SAINT JOHN — Though many are viewing the upcoming provincial election through the lens of Covid-19, members of New Brunswick’s business community say they want candidates and parties to stay focused on economic recovery and moving the province forward.
On Monday, Premier Blaine Higgs called a snap election that will send New Brunswickers to the polls on September 14. The election call came three days after the Liberals rejected the premier’s attempts to keep the minority Progressive Conservatives in power for two more years with the cooperation of the opposition parties.
It will be an election unlike any other due to the public health restrictions to help contain the spread of Covid-19. But Fredericton Chamber of Commerce CEO Krista Ross says the importance of rebuilding the economy shouldn’t get lost in candidates’ mandates.
“This election may be remembered as the Covid election, but in reality, it must also be about the economy. What matters most to the business community as we get set for the provincial election is that whatever party controls the legislature after September 14 maintains an emphasis on keeping New Brunswickers healthy so that we can focus on continuing the province’s economic recovery,” said Ross in an email to Huddle.
“Just last week, Statistics Canada reported that employment in the province was at 96.6 percent of its pre-COVID February level. In order to maintain economic momentum we have to make pragmatic, timely, and proactive health-focused decisions that are mindful of the economic consequences and how public health and the economy are interconnected.”
Moncton Chamber of Commerce CEO John Wishart says many businesses in his community are still focusing on recovering.
“[In] the business community there’s still some skepticism over the need for an election. I think they understand the numbers provincially, with the seats split and the need for the by-elections and how that may cause powers to shift,” he says. “But business people right not really aren’t too concerned about politics. They’re just concerned about their bottom lines. I think there’s a little bit of nervousness around anything that may derail an economic recovery.”
Though all business groups in the province agree the next party to form the government needs to focus on economic recovery, they also have region-specific issues they’d like to see addressed too.
For Moncton businesses, Wishart says they want to see parties have strong plans for population growth and immigration, as well as government reform.
“There’s been a lot of talk around local government reform, and I think sometimes here in Moncton we’re held back a little bit by the current system,” says Wishart. “So maybe possible transfer of authority of taxation powers locally may be on the agenda as well.”
Municipal reform is also something the Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce will be advocating for this election. Their other key issues include cutting double taxation for multi-property owners and support for innovation at Saint John Energy.
“We believe there’s [an opportunity to] unlock the economic potential within Saint John Energy and that allows for growth for our city and for our province as they go down the road to explore renewable solutions,” says Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce CEO David Duplisea. “We’re looking at ways to empower Saint John Energy to do that.”
In northern New Brunswick, the Conseil économique du N-B (CENB) says they want to see more programs that support business growth in the province’s northern and rural areas. This includes supporting exporting opportunities and loosening inter-provincial trade restrictions.
They also want to see plans to strengthen internet connectivity in rural areas. With the world now embracing the idea of working remotely, CENB CEO Gaëtan Thomas says northern and rural New Brunswick can be attractive places for people to both live and work.
“We’ve heard in the U.S. that people working for Google in New York are moving to smaller areas because it’s safer. Once you can work from home, you can work as well from Caraquet as you can in Toronto,” says Thomas. “In order to accomplish that in New Brunswick we need to reinforce the digital infrastructure so that people can work uninterrupted from all four corners of the province.”
There are a lot of unknowns in the upcoming provincial election, such as how many people will actually come out to vote during a pandemic. There are also questions about what campaigning will look like without the traditional door-to-door, in-person contact with voters. Despite this, Wishart says the Moncton Chamber hopes this doesn’t distract people from talking about important issues.
“The premier mentioned that he won’t be endorsing any door-to-door or flyers or that sort of thing, so what will the venues be to spark debate on the real core-issues? We hope those don’t get lost around just the central issue of, ‘do we need this election or not’?” he says.
“There needs to be a substantive discussion about what New Brunswick needs to move forward … status quo isn’t enough for New Brunswick. We do need some fundamental changes and I just hope those are on the discussion board.”