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Response to the 2024-2025 Provincial Budget - Fredericton Chamber of Commerce

On March 19th, 2024, the Government of New Brunswick tabled a $13.3-billion budget, with a $41 million dollar surplus, representing an increase in spending of 6.4 per cent. Of specific note, this budget includes $3.8 billion for health care, and $1.9 billion for education. New Brunswick’s net debt now sits at $12.7 billion. The department of finance is projecting real GDP growth of 0.7 per cent this year.

In the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce’s Pre-budget Submission, concerning the priority of numerous issues facing our province we stated that, “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.” In response to the 2024-2025 Provincial Budget, we must conclude that the clear message provided by this document is one of inaction, and it represents therefore, the wrong course of action for our province. 

The 2024-2025 Budget, as presented by Minister Ernie Steeves and the supporting document entitled Stronger than Ever, Let’s Keep Building, represents a lack of forward thinking by the Government of New Brunswick. Instead of presenting a clear and identifiable proactive plan of action, the document focuses backward instead.  

First and foremost, from our perspective, it is important to note that a budget is not simply a financial forecast by a government detailing its planned expenditures and revenues for the coming year. It is the responsibility of a government’s budget to express a course of action to address the realities of the day, which in turn projects a message to the citizens of a province and potential new investors. It is from this perspective that the message of this budget represents a failure due to its lack of forward momentum. Instead of presenting a clear proactive plan of action, the document focuses instead on conditions since 2018. It does not offer a message of reforms, incentives or new investments to keep pace with the assertive plans of action demonstrated by neighboring Atlantic Provinces facing the same realities as New Brunswick. 

To be clear, the government had done commendable work in the past to reduce provincial dept and stem the trends of decline. While there are some positives to be found within the current budget concerning housing, education supports, and local governance funding, ultimately the message is one of status quo relating to plans that have already proven inadequate to match the demands of a growing province. The former course of action imposed since 2018 is no longer sufficient to effectively match the challenges we now face. The available budget flexibility to invest, provided by these past years of fiscal management, is urgently called for to address the numerous social issues. These pressing issues, independently and collectively, represents a very clear and present threat to turn years of positive growth into a quick reversal of decline. 

In terms of immediate needs for real action in New Brunswick, health care is an urgent concern affecting the lives of New Brunswickers and one that is already hindering future growth.  The expert recommendations of physicians, nurses and other health-care workers were not recognized in this budget despite a clear plan presented for an increase of almost $600 million in the department’s budget based on the need to create 50 more team-based primary care clinics across the province. Another obvious need for immediate investment is the recruitment and retention capabilities of our province which are not in any way keeping pace with other Atlantic Provinces, for example the health care policies of Nova Scotia. 

Like many provinces, the issue of Housing, specifically the lack of current supply, represents a required area of investment and a barrier already acting as an impediment for growth. The additional funding provided to the New Brunswick Housing Corporation $68.9 million (housing strategy) is a good start, but as there are no actions to implement property tax reforms or provided offsets for construction of new rental housing, we do not see any tangible forward momentum resulting from this budget. Of most serious concern in terms of immediate construction needs and future operational planning, Nova Scotia and other Atlantic Provinces have offered numerous incentives and offsets to encourage construction of rental housing to accelerate in their provinces. New Brunswick has been and will become a less desirable province to operate a rental housing business as long as the provincial portions of HST provision and property tax assessment policy do not at least rate as competitive with our fellow Atlantic provinces. 

Education has been identified and advocated as an area of need and simultaneously a resource holding vast potential to address almost every issue area for our province.  The department of education is seeing a boost in its budget, which will increase by about $200 million, but lack of proactive measures such as supporting expediate school construction, adequate funding to support targeted literacy and numeracy standards dating back to pre-pandemic decline, represent huge gaps in k-12 needs. Most concerning, there is little to no attention paid to the role of Post-Secondary Institutions or supports for domestic students. We view any message which does not make the Knowledge and Innovation Sectors a clear priority of our province as a missed opportunity. For Fredericton in particular, any true commitment to growth will incorporate and build on the immeasurable role our education, research, and knowledge community currently plays. A clear commitment to this primary industry of our region must be signalled through investments to our higher education institutions, our students and researchers and the innovation supports offered by ResearchNB, NBIF, and others.

In conclusion, we can no longer be satisfied with the achievement of facing the problems of growth instead of decline. It is critical that we change our course of action to address and actively manage these real and immediate problems of growth. Inaction only serves to send a message of negativity to those living and investing in New Brunswick now and removes us from any competition for future investments and newcomers seeking to add to our growth. We cannot stubbornly live in the realities of the past and must embrace the challenges of today by making proactive and necessary investments for our future. 

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