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.

Death and Taxes in New Brunswick

During both the federal election campaign earlier this fall and the provincial election in 2014, we heard a lot about “asking the 1% to pay a little more” - and now it appears that “a little more” means nearly the highest personal income tax rates in the world. Only three OECD countries (Sweden, Denmark, Portugal) have a higher rate than New Brunswick for their top earners. And this is before a promised 4% federal hike takes effect - which would put the province’s top combined bracket at 58.75%. Finance Minister Melanson has said his government will look at the issue - but we were also assured during the 2014 campaign that New Brunswick’s top rate would not exceed Quebec’s, which then happened in the provincial Liberals very first government.

Earlier this week, 12 countries, including Canada concluded negotiations of the long-awaited Trans Pacific Partnership. While we will have to wait for the complete details and ratification of the agreement to fully judge the deal, we can reasonably expect that it will produce a regulatory environment that is more conducive to trade on a massive scale. The signatory countries have a combined population of 800 million people and make up 40% of the world’s economy (lead by the United States and Japan)  and the jurisdictions involved will surely want to add other economies to the deal such as China, India and the Philippines.  

Earlier this month, the chamber’s Municipal Government Affairs Committee submitted its annual policy brief to Fredericton City Council. When authoring our briefs to government, we use feedback from our membership through our surveys, consultations with stakeholders and partners (including City staff), and the expertise and insight of our committee and board of directors. Gathering information and input from a variety of sources allows the committee to fulsomely consider the issues that matter to chamber members.

Krista Ross, CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce on the Alberta oilsands
In March 2015, Krista Ross, CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce attended a two-day tour of the Alberta oilsands. This also included a visit to Calgary to see the business side of the province’s oil and gas industry. The tour was hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce as part of their Partnership for Resource Trade initiative.

The Brian Gallant Liberal Government delivered its much­anticipated first budget on March 31, 2015. Overall, the cuts were probably not as deep and tax increases not as intense as some had predicted, but all New Brunswickers are impacted in some way. Ministers Melanson and Boudreau have also been laying the groundwork for a much “tougher” budget for 2016­17 throughout the pre­budget process and the Engage NB program review, which has continued in the immediate aftermath of releasing this year’s document.