Select Page

As we approach the release of the Provincial Budget on March 19th, it is important to remember that a budget is not only a financial forecast by a government detailing its planned expenditures and revenues for the coming year, it can also act to express to citizens a philosophical course of action to address the realities of the day. In the 2024-2025 provincial budget, we hope to see expressed a proactive philosophy conveying a recognition of the growing needs and exciting potential that exists in our province. We can no longer passively manage growth, as pressing societal realities and timely investment opportunities require action to solidify our hard-earned growth and address issues that are impacting citizens and the business community alike. 

New Brunswick has certainly had strong fiscal results during the previous few years and thanks to a focus on debt reduction, the province is well situated to make strong investments to solidify years of continued growth. The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce has commended the government’s budget decisions which appeared focused on balanced budgets as viewed through a business lens. We have equally highlighted the importance of supporting economic growth and the government’s role of creating conditions for the private sector to grow and prosper. Investments required to consolidate our gains and continue to spur growth must come through impactful, timely and predictable funding for urgently needed programs and services.

Of concern this year, it increasingly appears that we stand at an inflection point in which these issues are beginning to hinder both economic and population growth. The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Fiscal Sustainability Report 2023, indicated that New Brunswick was one of five provinces with sustainable fiscal policies, and yet, along with our Atlantic neighbours Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia, New Brunswick will experience significantly more drag on economic growth due to population aging. 

A traditional position of the business community holds that a government’s role is to create the conditions for private-sector economic growth. While that remains true, it has become increasingly clear in our modern day, however, is that the government’s role in providing social service, infrastructure, health, and education services, are all essential components contributing to the economic conditions of our province. So, while there are many positives and opportunities in New Brunswick, we still must take steps to fully realize the potential and recognize the barriers that could prevent us from achieving our collective goals. What repeatedly appears through multiple issue areas and departments is a need for an alignment of government action and decisive partnership-based improvements. 

Education is a perfect example in that it is an existing investment need in our province, but equally a major strength, which must be effectively utilized to positively impact all of the issue areas of concern. We support infrastructure investment, as it will benefit students, allow for population growth, and provide sufficient aid to teachers in their vital role of raising education standards. Within educational funding, the province can support and advance at all levels, but especially higher grade levels, the increased role, and benefits of experiential learning. This is equally true for post-secondary students and a beneficial area for retention of students through the funding and development of educational placement programs. In terms of alignment of actions to address multiple issue areas of urgent need in our province, our post-secondary education institutions of higher education are an existing resource to recognize and support as valued partners. 

This overall philosophy of alignment and targeted action is most crucially needed to impact the issue areas of healthcare and housing as mandated by the continued need to improve the quality of life of current and future New Brunswickers and grow our population. At this crucial stage, a clear message of commitment and consistent funding to address clear needs is the only reliable measure to maintain momentum and overcome existing systemic issues. 

The availability of timely and effective healthcare is resoundingly the number one policy priority for Fredericton Chamber of Commerce members as reflected through our surveys. This sentiment mirrors general public opinion throughout New Brunswick as our local healthcare appears to be in the midst of a critical existential crisis. From a Fredericton perspective, not only do we need to redouble our efforts to attract and retain much-needed medical professionals and health-care workers, but we must also simultaneously heal and develop the system to meet the needs of a modern and larger population base.

The issue of housing requires government policy action. If we want to build housing that is affordable, the government must take a more active role to incentivize these types of developments. An immediate action achievable by the provincial government, concerns the provincial portion of HST on new purpose-built multi-unit dwellings. Simply speaking, we have fallen behind the act of other government levels and especially other provinces. Housing also faces the cross-sectoral workforce issue and government should invest in upskilling individuals in targeted areas such as construction. As approximately 20% of the construction workforce is set to retire, an acute skills gap exists, and workers are needed to build new housing to and retrofit new or existing homes. Kudos to the NB Construction Association and UNB’s Pond-Deshpande Centre for their recent partnership to tackle this issue.

To the specific issue of red tape reductions and efficiencies, on January 31, 2024, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, released their Red Tape Report Card. Within this report, New Brunswick earned the title of “most improved jurisdiction, increasing their grade from a D to a C.” To achieve more benefits from this work, we have called for the creation of a standalone office following the example of Nova Scotia’s Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness, which has yielded results beyond expectations. There are thousands of little actions that this office can achieve that internal departments simply don’t have time for because they have bigger mandates. 

We need to focus on both improving the process to attract newcomers, but also to be better prepared to receive and welcome immigrants to improve our retention rates. As a starting point, the provincial government should engage more actively with the private and not-for-profit sectors on process and policy issues. Most specifically, the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP) remains a valuable and unique program for the Atlantic provinces, and funding must be directed towards robustly supplying adequate supports to employers seeking to utilize this avenue of workforce fulfillment. Communication to the market to increase awareness about this useful program also needs expansion and individualized supports so employers can expediate and assure success with the process. 

Our knowledge and innovation sectors in Fredericton have been a leading position developed over several decades, but it is incumbent on the government and private sector to ensure that we are maximizing our potential in this area. A recent positive, ResearchNB was created in 2023 as a single, independent, arms-length innovation and research entity. This entity was formed as an amalgamation of BioNB and New Brunswick Health Research Foundation to support economic development through research and innovation. This is a form of focused and organized approach to research funding which seeks the desired and necessary alignment of activities to assure we are benefiting from all funding sources. 

The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce continues to encourage all levels of government to make budgeting decisions with a consideration of a business lens – with a focus on allowing for and supporting economic growth. This is the only way our province can prosper – if business can continue to grow – which creates employment, supports other businesses in the supply chain, and provides revenue to all levels of government.  Ultimately, growth and economic prosperity in our communities also makes New Brunswick a more attractive place to live and work. This desired growth, however, requires timely and impactful investments be made to sustain and solidify the progress to this point. 

Given the necessity of a number of the issue areas, it is certain the time is now to make investments within these areas to support growth and assure reliable services for all New Brunswickers. We have concern that given the glaring urgency in many of these areas, the consequences of any form of inaction will be tantamount to the wrong action. 

It also becomes quite obvious that the most immediate needs and the possible solutions are interrelated across many of these individual issue areas. What we seek then is an alignment of funding, programs, and services, to best address these issues in an effective and timely manner. New Brunswick stands at a precarious stage in which our continued and valuable growth is contingent on achieving effective results urgently needed in areas such as Health Care and Housing. 

While these results require large scale and decisive investments and policy decisions, we also have existing resources such as the education sector with our higher education institutions, and in immigration with programs such as the Atlantic Immigration Program. These resources must be maximized, and their stakeholders brought in as partners, to meet the required alignment to achieve real world results. 

Morgan Peters is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited business organization with more than 1,000 members, that is an actively engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the local business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘StrongerCommunity Through Business Prosperity’. 

Share This