Each fall, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors discusses the biggest challenges, issues and barriers to growth for our members and the business community in New Brunswick. They draft a set of policy priorities that we then put to our membership through our annual advocacy survey and, if endorsed by the members, they become our policy priorities for the coming year. These priorities act as lens through which we evaluate which issues to take on as an organization and to what degree. They are also a good snapshot of what matters most to the business community from year-to-year.
Our five policy priorities for 2023 are:
Fostering a Competitive Business Environment
Traditionally, cost competitiveness has been an advantage that we have had in New Brunswick, but this has eroded over the past few years – even pre-pandemic. NB businesses have seen increases in minimum wage, property tax, EI rates, the introduction of a carbon tax, CPP increases, and of course, inflation like we haven’t seen in decades.
However, the business environment is about more than just costs. It also includes the regulatory environment (red tape, roadblocks to development, overlapping jurisdictional issues, and more). Two of the most important and challenging issues currently are the availability of housing and accessing health care – particularly primary care.
Affordable housing has been a growing issue in Fredericton over the course of several years and has been exacerbated during the pandemic – driven by a very hot real estate market, the lack of available workers and a dramatic increase in the cost of building materials.
All levels of government understand this is a critical issue and each have levers to encourage more housing development and it has become an all-hands-on-deck situation. The municipal government released their affordable housing strategy this year, the provincial government has begun removing the double tax and made Minister Jill Green responsible for the housing file and has made financial investments in conjunction with the federal government.
From a business perspective, our members are telling us that the lack of housing in general and affordable housing in particular, is making it more difficult for them to attract and retain new employees at a time when the rest of the country and the world are looking to the Atlantic Region as a prime place to relocate.
Immigration and Population Growth
Growing New Brunswick’s population is foundational to sustained economic growth and the Fredericton chamber addresses this issue primarily through working closely with New Canadians and post-secondary students/institutions.
The chamber advocates regarding the provincial nominee program, express entry program, startup visa and others. We also actively work to connect post-secondary students with local businesses and the community generally by working with businesses, our economic development organizations, post-secondary institutions and students themselves. There is substantial alignment of goals between these four groups and the chamber works to connect them and advocates for policies that put this alignment into practice.
Growing the population, however, requires that we quickly address the housing and health care issues – keys to retaining people in our province.
For decades, New Brunswick has been staring down a demographic shift that has seen significant outmigration to other provinces. This trend, combined with a low birth rate has made us one of the oldest provinces. The past couple of years have seen an uptick in the right direction, but the province must continue to focus on growing our population, lowering our average age, and increasing the number of people in the labour force to fill positions that enable business growth. It’s this growth that funds the programs, services and infrastructure that New Brunswickers deserve.
We also need our people to have the right skills for the modern economy – making our educational institutions cornerstones of the economy. Our post-secondary institutions are economic drivers in their own right, but also produce our future workforce, entrepreneurs and leaders.
Technology and Innovation
A healthy knowledge sector is critical to Fredericton’s role in creating wealth for New Brunswick. Our post-secondary institutions are some of our most valuable economic development assets – they drive research and innovation, draw international students to the province, propel the technology sector and the startup community – in addition to providing highly-skilled training for our future employees.
Technology and innovation are becoming part of most industries – cyber security, information technology, software development and the like perhaps first come to mind, but also includes the green economy, services and more.
Innovative Solutions to Accessing Primary Health Care
Easy and efficient access to primary health care continues to be an issue all New Brunswickers, including our members – particularly in relation to attracting skilled employees. That is why we established a Physician Recruitment & Retention Committee in 2009 and are still actively assisting efforts of Horizon Health and the NB Medical Society to attract and welcome physicians to our community, while seeking other ways to expand easy and efficient access to primary care.
It’s no secret that with strained resources and too many available positions, New Brunswick is not meeting our health care goals currently. Improving the health system must be a top priority for our government in 2023 and beyond.
The vision of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity. This is a recognition that as members of our chamber, board of directors and staff are primarily local residents and we believe that a symbiotic relationship that exists between business, the community and the citizenry. Citizens support local business, which creates jobs, grows the economy and provides government with the resources to provide the social programs, recreational activities and infrastructure needed in our communities.
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’.