FREDERICTON (GNB) – New Brunswick is at a crossroads, and it will take strong leadership and co-operation to move forward confidently in strengthening the economy through resource development, making strategic investments and managing responsibly for the future. This was the major theme in the 2013-14 speech from the throne, delivered today by Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas, to open the fourth session of the 57th legislature.

"We are still not out of the trenches, but by strengthening our economy, investing in our families and communities and by managing today for our province's future, we are positioned for responsible growth and have begun taking steps toward a brighter future," Nicholas said.

The speech from the throne details the legislative and policy agenda of the provincial government for the next year as it continues to rebuild New Brunswick, its economy and its communities.

"The people of New Brunswick are its greatest asset," said Premier David Alward. "We are a strong, creative and determined society. Every day, we are working with New Brunswickers to continuously improve our province and the quality of life it offers our families.

"Together, we are moving toward a stronger, more prosperous New Brunswick – one step at a time, one innovation at a time, one job at a time."

Major initiatives:

●    A prescription drug plan, expected to be in place by next summer.
●    Public pension reform, adopting the shared risk model announced last year.
●    Safe and responsible resource development.
●    Fiscal responsibility measures that will control overall spending and facilitate the return to balanced budgets.
●    Collaboration with First Nations: to improve economic, educational, training and social improvement opportunities for aboriginal peoples.
●    Support the construction of the proposed west-east pipeline in an environmentally responsible way.

Other highlights:

Strengthening our economy

"Your government's focus on the economy as well as protecting and creating jobs is a centrepiece for attention and action," said Nicholas. "Strategic investments based on input from stakeholders and sound analysis are positioning New Brunswick in local, regional and international markets."

The provincial government will continue to be guided by its export strategy, Growing Global Markets, to help emerging and non-traditional markets, assisting local companies connect with global markets to drive job creation, growth and investment. New Brunswick is Canada's most export-oriented province.

The recent Canada – European Union Comprehensive Economic and Free Trade Agreement, commonly referred to as CETA, represents an opportunity for New Brunswick to open up new markets on the Continent. The European Union is New Brunswick's largest export market after the United States. New Brunswick was actively involved in the CETA negotiations.

It is expected that many of New Brunswick's key economic sectors will benefit under CETA, which will adopt immediate, duty-free market access for agricultural products such as frozen potatoes, blueberries and cranberries. CETA will also eliminate barriers to the world's largest fish and seafood market. New Brunswick was Canada's largest seafood exporter in 2012. Tariffs on Canadian wood and wood products will be eliminated, creating opportunities for the New Brunswick forest industry to create jobs, increase wages and achieve greater long-term prosperity.

The provincial government will, in the upcoming year, implement a strategy to ensure New Brunswick has a competitive forest industry.

The provincial government will continue to work with all communities and regions in New Brunswick, including First Nations, to ensure that New Brunswick derives maximum benefits from the proposed west-east pipeline while ensuring responsible resource development.

"This pipeline is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that will help retain and return our workers at home," said Nicholas.

Last summer, TransCanada decided to proceed with the pipeline linking Alberta to New Brunswick, and it is now embarking on the environmental and regulatory approvals phase. New Brunswick is well-equipped to accommodate the pipeline: Saint John has the largest, most modern refinery in Canada as well as the deepest seaport on the East Coast.

Nicholas said responsible resource development will protect the rights and interests of future generations while improving the quality of life for all New Brunswickers, including First Nations communities.
 
"Your government is committed to continuing its efforts to establish the relationship among government, First Nations, industry and business so that, together, they can build a healthier and more prosperous New Brunswick," he said. "Your government believes that, by working together, these groups will yield a rich dividend of respect, friendship and progress that will benefit every resident of the province."

In February, the provincial government introduced the strongest rules to explore for and develop natural gas. In May, it released the action-oriented Oil and Natural Gas Blueprint for New Brunswick. As a next step, it will introduce a natural gas royalty regime that ensures a fair return to New Brunswickers while encouraging investment in this sector.

The provincial government looks forward to continuing energy and mining projects in several areas, including the Sisson Brook project near Stanley, potash expansion near Sussex and the Caribou mine near Bathurst.

The New Brunswick Research and Innovation Council, created earlier this year, will continue to foster entrepreneurship and creativity. The provincial government expects its increased investment in research and innovation will start achieving several results in the coming year. Nicholas highlighted several key initiatives, including the Industry Innovation Challenge; the Innovation Voucher Fund; increases in seed and early capital; a consolidation of the innovation ecosystem; the creation of up to six New Brunswick Innovation Research Chairs; a three-fold increase in support to public researchers; a research assistant initiative; and the New Brunswick Graduate Student Program.

"These investments are only the first steps necessary to accelerate the growth of our economy through innovation," said Nicholas. "Other policies and initiatives are being designed to bolster our knowledge economy and create new, sustainable jobs."

The provincial government has also adopted a new, decentralized economic development approach, providing quick and easy access to funding programs by creating five districts with 12 offices serving small- and medium-sized businesses.

Nicholas said that workforce needs and skills development must be linked with emerging economic opportunities. This means investing in large- and small-scale resource-driven and value-added commodities as well as supporting the industrial fabrication, manufacturing, information technology, aerospace and defence sectors.

The provincial government is committed to working with industry and the federal government to co-ordinate access to business incubation and laboratories for bioscience companies.

It will continue with the One-Job Pledge initiative, which supports the creation of jobs and the retention of young post-graduates within New Brunswick. The program, announced last winter, has reached its target of 650 jobs, and it will soon be expanded.

The provincial government is working toward a revised population growth strategy as well as an action plan to attract francophone immigrants.

It remains concerned – and will continue to express its concerns – about recent and potential changes to the federal Employment Insurance program.

Provincial departments and agencies will encourage and promote the use of local, healthy food during government-hosted meetings and events.

Improvements will be made to the Seafood Processing Act this fall to support this sector's commitment to producing highest-quality seafood, increasing its competitiveness and diversifying its markets.

Aquatic animal health in the finfish and shellfish sectors remains a priority. The provincial government will proceed with targeted improvements.

New Brunswick producers have access to new and innovative agriculture and agri-food programming under a renewed federal-provincial agreement, Growing Forward 2. A strategic development plan for the seed potato industry has been finalized and is expected to strengthen this sector. A new blueberry strategy was introduced recently.

The provincial government has undertaken a review of its trail use policy and has begun discussions to improve and expand snowmobile trails in the Northern Odyssey region. This plan proposes the establishment of a centralized snowmobile grooming base at Mount Carleton Provincial Park. The government is also researching the potential to develop an all-terrain vehicle tourism product.

The provincial government has developed and is implementing a Northern Cruise Strategy to attract cruise ships to northern New Brunswick.

Investing in families and communities

The provincial government will introduce legislation to establish the foundation of a prescription drug plan. By next summer, New Brunswick will have a plan that ensures all residents have access to many expensive drugs as well as to prescription drug coverage.

During the next five years, under the plan Rebuilding Health Together, the provincial government will collaborate with partners to make health care affordable and effective. Initiatives for the first year have been identified and will be implemented.

The provincial government will proceed with its Labour Force and Skills Development Strategy, which builds on its Economic Development Action Plan to ensure the availability of a skilled and competitive workforce.

It is investing $50,000 in Helmets to Hardhats Canada, a national organization that helps current or former members of the Armed Forces or Reserves seeking a civilian career.
 
The provincial government will honour its commitment to provide sustainable and predictable university funding and stable tuition levels. This is the first time that the government has provided a concrete funding commitment in advance of its yearly budget announcement. Moreover, a redesigned student financial assistance program will be announced.

Amendments regulating workers' compensation will be introduced as part of the first review of its kind in two decades.

Acting on the Premier's Panel on Seniors, Living Healthy, Aging Well, the provincial government will implement initiatives to create supportive environments for healthy aging.

A comprehensive Home First Strategy is nearing completion. It will serve as a cornerstone of an integrated provincial system of health care and long-term care.

The provincial government will release an evaluation of the 3.5 Hours of Care in Nursing Homes pilot project.

Amendments to the Ombudsman Act, to expand the authority of the ombudsman to cover long-term care supported by the provincial government, will be proclaimed.

The broadest number of changes to the social assistance system since the 1990s took effect Oct. 1. By April 2014, eligible social assistance clients will receive an increase of seven per cent in their monthly financial assistance.

The private and not-for-profit sectors will join the provincial government to encourage children and youth to become more physically active and to encourage schools to promote a healthy environment. A renewed wellness strategy will be introduced in 2014.

The provincial government will continue to work with First Nations to provide opportunities for economic development, education and training.

In early 2014, in promoting gender equality, it will launch a cross-government initiative to ensure it takes into account the unique perspectives and needs of women and men when it is making decisions.

Through New Brunswick's Roundtable on Crime and Public Safety, the provincial government will continue to focus its collaborative efforts to reduce crime and victimization. New Brunswick remains one of the safest provinces in which to live.

Investing in collaborative efforts to protect and support children and youth remains a priority. Anti-bullying standards in schools will be strengthened. Legislation will be introduced to provide early prevention and intervention services and supports for children and youth with multiple needs, and the Community-based Services for Children with Special Needs Program will be modernized.

The provincial government will continue investments through its new Inclusive Education Policy to increase opportunities and reduce barriers for all students. It will honour its commitment to build a continuum of learning, starting from birth.

Amendments to the Early Childhood Services Act will be proclaimed, making New Brunswick the first province to streamline authority on all aspects of early childhood into one act.

The Commission on Francophone Schools' report will be followed up to foster academic success and build on individual students' identity.

The provincial government will continue to build on the Action Plan for a New Local Governance System in New Brunswick and will modernize the Municipalities Act and the Community Planning Act.

Legislation regulating the mortgage broker industry will be introduced to protect consumers from predatory lending practices. Amendments will be made to unproclaimed legislation to regulate payday loans.

The legal aid system will be reformed to achieve the maximum benefit for clients at the lowest cost.

The provincial government is finalizing its cultural policy, which will guide cultural development for the next five years. By establishing a Premier's Task Force on the Status of the Artist, it will work toward recognizing and supporting artists in the province.

Legislation will be introduced based on a review of the Parks Act, the feedback gathered and the evolving role of parks in society. Work will continue on the Fundy Trail Parkway.

Managing for our future

The provincial government, acting on its stated intention from last year, will introduce public pension reform, based on a shared risk model. The legislation will enable MLAs to adopt this model for their pensions as well.

"Pension plans in Canada and across the world continue to face huge challenges, and our province is no different," said Nicholas. "The pension plan provided for in the Public Service Superannuation Act is facing a $1-billion deficit today, and this figure is only expected to grow. We cannot place the burden of addressing this deficit entirely on the shoulders of taxpayers, current employees and future generations. This means that changes must be made to the plan today to make it sustainable and secure for current and future retirees. The status quo is not an option."

The provincial government will introduce fiscal responsibility measures that will facilitate the return to balanced budgets and require annual multi-year fiscal plans, including a deficit reduction plan. Legislation will be introduced to help voters understand the economic and fiscal outlook of the province leading up to an election.

Steps will be taken to report publicly on how much all physicians are paid.

The provincial government will continue with the Smart Regulations system to reduce red tape incurred by business but still safeguard health, safety, environmental integrity and the rules of business. In early 2014, it will introduce a "1-in, 1-out system" where the introduction of new regulatory obligations will be offset by the elimination of existing ones. It will also work with federal, provincial and territorial partners to deliver high-quality services as efficiently as possible. Close to $11 million has been saved since April 2012 through the use of a formal management system in the public service, which is currently being expanded to the last remaining departments.

Conclusion

"As individuals, and collectively as a province, we need to innovate and seize on opportunities, focusing on the strengths of our human resource potential, traditional economic advances and strategic growth in emerging sectors," said Nicholas. "Together, we are establishing a solid foundation on which to rebuild, grow and prosper. The future looks bright for our province as strong leadership focuses on priorities that matter and progress that is sustainable."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The complete text of the speech from the throne is online.

LINK:

●    Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick