Commentary

Business Groups Want Politicians to Focus On 5 Things to Help N.B. Prosper

N.B. needs a workforce that's young and diverse. Image: iStock photos.

As more candidates put their names forward to seek riding nominations and ultimately run in the 2018 provincial election, the business community looks forward to engaging with all of the candidates, party leaders and other stakeholders.

To this end, an alliance of business groups has come together in advance of the election to put forward five key priorities that will allow the next government to create a climate that attracts new business investment to the province while allowing existing businesses to grow and thrive.

Along with the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, the initiative is being led by Le Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick, the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce, the Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce, the New Brunswick Business Council and the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce.

Our organizations agree: New Brunswickers have tough choices to make in the coming years and ultimately we can choose to manage growth or manage decline. We choose growth.

A private-sector driven economy means that the next government must commit to making New Brunswick the best place to establish and grow a business through competitive tax and regulatory policy, supporting access to new and existing markets and reducing cost of doing business. The government can’t create jobs but it can create conditions that allow businesses to do so.

In turn, economic growth allows the government to provide public services to New Brunswickers. It’s one of the reasons the Fredericton chamber’s vision s Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity.

RELATED: N.B. Business Associations Want Parties To Focus On Growth This Election

Responsible resource development has been the backbone of New Brunswick’s economy for centuries. The idea that we cannot have regulations and processes that are both business-friendly and environmentally sound is false. In order to attract major private sector project investment, New Brunswick needs a review process that has clear timelines and parameters for approvals that do not shift mid-process. Nothing scares large investments away faster than uncertainty.

The provincial government can have an active role in their efforts to help New Brunswick companies become more export ready and to increase our global profile for trade. Every $1 million in exports creates approximately six jobs in the province – including services.

Our group would like to see exports double by 2030, which will take a concerted effort by both the public and private sector. We are also hopeful that the province’s exports can diversify over that time with 90 per cent of our exports heading to the United States and a large piece of that is energy-related exports.

Key to attracting new investments in the province is expanding and diversifying our labour force by developing strategies to retain our youth, create opportunities for ex-patriot New Brunswickers to return home, attract and retain immigrants, and create the conditions to convince international students to stay after their period of study is finished.

Somewhat paradoxically, the most important factor to growing our labour force is the availability of jobs – which shows that each of these five priorities are intrinsically linked – the government must embrace all of them.

The province’s debt load, which has been accumulated over many years and several changes in government is a drag on any growth progress made. Whichever party forms the next government in New Brunswick must prioritize responsible financial management, including a commitment to reducing New Brunswick’s net debt.

In part, this means restraining spending to true, economically justifiable investments with a measurable ROI. We cannot deal with the debt by continuing to ask businesses and individuals in the province to pay more – New Brunswick has hit the limit in its ability to support spending via tax increases.

New Brunswick can be the best place in the world to live and work, but not if we don’t get this right. This starts with a commitment to balancing the budget in the next fiscal and a comprehensive taxation review to better reflect modern realities, best practices, fairness, and viewed through an economic development lens.

The tax system and economic growth are intertwined and much like the federal system, tinkering with New Brunswick’s tax code over the decades has lead to a misalignment between the two. A full review of our tax code is needed in light of the modern global economy and New Brunswick’s current fiscal state. Let us step back and examine what makes the most sense in 2018.

The fact of the matter is, all of our collective efforts to stimulate growth won’t matter if we keep downloading our spending to future generations. We are already spending $700 million a year to service debt that paid for past services. We are borrowing to pay for current services. We have no answer for future services.

A solution to that problem is the minimum fiscal requirement for New Brunswick’s next government. We recognize what we are asking isn’t easy – it will take sustained action and political will. If it was easy, it would already be done – but it is worth it. If you agree, please take the time to get involved in the 2018 election – let every candidate know what is important to you and all of New Brunswick.

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with nearly 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’.