Welcome everyone to the 2018 State of the Province Address.
I am delighted to have nearly 1,000 guests here this evening. It shows there are an awful lot of New Brunswickers that are engaged in politics or business or public policy and maybe all three. We need as many of us as possible to take an interest in government and the economy. Only then will we be truly rowing in the same direction.
Take the public debt for instance. I think a big part of the engagement problem is that people cannot wrap their heads around how big a number a billion actually is. For a bit of perspective - One billion seconds ago it was 1986. One billion minutes ago it was the 2nd century. One billion hours ago it was the Stone Age.
Now I think most people vaguely understand that $14 billion in debt is bad, but does the average New Brunswicker realize what $700 million in annual interest payments really means for our way of life? I encourage all of you to think about the people in your life that are not engaged with New Brunswick’s problems or solutions. Would they understand what that meant? What if you gave them this little fact? During the 3 hours we’ll spend together here this evening interest payments on our Provincial debt will be a quarter million dollars.
And who is going to be responsible for paying all that debt? Not us, the ones that racked up the public credit card - we’ll be long gone before we’re debt free. It’s my three-year old grandson, Wesley – and he is just learning to count to 10! It’s your children, grandchildren and for some of you -ahem great-grandchildren. Their individual portion of our debt is about $18,400 each today and growing. PAUSE - There’s been a lot of public policy discourse about ‘fairness’ lately - does that seem fair to you?
So the question is... what are we going to do about it?
I think we all know the answer. We first have to live within our means. On that level it’s as basic and your household finances. Our children’s inherited debt must be our priority. So that sometimes means government has to make tough choices when it comes to both reducing and increasing spending in one area or another. And we all have to do a better job at supporting all levels of government when they make hard decisions for the greater good. That also means we have to hold governments accountable when we disagree. Debating the issues is a good thing when coming from a place of mutual respect and ultimately having the same goal - leaving Wesley and others a better New Brunswick.
A declining debt would then allow government to improve the business environment in the province, attracting investment and creating more organic growth by local companies - at which point we can really build some momentum.
So as we think about the next provincial election in September, I ask all the parties and candidates to keep Wesley in mind when making promises during the campaign. There’s no question we need strategic investments by government, but we can only afford truly justifiable spending that moves us forward. Combined with a competitive business climate aimed at aggressive growth I have no doubt that we can prosper. Finally to all my fellow voters and taxpayers, please remember that government has no money but yours, anytime we ask for something, we’re the ones paying for it.