The dust has settled on the 2021 federal election and we should take a moment to thank each candidate and their volunteer teams for the countless hours over the 36 days leading up to election day on September 20. Their participation and efforts are central to our democracy and I am so pleased that in New Brunswick at the local level, campaigns are generally respectful, civil and engaging.
Now the work begins for those elected to Canada’s 44th parliament and the list of issues to confront is long, complex and intertwined.
At the beginning of the campaign, a group of New Brunswick business associations launched a set of key priorities for the province called We Choose Growth for the province. These priorities are centred on three pillars: recovery and self-sufficiency; immigration; and competitiveness and fairness.
The theme that runs throughout these priorities is the need for regional policymaking. While many issues within the federal government’s purview are the same across the country, it would be a mistake to assume that the solutions are likewise similar. In order for New Brunswick and the Atlantic Region to reach its full potential, we need solutions for tailored for Atlantic Canada generally and New Brunswick specifically. Ottawa-centric policy that doesn’t account for regional differences is bound to disadvantage our region.
One glaring example are per-capita health funding transfers. It is well known that New Brunswick has one of the oldest populations in the country and that on average, health care costs skyrocket as we age. Similarly, New Brunswick is also the most rural province in Canada – adding to the challenges of meeting the aims of the Canada Health Act to provide similar services no matter where you live in the country. How can we ever hope to have the same quality of care as province’s that can leverage the efficiencies of larger urban centres and younger populations?
The pandemic has clearly exposed the tenuous nature of New Brunswick’s health care system and with a small and aging population, the situation is bound to get worse without health funding that accounts for demographic and geographic differences amongst provinces. The long-term solution is, in part, to grow our population and get younger, but that’s a long-term solution – without more funding now, our healthcare system will collapse before seeing significant benefits of population growth. We posed this question to candidates from each of the four major parties during our candidate forum series and there was broad unanimous consent on this point.
Conversely, the success of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program should be viewed as a roadmap for how the federal government can best serve the region. Since its introduction, New Brunswick has seen population increases each year (and population decreases in the three years that proceeded the AIPP). New Brunswick needs to have increased immigration, but through streams and programs that encourage settlement, retention and a connection to the community.
Through these two examples (healthcare and immigration), we can also see the interconnectedness of many of these issues.
Let’s think about some of the key factors to retaining newcomers: getting applications approved (processing times were lagging pre-pandemic and have gotten worse); housing (New Brunswick doesn’t have enough now); access to primary health care (there are 44,000 New Brunswickers already on the Patient Connect NB waitlist); and employment (newcomers and international students face unique barriers to employment, even in the current situation where labour is scare).
Other key issues affecting economic growth that we see during this upcoming parliament include:
- Pandemic recovery, including mobilizing the workforce
- Employment Insurance reform
- Encouraging private-sector investment
- Ensuring New Brunswick receives a fair share of federal research and development funding
- Reducing interprovincial trade barriers
- Incentivizing the Green transition
In other words, we’ve got a lot of work to do in this province and we’re counting on all of our MPs to work together to advocate for the province’s best interests – despite partisan interests. In another minority government situation, we don’t know how long until we’re back at the polls – but what we do know is that for New Brunswick, time is of the essence.
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’.