Gallant happy with 2016, optimistic for coming year

WATCH ABOVE: New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant says 2016 has a year of difficult decisions like increasing H.S.T. and upholding and moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, but he points to strategic investments and changes to education at all levels as what he hopes New Brunswickers remember most. Global’s Jeremy Keefe reports.

With 2016 drawing to a close New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant is calling the year one full of successes, but admits the province still has challenges to overcome in 2017 and beyond.

READ MORE: NB Premier Gallant ‘proud of accomplishments’ at mandate’s midpoint

As New Brunswick deals with unemployment, a debt worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and an aging population, the man leading the province is considering 2016 as one that saw its share of positive points amid challenging times.

“We’ve had record economic growth rates over the last few years so we should be really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said Gallant, looking back as his government nears its two-and-a-half year mark since taking office. “But there’s still lots to do, lots of challenges and opportunities that we have to seize as well.”

READ MORE: New Brunswick budget: tax hikes, civil service cuts, no new highway tolls

Announced in this year’s budget was an increase of two per cent to the HST.

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Gallant said increasing the amount of tax taken from New Brunswickers wasn’t an easy decision but ensuring sectors like education and health care received the investments they require meant tough choices would have to be made.

“It’s never easy to ask New Brunswickers to accept less or give a bit more but we do believe it’s fair,” said Gallant.

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“We’ve got to get our finances together. We actually pay more on our interest on our debt than we are able to invest in post-secondary education every single year,” explained Gallant. “So it’s a good reminder as to why we have to get our finances in order because it’s actually hindering our ability to invest in our priorities like education.”

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But Gallant said there are still issues the government has to address.

The January closure of PotashCorp’s Picadilly mine left hundreds out of work, and took millions in provincial revenue off the books.

Energy investors were disappointed when the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing was upheld, cancelling any hopes they had of breaking ground.

And despite National Energy Board hearings in Saint John and Fredericton, the Energy East Pipeline project talks are now at a standstill.

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READ MORE: Energy East still needed despite approval for western pipelines: N.B. premier

Gallant admits its a long road ahead but remains optimistic for energy and other sectors.

“When it comes to energy, mines and other natural resource development there’s lots of factors, markets to consider there’s pricing to consider, things around the world that could influence some of these projects,” he explained. “For me it’s a reminder that we just have to stay focused on the economy.”