Population growth. Workforce expansion. Labour market development. However you frame it, Fredericton (and New Brunswick) needs more people if we are going to be a sustainable province for future generations. The province is aging and our growth has been mostly flat for a decade – and it comes down to simple economics.

For generations, New Brunswickers have been leaving for greener pastures in healthier economies – to work in Alberta is the first place that comes to mind, but it’s not just there and it’s difficult to get people back once they’ve settled and put down roots elsewhere. It’s a major problem, but it’s time we turn that problem around into an opportunity because the same is true of people that come to New Brunswick in search of their own opportunities. Immigration isn’t the only solution to our demographic problems and a strong economy is a pre-requisite for retaining substantial numbers, but it must be the centrepiece of any long-term population growth plan. This month, Fredericton took an aggressive step forward in our quest for growth with the launch of a new immigration strategy.

The business community sees it every day. Whether we work for and with small, medium or big businesses, across all sectors and across Canada: overwork, deadline anxiety, life stressors that manifest at work, and other stresses negatively influence mental health. We can and must do better for our colleagues and employees. This week is Mental Health Week in Canada – and we think that makes it a great time to engage in a mental wellness conversation with our community.

Making mental wellness a core business principle isn’t hard – but it does require a shift in communication and expectation. Fortunately, there are guidelines like the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard). The first voluntary set of guidelines of its kind in the world, the Standard offers a blueprint for organizations and businesses seeking to evaluate their current good practices and looking to build a resilient and fulfilled workforce.

The federal government’s rejection of a Made in New Brunswick carbon program means that on April 1, 2019, the cost of living and working in New Brunswick went up. As the only province in Atlantic Canada in the position of having the federal backstop, this makes local businesses less competitive and squeezes already-tight margins; the only option will be to pass costs through to consumers.

A rebate will help citizens, but business will be directly hurt by added costs - not only their own fuel costs, but within their supply chain essentially every item NB item they use to produce their product or service will cost more to manufacture and deliver to them. This will then effectively act as a disincentive to purchase and procure locally. More broadly - it is yet another signal to outside investors that New Brunswick is closed for business.

New Brunswick’s provincial finances and economy are in a precarious position, which means that government decision-makers will have to make thoughtful, deliberate and frequently difficult decisions in the coming years in order to continue to deliver the services that New Brunswickers expect and deserve. The capital budget delivered at the end of 2018 makes it clear that this government is willing to make difficult choices and this approach will be required for the operating budget as well.

It is normal for governments, businesses and individuals to carry some debt. Credit can be useful when managed properly, but when accumulating more and more debt becomes the norm, it is hard to pull out of that cycle. New Brunswick is beyond the point of paying one credit card with another - our credit rating is teetering; increased interest rates are looming and growth is marginal. If New Brunswick

In December, MLA Gerry Lowe introduced Bill 9 into the New Brunswick legislature, which, if implemented, would include the value on machinery and equipment on commercial properties in property tax assessments – which would cause property tax bills to skyrocket. Real estate and tax experts Turner Drake calculated that "Manufacturers can expect to see a 5 to 10 fold increase [in their property tax bill] while other businesses may see anywhere from 20% to 100%”.1 The City of St John made a similar proposal in the fall of 2017 (where Mr Lowe was a city councilor at the time), which was dismissed by then-Finance Minister Cathy Rogers. Of course, Mr Lowe and Ms Rogers are now both members of the Liberal opposition caucus.

Bill 9 would have a devastating impact on private-sector capital investments, as companies would be heavily disincentivized to invest and innovate, since their reward at the end of the day will be an increase in property taxes. That would be a big problem in any jurisdiction, but perhaps even moreso in New Brunswick as the province’s current Economic Growth Plan (introduced by the previous government) identifies the lack of capital investment and innovation as two of the five ‘challenges’ to expanding our economy2.

There has been quite a lot of interest recently - both in the media and in the community - about the changing face of Fredericton’s downtown. Downtowns are dynamic entities, the look and nature of which are always evolving. It is not uncommon to have turnover - just in 2018 alone, nearly 20 new businesses opened downtown, not to mention expansions and renovation projects on nearly every block - and new owners bringing fresh perspectives to some long term businesses! In Fredericton’s downtown, most of the recently vacated space has already been filled or will be in the very near future. Multiple office buildings are being built, which will feed the businesses surrounding them with customers. The downtown vibe - with its wide range of restaurants, pubs, shops, festivals, markets and more - is a magnet for many people wanting to work, live and/or play in a diverse and energetic setting.

Despite all the positives, despite the new businesses, despite the growth and new developments, each year, some businesses will choose to close and this year is no exception. These closures impact all of us, the business owners, the employees, the patrons, and our community as a whole - which depends on a vibrant business ecosystem to create economic growth and prosperity. Every closure has its own unique circumstances - likely a multitude of factors in most cases - some controllable, some not; some financial, some personal, some professional.

Quickly-rising WorkSafeNB premiums have been a top concern for businesses, non-profit organizations and municipalities since it was announced in late 2015 that rates would be jumping by 33% for 2016. This jump was alarming, to be sure, but it was still unclear what exactly was driving such an increase since injuries had been (and continue to) trend downward for several years. Little did we know then what was in store and rates subsequently nearly tripled by November 2018 when the 2019 rate was announced.

Make no mistake, the situation is serious - and remains so - and so the Higgs Government deserves praise for acting immediately to begin implementing the recommendations of the employer-employee led WorkSafeNB Task Force. Payroll taxes such as WorkSafeNB premiums are particularly difficult for small businesses to absorb because there is no correlation to revenue the way many taxes do - such as the small business tax - which applies once a business has turned some profit; payroll taxes, however, are a tax on your costs, not on your revenue or profit.

New Brunswick residents are accustomed to paying a little more for goods and services each year; it’s called inflationand it’s a natural by-product of our economy.

But how would you feel if the cost of a service you were obliged to pay nearly tripled within three years? How would youreact if the cost ofyour car insurance tripled over three years? What hard choices would you have to make if the cost of electricity tripled?

That’s what New Brunswick businesses are facing with last week’s announcement by WorkSafeNB that it will raise the 2019 average rate charged to employers from $1.70 to $2.92 per $100 of assessed payroll. The average rate was $1.11 as recently as 2016. The series of substantial rate hikes is needed to cover the growing cost of workers’ compensation in the province.

The six weeks since the provincial election in New Brunswick have been marked by uncertainty,confusion, political maneuvering and division. Now that we have clarity regarding who will be leading the province, we all have to leave the past in the past and focus on the present and especially the future - this means MLAs, voters, business - everyone.

We have serious problems in New Brunswick and none of those have improved while we’ve been figuring out who’s in charge. At the heart of everything is the economy. Economic growth is what allows government to provide the services that New Brunswickers need - it creates jobs, raises wages, opens new businesses, puts cranes on the skyline, builds parks, paves roads and yes - even pays taxes. The government only has so much influence over the economy - but it is imperative that governments at all levels control what they can control in this regard - favourable business conditions, pro-development policies and fiscal restraint. If we can’t count on our government to do these basic things, we are in serious trouble and we’ll get what we always gotten.

The votes have been counted and 49 MLAs have been elected. We may lack some certainty about whatcombination of people and parties will be running the province for the next months and years, but whatremains crystal clear are the challenges and opportunities facing our economy. This will requireleadership and action from our elected officials, but also from the private sector and all citizens.

The business community is feeling some uncertainty like everyone else - we haven’t experienced a minority government in New Brunswick in nearly a century and this will probably take some time to get used to but at the end of the day it doesn’t change anything - the province’s issues still require a functional government acting with urgency. However the politics play out - government must advance important files, render services that New Brunswickers require and make decisions that benefit the province in the short-, medium- and long-term.

We are now into the second half of the New Brunswick election campaign. Party platforms are taking shape, promises are being made and voters are thinking about the future of the province. In some ways, it is beginning to become confusing - keeping track of what party made which promise can be a full-time job.​ The sheer number of issues being discussed can be overwhelming - health, education, power rates, immigration, nutritional policies, carbon tax, job numbers, seniors’ care, student retention and many others are very legitimate issues that deserve to be discussed in full - but there just isn’t time.

I would like to suggest that voters focus in on the one thread that links all of these other issues together - the economy. Healthcare and education are always at the top of everyone’s list - and rightfully so - but let us not forget that providing healthcare, education or any other social programs are intimately related to economy. A thriving economy allows us to collectively pay for the things that make up the fabric of life - successful businesses provide jobs and provide governments with the revenue that are redistributed for the benefit of all.