The vision of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is Community Prosperity Through Business. As members of our chamber, board of directors and staff are primarily local residents, we recognize the 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. Our mission is: Help Businesses improve, innovate and grow through networking, shared services advocacy and events. The Fredericton chamber’s vision and mission, along with our close connection to the community guides every decision we make as an organization, particularly our policy and advocacy work.
Our policy priorities in 2017-18 are:
Competitive Business Environment
Traditionally, cost competitiveness had been an advantage that we have in New Brunswick, but this has been consistently eroded over the past few years. Over the past two years, NB businesses have seen increases in minimum wage, property tax, corporate tax, HST, EI rates, land transfer tax and WorkSafeNB premiums jumped 33% in 2017 (amongst other costs). An unknown carbon tax and CPP hikes are looming in 2018 and 2019 respectively WorkSafeNB premiums will in all likelihood jump even higher in 2018. All the while, we are seeing economic growth around 1% annually - and are actually happy to see even that minimal growth. While decreasing the province’s small business tax is helping, those benefits are being swallowed up on multiple fronts. The chamber believes that all steps should be taken to prioritize efficiencies within government, while rationalizing public assets and services to reflect current realities. The only way to sustainably improve the economy is through consistent business growth and we work with all three levels of government to advocate for the best possible conditions for success. The four policy priorities that follow are inhibitors to driving this growth.
New Brunswick’s net debt is nearing $15 billion, or $20,000 for every person living in the province - effectively doubling in the past decade. The province spends $700 million per year in interest payments alone - $80,000 every hour. These numbers do not include NB Power’s $5 billion debt or the $3-5 billion that will be spent on the Mactaquac Dam in the near future. Our population is shrinking and aging - making it increasingly difficult to credibly address the situation in any meaningful way. The debt restricts the province’s ability to make investments to drive growth, provide services and keep costs to businesses and citizens manageable.
We have recommended that the government do a comprehensive tax policy review to ensure that the province is following jurisdictional best practices and that New Brunswick’s tax structure is aligned with and an extension of the Province’s economic development policy. More than anything, individuals and businesses want to know that their tax dollars are being put to good use. After a two-year Strategic Program Review and a steady stream of tax and cost increases over that time, we would have expected some progress to be made on the debt.
Fredericton International Airport Expansion
As an airport designed to accommodate 200,000 annual passengers, the Fredericton International Airport has seen steady growth, reaching 378,000 passengers in 2016. To continue this growth, we are advocating to the federal and provincial governments that the airport must be expanded. Local airports facilitate economic growth in a number of ways for a region focused on the global economy. New Brunswick is already the most export-dependent province in the country and our next major wave of exports will likely be services. Success in sectors such as biosciences, information and communications technology, engineering and many others means that the Fredericton Region is creating a hub of expertise that we can bring to the world.
The Fredericton airport is one of 26 airports that form what’s called the national airport system. These airports have been identified as being strategically important to the country’s air travel system. However, NAS airports are excluded from ACAP funding - which was established to help airports with fewer than 525,000 annual passengers with capital project funding. Fredericton is one of six such airports that are small enough to otherwise need and receive ACAP funding but for this policy.
Natural Resource Development
Natural resources are, by far, Canada’s largest export sector and as a key part of Canada’s and New Brunswick’s economic mix, the chamber believes that any serious plan for creating jobs, greening our economy and reaching out to new markets has to place the competitiveness of the resources sector at its core. Natural resources provide crucial high paying jobs for people in rural areas, but urban areas benefit as well. Through their extensive supply chains, natural resource firms are important customers of manufacturers and service providers in cities that are miles from the forest, farm or mine site.
The Sisson Project mine, Energy East Pipeline and natural gas development are near-term opportunities that we must seize. As a key part of Canada’s and New Brunswick’s economic mix, any serious plan for creating jobs, greening our economy and reaching out to new markets has to place the competitiveness of the resources sector at its core. These projects - or natural resource development generally - aren’t the only answer, but they are opportunities that we cannot afford to ignore.
New Brunswick’s declining population is one of the greatest threats to sustained economic growth moving forward and the Fredericton chamber addresses this issue primarily through working closely with New Canadians and post-secondary students/institutions. On the immigration side, we run three government- and private-sector-supported programs to assist entrepreneurial newcomers get their businesses off the ground.
The chamber advocates on 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.
Of course, many issues arise during the course of a year that affect chamber members that may not fit neatly into one of these five priorities. We still always respond to matters of importance to our members, but prioritizing our policy areas allows us to be more efficient in our work and give members more value for their membership. As always, please contact Policy and Research Manager Morgan Peters anytime to discuss any policy/advocacy issues your business may be facing.