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It seems like everyone has an opinion on the proposed Energy East pipeline. And that’s a good thing ­ the more engaged citizens are, the better off we will be as a province. Unfortunately, there remains a lot of noise and misinformation about this project, pipelines in general and natural resource development as a whole. Opponents have been emboldened by the blockage of the Keystone XL pipeline and continue to peddle a simplistic narrative of ‘economy vs environment’ ­ they know that if the issue was really that black and white, we would all pick environment. Every time. But it isn’t that simple.

As the National Energy Board hearings on the Energy East pipeline began earlier this week in Saint John for the first of ten sessions (the second is in Fredericton beginning August 15, 2016), it may be instructive to focus on what we know.

The rapid growth in passenger traffic at the Fredericton International Airport (“FIA”) has been one the major success stories in our community over the past decade. Since the financial crisis in 2009, passenger numbers have been on the rise ­ 264,000 in 2009 to 350,000 in 2015. This trend has continued in 2016, with first quarter traffic up 22% over the same period last year. There are plenty of statistics that illustrate the province’s dire economic situation, but the airport’s growth is a harbinger of opportunity. To fully realize this potential, the FIA must have the infrastructure to accommodate its own growth or we risk losing this momentum.

After years of stagnant population growth, New Brunswick’s population has actually been declining over the last three years. This problem has been well­documented and represents the biggest threat to our province in both the immediate­ and long­term. Bringing in and retaining more immigrants ­ including refugees ­ isn’t a social question, it’s an economic one. It isn’t a magic bullet that will solve all of our problems, but it isn’t optional either ­ it’s required for our survival.

We need to increase our population by about 1% per year in order to keep pace with the country and grow the economy according to economist Richard Saillant. That’s about 7,500 people. Our population has declined for the past three years. Right now we are bringing in around 1,000 per year under the our primary immigration mechanism ­ the Provincial Nominee Program. On average, New Brunswick couples are having 1.6 children. Our economy has been stagnant at best for nearly a decade. We need people. A lot of them.

Today, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and chambers of commerce from across the country are publically recognizing natural resource development as an important economic driver. A key part of Canada’s future prosperity means creating the conditions for our natural resource sectors to succeed. Nowhere is this more apparent than in New Brunswick.

The Sisson Project mine, Energy East Pipeline and natural gas development are near­term 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.

Earlier this week, Fredericton elected a new mayor and four new councillors along with eight councillors returning to the table to guide the city through the next four years. Congratulations to Mayor-­elect Mike O’Brien and the entire council, the chamber is looking forward to continuing to work with you to keep our community moving forward.

The chamber wishes to thank Mayor Woodside for his years of dedicated service to our community. He has navigated our community through a period of growth locally while facing tough tough economic situations provincially and at times, nationally.  His legacy as mayor is firmly intact and we are undoubtedly in a better place now than when he began his run. We also appreciate the service of the outgoing councillors  -­ Scott McConaghy, Marilyn Kerton, and Randy Dickinson ­ and wish them all the best in the future and are certain all will continue to have a big impact on our small community. We also commend all those who stepped forward as candidates in this election, it takes a great deal of courage to run for public office. The time and dedication required to learn about the issues and communicate your positions to better the community that one lives in is commendable ­ - adding to the public discourse has an impact, regardless of the election results. Thanks to all of you who participated!

With the municipal election coming up on May 9th, I have been thinking a lot about the important relationship between chamber of commerces and local governments. The overall health of a community correlates directly with the state of its economic ecosystem and the success of its local businesses. A supportive and robust business environment allows a city to grow and provide the services that citizens expect and deserve. With nearly 950 members, the majority of which are small businesses with deep ties to the city, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce represents both a large swath of the local business community as well as its citizenry. By advocating for its members, the chamber, by extension, is advocating for the community. This concept is captured in the chamber’s vision: “Community Prosperity Through Business”.

With the release of the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing final report on February 26, 2016 the process of lifting the government’s moratorium can begin in earnest. A moratorium is, by its very definition, a temporary measure ­ in this case imposed so that “...risks to the environment, health and water are fully understood.” (2014 NB Liberal Party Platform). Whether we can ever fully understand the risks to anything is debatable ­ the more pertinent question for hydraulic fracturing is what level of risk are we willing to accept.

The Four Stages of Effective Networking
Business people know that one of the keys to success is networking with potential customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders. Even in the Internet Age, face‐to‐face networking and word‐of‐mouth advertising remain important activities for many businesses and industries. At the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, networking is one of our primary value propositions. In addition to our monthly Business After Hours and Business Over Breakfast events, we include a networking component into nearly every event. Engaged members view board or committee volunteer work as networking opportunities as well.

Powerful forces are transforming the global economic landscape and challenging Canada’s prospects in the world. The weight of global economic activity has dramatically shifted from developed to developing countries. Emerging economies like China and India are sparking a wave of innovation with their critical mass of researchers, scientists and engineers. These countries recognize that research and innovation are the keys to success in the increasingly competitive global economy.

Now that we’ve all had more than a week to digest New Brunswick’s 2016­17 budget, it seems clear that the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. Various individuals and groups have differing reasons for their disappointment, but for the most part it seems to come down to the feeling that after more than a year­long strategic program review process we don’t seem to be any further ahead and it’s unclear where we are going. We (the people of New Brunswick) can support feeling some pain to get through a difficult fiscal situation, but we need to be able to see progress and the road ahead, which requires a logical and well­articulated vision for growth.

On November 27, 2015, Minister Victor Boudreau released the specific initiatives the Government of New Brunswick is considering as part of their year-long strategic program review. The list, a combination of efficiencies that should be the ongoing business of government and a series of tax increases that will hurt our fragile economy is sure to please no one in the short term - but may be our last shot at getting our fiscal house in order in the long run. There is no doubt - New Brunswick needs action and now. Hopefully this process will give the government the political will to make decisions
and the commitment to stand by them.

The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce has been engaged throughout the program review process and our primary advice for the minister continues to be focusing on choices that will not hurt economic growth in the province as this is the only sustainable way to truly get the province’s finances in order for the long term. No amount of cost cutting or tax increases will lead to prosperity - only growth and the province being ‘open for business’ will get us there, both in reality and by perception.