New Brunswick premier says there are many paths to prosperity
For Premier Brian Gallant, sustaining New Brunswick’s GDP and employment growth through 2018 requires many initiatives—most notably export infrastructure and diversification, immigration and workforce development, the cybersecurity industry, and cannabis production. That’s if the province’s traditional industries aren’t hit too hard by its neighbour to the South.
“The largest challenge we face is the protectionist attitude in the United States,” says Gallant. “Ninety per cent of our exports go to the U.S., which is the highest of any province in the country. It’s good to have a strong relationship, but it is a vulnerability.” Gallant says he’ll respond to that challenge throughout 2018 by helping to increase exports to Europe and Asia.
“We are the hub between North America and the E.U., and have lots of products the Asian market wants,” he says. “We are investing significant amounts in strategic logistical projects like roads and bridges, Route 11, the Port of Saint John, and Bathurst airport to help products get around the world.” For Gallant, that means more non-U.S. exports of the province’s most plentiful products, namely softwood lumber, blueberries, maple syrup, French fries, and once online, enormous amounts of tungsten and molybdenum from Northcliff Resources and Todd Corporation’s Sisson Mine.
Part of that success will depend on increased immigration and skilled workers in the province. “Immigration is crucial for the future of the economy in Atlantic Canada, and it’s not just to grow the population,” says Gallant. “We’re very pleased to work with the other Atlantic provinces on the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program that focusses on finding a certain skill set.”
At the same time, in 2018 his government plans to invest heavily in education to prepare New Brunswick youth for the next generation of its economy, especially in computer science. “We will invest more in education to increase literacy, and youth learning (computer) coding in our schools,” Gallant says. “We need them to be comfortable in both using technology and creating it.” Ultimately, the premier wants to see New Brunswick become the epicentre of cybersecurity in North America.
“Cybersecurity …is a huge challenge for business, government, and Canadians,” says Gallant, who expects to see an increase in businesses and individuals obtaining cybersecurity credentials this year through the Cyber Essentials Certification program. Accredited by QG Business Solutions, who does the same for the U.K. government, the company is one of the authors of the ISO 27001 global standard for cybersecurity.
“What’s fantastic about cybersecurity (in New Brunswick) is that it’s driven by the private sector and universities,” says Gallant. “It’s an emerging industry with hundreds of millions of dollars of great opportunities. I want us to be able to increase our competitiveness. A lot of indicators have been going in the right direction,” referring to KPMG’s 2016 Guide To International Business Location Costs. The study compares the costs of doing business in 133 different cities around the world putting Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John at the very top.
Gallant sees the low-cost accolade as fertile ground for the province’s newest, never-before-seen economic driver, cannabis. With legalization and open sale set to start in 2018, the premier plans to use this advantage to bring new capital investments to the province. “We see the production part of cannabis as an opportunity for manufacturing and job creation, and we want to make sure we get the economic spinoffs. It is going to be produced somewhere, and communities need to have an open attitude.” Since his government has already decided to reap the full benefit of its sale by restricting it to government-owned stores, Gallant plans to focus New Brunswick farmers, entrepreneurs and businesses towards the supply side of the equation, if they can overcome one challenge.
“Because it will be highly regulated, the challenge is for people to get the appropriate licenses,” Gallant says. “We have many businesses looking to invest in N.B., and it’s because we have a cost competitive business environment and strong workforce. We are pleased with the federal government’s plan to make sure production is very tightly controlled.” Gallant points out that Health Canada-approved companies are already making significant investments in the province (including Moncton-based organic marijuana producer Organigram, Ontario-based Canopy Growth, and British Columbia-based Zenabis) and will supply government stores with up to $90 million worth of cannabis products per year. As part of the deal, Zenabis plans to create 450 new jobs at a future 393,000 square foot plant in Atholville, N.B.
Cannabis cultivation won’t be for big corporations alone. When asked, the premier said any business that’s able to obtain the necessary licenses would be eligible for the same provincial business development programs as any other type of enterprise, where they qualify.
For Premier Gallant, other touchpoints for economic growth in 2018 include continuing investment in renewable energy, and tidal power, in particular, selling some of NB Power and Siemens smart grid technology developments abroad, and what he calls the most significant investment in tourism infrastructure in New Brunswick history. For tourism alone, Gallant expects to see the industry’s value grow to $100 million per year by 2024.
All things considered, when it comes to economic growth, a large part of Premier Gallant’s plan involves getting as far ahead of the curve as he can on new, prospective industries and putting New Brunswick on the map and helping companies and people finding their way there, and back again.
Those devilish details
We here at Atlantic Business Magazine were impressed by Premier Gallant’s big picture thinking—and we’d like to learn more. Here’s some of the follow-up questions we wish we’d had time to ask before we went to press:
- How much money will your government spend on each of these initiatives?
- Where will that money come from?
- What, exactly, do you hope to accomplish? For example, are you hoping to increase Asia exports by 20%? Attract 5,000 new immigrants in the next two years?
- When do you expect to see results?
- What happens if you don’t see the expected results by your target dates?