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Megaprojects like Energy East invariably attract intense opinions for and against, and the reaction to the announcement that TransCanada Pipeline (TCP) has abandoned its proposal to build the Energy East pipeline have been a mixture of celebration and concern. But when the reality is that an energy development company can invest $1 billion to respond to approval review processes only to be confronted with a wall of changing regulations and conditions it is time we answer the question whether Canada is interested in providing companies with a stable, predictable investment environment.

Energy East had the potential to create a source of secure and sustainable infrastructure to provide a domestic market for Canadian oil. From a purely economic standpoint, it could have stopped the flow of $30B in revenue each a year to oil producers in foreign countries. It could have provided multiple markets rather than the virtual monopoly pricing of our primary market in the United States. It could have largely decreased the need to transport oil by railcars. It could have provided much needed employment during pipeline construction and operation. It could have provided increased government revenues to western provinces that fund equalization payments to eastern provinces. It could have provided additional revenues to energy companies who are predominant investors in the development of new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas transmission. It could have demonstrated that Canada is open for investment in resource development.

Now​ ​that​ ​the​ ​federal​ ​government’s​ ​whirlwind​ ​tax​ ​planning​ ​changes​ ​consultation​ ​period​ ​has​ ​passed,​ ​let us​ ​catch​ ​our​ ​breath​ ​and​ ​take​ ​stock​ ​of​ ​what​ ​the​ ​heck​ ​just​ ​happened.

When​ ​Finance​ ​Minister​ ​Morneau​ ​dropped​ ​the​ ​department’s​ ​consultation​ ​document​ ​in​ ​the​ ​middle​ ​of​ ​the summer​ ​-​ ​widely​ ​understood​ ​to​ ​be​ ​an​ ​ineffectual​ ​time​ ​to​ ​consult​ ​(or​ ​less​ ​generously,​ ​the​ ​perfect​ ​time​ ​for a​ ​less​ ​than​ ​genuine​ ​consultation)​ ​-​ ​while​ ​only​ ​providing​ ​a​ ​scant​ ​75​ ​days,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​immediately​ ​clear​ ​to those​ ​of​ ​us​ ​with​ ​experience​ ​with​ ​government​ ​consultations,​ ​that​ ​the​ ​minister​ ​was​ ​hoping​ ​to​ ​check​ ​off the​ ​‘Consulted​ ​with​ ​Business’​ ​box​ ​without​ ​much​ ​debate​ ​or​ ​give​ ​the​ ​private​ ​sector​ ​enough​ ​time​ ​to​ ​fully contemplate​ ​the​ ​effects​ ​of​ ​the​ ​proposals.​ ​Unfortunately​ ​for​ ​the​ ​minister,​ ​the​ ​business​ ​community​ ​was unwilling​ ​to​ ​comply​ ​with​ ​the​ ​desire​ ​for​ ​minimal​ ​debate.

On​ ​18​ ​July​ ​2017,​ ​the​ ​federal​ ​Finance​ ​Department​ ​released​ ​a​ ​discussion​ ​document​ ​that​ ​proposed​ ​a tectonic​ ​shift​ ​in​ ​how​ ​small​ ​businesses​ ​would​ ​be​ ​taxed.​ ​A​ ​tax​ ​policy​ ​review​ ​was​ ​not​ ​a​ ​surprise​ ​-​ ​this government​ ​did​ ​indicate​ ​in​ ​their​ ​platform​ ​that​ ​they​ ​would​ ​like​ ​to​ ​take​ ​a​ ​look​ ​at​ ​how​ ​tax​ ​is​ ​administered in​ ​Canada​ ​-​ ​great​ ​idea,​ ​the​ ​business​ ​community​ ​has​ ​been​ ​asking​ ​for​ ​a​ ​review​ ​of​ ​the​ ​tax​ ​system​ ​for​ ​many years.

What​ ​we​ ​were​ ​not​ ​expecting​ ​was​ ​completed​ ​‘draft’​ ​legislation​ ​and​ ​a​ ​scant​ ​75-day​ ​consultation​ ​period, which​ ​began​ ​in​ ​the​ ​dead​ ​of​ ​summer​ ​-​ ​hardly​ ​the​ ​best​ ​time​ ​to​ ​genuinely​ ​engage​ ​stakeholders.​ ​To​ ​be​ ​sure that​ ​the​ ​message​ ​was​ ​crystal​ ​clear,​ ​Finance​ ​Minister​ ​Morneau​ ​has​ ​stated​ ​that​ ​“we​ ​will​ ​not​ ​change​ ​our minds,”​ ​in​ ​reference​ ​to​ ​the​ ​proposals.​ ​Our​ ​members​ ​agree​ ​with​ ​the​ ​minister​ ​that​ ​this​ ​is​ ​a​ ​consultation​ ​in name​ ​only.​ ​For​ ​some​ ​perspective,​ ​the​ ​last​ ​time​ ​changes​ ​this​ ​fundamental​ ​were​ ​made​ ​to​ ​our​ ​tax legislation,​ ​a​ ​Royal​ ​Commission​ ​was​ ​appointed​ ​in​ ​1962,​ ​which​ ​produced​ ​a​ ​six-volume​ ​report​ ​in​ ​1966. Changes​ ​were​ ​implemented​ ​in​ ​1972​ ​-​ ​10​ ​years​ ​after​ ​the​ ​government​ ​first​ ​began​ ​the​ ​process.

Preparations​ ​are​ ​in​ ​their​ ​final​ ​stages​ ​for​ ​Fredericton​ ​to​ ​host​ ​the​ ​2017​ ​Canadian​ ​Chamber​ ​of​ ​Commerce annual​ ​general​ ​meeting​ ​and​ ​conference.​ ​Conferences​ ​are​ ​big​ ​business.​ ​On​ ​average,​ ​one​ ​delegate​ ​of​ ​a national​ ​conference​ ​provides​ ​$324​ ​of​ ​economic​ ​impact​ ​for​ ​​everyday​ ​that​ ​they​ ​are​ ​in​ ​the​ ​city​ ​-​ ​money going​ ​to​ ​our​ ​local​ ​hotels,​ ​restaurants,​ ​local​ ​shops,​ ​taxis,​ ​tourist​ ​attractions​ ​and​ ​more.​ ​The​ ​Canadian chamber​ ​estimates​ ​that​ ​the​ ​economic​ ​impact​ ​on​ ​Fredericton​ ​over​ ​the​ ​course​ ​of​ ​the​ ​six​ ​days​ ​(including the​ ​preceding​ ​Canadian​ ​Chamber​ ​Executives​ ​of​ ​Canada​ ​conference)​ ​will​ ​be​ ​nearly​ ​$1​ ​million.​ ​Beyond​ ​the direct​ ​economic​ ​impact,​ ​this​ ​conference​ ​is​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​for​ ​the​ ​region​ ​and​ ​the​ ​province​ ​to​ ​show​ ​what it​ ​has​ ​to​ ​offer​ ​to​ ​national​ ​business​ ​leaders​ ​and​ ​decision​ ​makers.

It​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​influence​ ​national​ ​policy-making​ ​-​ ​with​ ​the​ ​national​ ​chamber​ ​and​ ​the​ ​federal government.​ ​The​ ​centrepiece​ ​of​ ​the​ ​conference​ ​is​ ​the​ ​policy​ ​debates,​ ​where​ ​resolutions​ ​submitted​ ​by local​ ​chambers​ ​from​ ​across​ ​the​ ​country​ ​will​ ​be​ ​debated​ ​by​ ​the​ ​delegates​ ​in​ ​attendance.​ ​The​ ​Fredericton chamber​ ​has​ ​submitted​ ​a​ ​resolution​ ​that,​ ​if​ ​adopted​ ​by​ ​the​ ​federal​ ​government,​ ​will​ ​give​ ​international students​ ​more​ ​options​ ​to​ ​gain​ ​work​ ​experience​ ​during​ ​their​ ​studies​ ​and​ ​increase​ ​the​ ​time​ ​that​ ​have post-graduation​ ​to​ ​establish​ ​a​ ​career​ ​in​ ​Canada​ ​-​ ​including​ ​access​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Canada​ ​Summer​ ​Jobs​ ​program. These​ ​changes​ ​will​ ​make​ ​it​ ​more​ ​likely​ ​that​ ​these​ ​students​ ​will​ ​connect​ ​with​ ​businesses​ ​and​ ​the​ ​city generally​ ​-​ ​ultimately​ ​putting​ ​down​ ​roots​ ​in​ ​our​ ​community.​ ​The​ ​full,​ ​detailed​ ​resolution​ ​can​ ​be​ ​found​ ​on our​ ​website​ ​at​ ​​www.frederictonchamber.ca​.

The sharp rise of craft breweries in Fredericton and New Brunswick has been an exciting development over the past decade. By getting ahead of other jurisdictions, New Brunswick has been able to build a reputation as a premier location for craft beer, cider, wine and even mead. Our local producers - more than a dozen in Fredericton alone (and more than 30 across the province) - have done a remarkable job of producing high-quality products, building recognizable brands and carving out space in an industry traditionally dominated by large players. This has been no small feat and a testament to their entrepreneurial spirit and passion for their products.

While the craft brewing industry is making an undeniable impact on New Brunswick’s economy, there is potential for so much more. To date the provincial government’s approach to the industry can be characterized as one of a tax strategy. The Fredericton chamber echoes the call by stakeholders and industry leaders to move beyond this and adopt an economic development strategy to unlock the industry’s potential long-term benefits and growth.

The issue with property tax assessments in the province has alarmed many New Brunswickers, including the business community. There are no doubt serious issues to be examined and corrected, but the assessment issue is more serious than simply the increase in costs to the province’s residents and businesses.

The recent increases in the costs of doing business (WorkSafeNB, Land Transfer Tax, HST, corporate tax), looming future costs (carbon tax), and policy decisions (hydraulic fracturing moratorium; one of the highest income tax rates for high-earners), already run the risk of signalling to the world that New Brunswick is closed for business. We can now ill-afford a lack of confidence in the property assessment system. This is why we supported the review that was being conducted by Justice Robertson and now by Auditor General Kim MacPherson. The Auditor General’s concerns regarding the independence of Justice Robertson’s review as well as his subsequent withdrawal further underscores the need to restore confidence in New Brunswick’s property assessments.

Over the past two years, NB businesses have seen increases in minimum wage, property tax, corporate tax, HST, EI rates and land transfer tax amongst other costs. An unknown carbon tax and CPP hikes are looming in 2018 and 2019 respectively. 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.

This was the context last fall when WorkSafeNB announced that the average rate increase for New Brunswick employers would be 33% for 2017 - coming as quite a shock to the business community. Cooperation between workers and employers have made workplaces safer, resulting in steadily decreasing premiums since 2010 - great news for several reasons, I think we’d all agree. It meant injuries were down and that employers were able to create jobs, add hours or in some cases, even just able to keep the doors open and people employed.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the phrase “think globally, act locally” and how it is fitting to the local business community. In many ways the world has never been more connected - innovations, both online and in transportation, have made us global citizens - and global shoppers. And while overall, this interconnectivity is a great step forward, we should take a moment to remember the importance of supporting our local businesses and the benefits that support has to our community.

Local businesses employ our friends and neighbours. They sponsor our kids’ sports teams and donate prizes to our charity events. They pay taxes which allow governments to provide services such as healthcare and education. In short, they invest in the community when we invest in them. Every dollar spent locally circulates through other local businesses, creating about $7 in local economic activity.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot officially launched this week and we at the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce are optimistic that it will make a meaningful impact in Fredericton and throughout the region. A good example of the federal and provincial governments working well together to support business needs, the pilot is aimed at attracting and retaining skilled workers and international students. These are two groups that are highly coveted by every province in Canada and jurisdictions throughout the world and we are hopeful that the pilot will give Atlantic Canada a leg-up. So why are they so important?

By now we are all familiar with the province’s demographic challenges. We need our population to get larger and younger - as quickly as possible. New Brunswick can never be sustainable or self-sufficient without a major shift in this direction. To grow our population without immigration,repatriation, and the like we would need a fertility rate of about 2.4 - New Brunswick typically hovers below 1.6. We also have the second-oldest population in Canada, which means fewer people in the workforce and more strain on health care system and social services. 

The 2017-18 provincial budget was released earlier this week and there are some major red flags for the business community. While the Province’s operating deficit may be declining, the bigger concern for New Brunswickers and our member businesses is our collective debt exceeding $14 billion. The government’s revised total debt for the end of 2017 was $670 million higher than their estimate and the 2018 estimate is to add another $362 million. Considering that New Brunswick pays nearly $2 million per day in interest payments, this figure is ​the ​ major concern for the provincial finances.

Despite a provincial debt that amounts to nearly $20,000 for every person in the province, Finance Minister Cathy Rogers’ budget speech stated that the government is not introducing new revenue measures or expenditure restraint in the 2017-18 budget. We were quite surprised that the government is not attempting to further restrain spending in 2017-18 - it was broadly understood that the Strategic Program Review would require a sustained effort on restraint over multiple years and multiple mandates. Of course, we didn’t want to see new taxes or other costs to business as our members are experiencing tax fatigue and the costs of increases in recent budgets continue to accumulate and act as a drag on the economy.

Now that another holiday season has come and gone, we are looking ahead to 2017 and working towards economic growth, low unemployment and new opportunities - in short, the embodiment of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce’s vision: ​Community Prosperity Through Business. In the spirit of the season, we have put together a wish list for 2017 to see this vision become reality.

Getting Costs Under Control.​ 2016 was a tough year for business costs in New Brunswick, with increases to personal income tax, the minimum wage, HST and corporate tax. Already in 2017, businesses are facing a massive 33% increase (on average) in worker’s compensation premiums, with signals that 2018 will be just as dramatic, another increase in the minimum wage and a new provincial budget coming down on January 31st. With a pending carbon tax in 2018 and a hike in the Canada Pension Plan in 2019, businesses are nervous with cost uncertainty.