused success stories and we can continue to build on those models. Great potential for growth exists here, but to apply Ottawa-centric policies that do not reflect current demographic and economic conditions is unfair and a detriment to growth.
The previous federal government has recognized regional differences in some of the signature programs over the past several years including climate change and childcare, where provincial governments have been allowed to use federal programs and/or funding to develop their own implementation plans which fit their own unique circumstances. In the same vein, we would encourage Canadian political parties to consider an Atlantic specific platform or set of commitments that recognize the unique challenges, needs and characteristics of our region.
Interprovincial Trade Barriers
In 2019, University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe, estimated that administrative barriers to trade of goods across provincial borders cost the country the equivalent of 3.8% of annual GDP. Then Bank of Canada Governor, Stephen Poloz estimated that removing these barriers would generate $2,000 per person of new income and about $20 billion in additional annual tax revenue. In Atlantic Canada, where we rely so much on imports, the disparity is worse.
The provinces themselves have made some efforts to address these barriers via regionalized agreements, and while these have frequently offered a framework for discussion, their overly broad nature has traditionally failed to effectively address ongoing concerns. To rectify these and other such regulatory misalignments, the federal, provincial and territorial governments signed the Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) in April 2017. We recommend that the federal government conduct a full review of the CFTA with a view to further eliminating barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility.
Incentivizing a Green Transition
Transitioning to a green economy is another area where it is important for the federal government to recognize regional impacts. For example, implementing the Clean Fuel Standard uniformly across the country will have an oversized impact on our businesses and residents while adding little additional value to our already successful carbon-reduction results. With fewer transit options – even in our urban areas – the ability to reduce carbon emissions through behavioural change is limited. A plan that does not account for regional differences also places a further burden on a province like New Brunswick with a smaller population that is more rural than most.
Our group of business associations believes that government should focus on creating conditions in which New Brunswick is treated fairly, thus enabling our competitiveness. Federal and regional policy that is competitiveness and fair will drive economic growth and help the province as well as the country to recover from the effects of COVID-19.
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’.