Mr. Speaker, energizing our private sector has been a constant goal of your government. The economic development strategy launched in 2018, Closing the Gap in One Generation, focused efforts on closing the prosperity gap between New Brunswick and the rest of Canada. By many measures, the province is well on its way.
Mr. Speaker, your government’s pro-growth strategy is delivering. The province’s economy has quickly surpassed pre-pandemic levels. More people are working than ever before in New Brunswick. In September the province set a record with 373,100 people working. It is notable that this result beat the previous record set five months earlier. By comparison Mr. Speaker, it took approximately a decade to recover the jobs lost during the financial crisis of 2008.
Along with job and employment growth, wages are rising. New Brunswick is leading the country in the growth in average weekly wages with an increase of 5.8 per cent so far this year, higher than the national growth rate of 3.0 per cent.
A key pillar of closing the prosperity gap is population growth, which is essential to addressing future workforce needs and fueling our economy with skilled labour. There are now 812,000 people living in New Brunswick, with nearly a 10,000 increase between April and July, and more growth every week. The 2021 Census shows Moncton and Fredericton saw stronger growth in their under-15 population than centres such as Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.
In the last year, both goods-and services-producing industries registered increased economic activity, up by 6.6 per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively.
As well Mr. Speaker, 17 out of 20 major industries reported a rise in their economic activity in 2021, led by agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting; public administration; real estate and rental and leasing; and manufacturing.
Mr. Speaker, your government is ensuring it does its part to support New Brunswick businesses. By overhauling the government procurement processes to give local enterprises more opportunity to be considered for government business, $90 million more was kept in New Brunswick over the last year. This is money that fueled employment and contributed to keeping local businesses healthy and strong.
As we look ahead, New Brunswick’s total public and private capital investment is anticipated to grow by 7.2 per cent in 2022 and total investment is predicted to reach almost $4.2 billion.
Non-residential capital construction is expected to increase by approximately $280 million, a gain of 12.2 per cent from 2021, following a modest increase of 1.9 per cent in 2021. Mr. Speaker, this is a true sign of renewed confidence in New Brunswick and that we are emerging from the pandemic stronger.
Following a decrease last year, investment in the public sector is expected to increase by 11.9 per cent to $1.7 billion in 2022 – the highest growth recorded since 2017.
The private sector is also anticipating an increase in investment in 2022, increasing by 4.1 per cent to $2.4 billion, representing 58.3 per cent of total investment. Mr. Speaker, private investment growth is a strong indicator of our province’s ability to close the gap with the rest of Canada as it signals that we are no longer over-relying on the public purse to drive the province’s economy.
A good example is the Port of Saint John, which is nearing completion of a $205 million expansion that will double its annual capacity. With the return of CP Rail, the Port is poised to undertake an enhanced modernization worth $42 million. With three class one rail lines, our highway system and airport, it has become the best gateway in North America.
Mr. Speaker, our province is also seeing significant private investment in housing. Multi-unit construction set a record in 2020 that had stood since 1972, and then set a new record again last year.
Your government is also tackling productivity rates, a key indicator we lagged on with slow adoption of technology and automation compared to national averages. Labour productivity in New Brunswick is now six per cent higher than it was in 2018. Mr. Speaker, in the last year your government has helped over 55 companies adopt automation, and this year’s budget provided $5 million to help New Brunswick businesses embrace technology for greater productivity and increased outputs.
Digital literacy is also critical to our economic and social progress which is why your government invested $10 million in the new McKenna Institute at the University of New Brunswick for micro-credentials to help residents boost their skills and find new work after the pandemic. The Institute will double the number of computer science grads and triple the number of graduate students, contributing essential talent to our province with the necessary skills to drive continued adoption of technology for productivity-enhancing processes.
Being connected has never been more important. Your government has launched the Remote Satellite Internet Rebate Program to households and businesses in remote areas. This Internet connectivity will boost productivity for many New Brunswickers.
New Brunswick exports are also doing well. The province saw the second largest increase in exports in the country in 2021 – behind only Alberta. Mr. Speaker, the $14.7 billion in merchandise exports from New Brunswick in 2021 was the highest level of exports we have had in nearly a decade, and seafood exports reached an all-time high at $2.2 billion. Your government will continue to work on opening new markets for our world-leading seafood and agriculture sectors.
Mr. Speaker, your government recognizes the importance of our agriculture, aquaculture and fishery industries as economic engines that produce quality, healthy food for our tables. Between now and the end of March, the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries will complete federal / provincial / territorial negotiations of the next policy framework: the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership. This agreement will provide support to the agricultural industry for the next five years in making New Brunswick a leader in sustainable agriculture and agri-food production.
Mr. Speaker, the historic gains on key indicators of our economic performance are due to an intentional strategy to focus on specific drivers of success.
Given that your government has returned the province to strong financial health, in this session legislative amendments will be brought forth to further reduce personal income tax and property taxes as you continue to advance a pro-growth agenda to attract more investors to New Brunswick and allow residents to keep more of their hard-earned dollars. Your government also plans to introduce incentives for builders to create additional housing as we manage the challenges that come with population growth.
In addition, Mr. Speaker, in this session amendments will be introduced to provide further protection for consumers and suppliers, reduce regulatory burdens on businesses, and provide greater efficiencies. These include prompt payment legislation, amendments to the Business Corporations Act, Public Works Act, Real Property Tax Act, as well as a new Title Protection Act to create a system and fee structure regulating minimum credentials for financial advisors and planners.
Mr. Speaker, your government has been disciplined in supporting emerging sectors where New Brunswick can show leadership in the decades to come. While forestry, agriculture and aquaculture will always be backbones of our economy, your government is embracing energy innovation as an emerging opportunity, particularly in the face of climate change imperatives.
Thanks to our abundance of resources and unique assets, as well as our strategic position on the coast, your government is building an energy cluster in our province that will position us as an integrated energy provider to assist both nationally and internationally with the climate change crisis. At the same time, New Brunswick will lead as a global emissions reduction leader. To enable this work, your government will launch an Energy Secretariat to coordinate the various stakeholders and opportunities, and to elevate New Brunswick’s assets on the national and global stage.
The Port of Belledune in northern New Brunswick has recently announced an agreement in principle with Cross River Infrastructure Partners to build a green hydrogen export facility.
Mr. Speaker, in addition to emerging technologies, New Brunswick is home to Canada’s only operational LNG terminal. As our world transitions to alternative sources of energy, like hydrogen, there is a requirement during the transition period for products like LNG globally – and that’s where New Brunswick’s LNG terminal offers clear advantages. Given the energy crisis that is underway in Europe, our province is ideally positioned to help. New Brunswick is better suited than any jurisdiction to export liquefied natural gas to Europe.
New Brunswick has vast and untapped shale gas resources in the province that if responsibly developed could provide a made-in-New Brunswick supply of natural gas for use in the proposed LNG export facility, or to replace coal used in power generation in Atlantic Canada. Replacing coal with natural gas has been shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent or more.
Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, New Brunswick's natural gas deposits are unique in that they are cleaner when compared with other North American resources because they do not contain carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulphide. As governments seek to transition off coal, our natural gas supply could provide an excellent clean and reliable alternative. Your government is eager to work with Indigenous and other stakeholders to make this a reality.
Mr. Speaker, New Brunswick has also been leading the national conversation on advanced small modular reactors – or SMRs. New Brunswick has been a leader in nuclear energy in Canada for the past 40 years – one of only two provinces in Canada with nuclear operations and expertise. And now as part of the Pan Canadian SMR plan, New Brunswick is leading the development and deployment of the Generation IV SMRs. Inherently safe and scalable, this technology provides clean and base load energy that interacts well with intermittent sources like wind and solar. And since they are modular, they can be designed and built right here in New Brunswick and by taking advantage of our world-class logistic assets like the Port of Saint John, shipped to customers all around the world.
Two SMR developers have their Canadian headquarters in our province – ARC Clean Technology and Moltex. Both have received support from your government.
Mr. Speaker, the interest level is high and the opportunities significant. Between 2020 and 2035, SMRs are expected to bring an average of 1,458 direct and indirect jobs per year, $2.15 billion in positive impacts on our GDP and an increase of $198 million in government revenue.
There’s no question that we are transforming our economy and we are excited to play a leadership role in energy innovation.