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Tories offer grim economic picture in New Brunswick throne speech

Tories offer grim economic picture in New Brunswick throne speech
WATCH: New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government is painting a grim picture of the province’s economic position in a speech from the throne that sets priorities for improvement. Silas Brown has more.

New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government is painting a grim picture of the province’s economic position in a speech from the throne that sets priorities for improvement.

“Currently, New Brunswick is one of the most indebted, most rapidly aging and least literate provinces in Canada,” Lt.-Gov. Brenda Murphy said as she read the speech in the legislature Tuesday. “Approximately 25 per cent of our children live in poverty, and close to 34 per cent of New Brunswick households have incomes so low that they cannot pay taxes.”

The Opposition Liberals say the province’s economy is in bad shape with the loss of a number of major employers, including the impending closure of the lead smelter in Belledune, announced last week. They are calling for a plan to turn the situation around.

READ MORE: New Brunswick opposition leaders lay out priorities for fall legislature sitting

The throne speech sets six priority areas for Premier Blaine Higgs’s government in the year ahead: health care, education, energizing the private sector, sustainable communities, ensuring government is affordable and responsive, and improving the civil service.

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“Time and again, New Brunswickers have shown we are stronger together,” Murphy said. “We must work together if we want to make lasting improvements, ones that will benefit New Brunswickers not just today, but for generations to come.”

Murphy said recent financial results show the work of the government over the past year is paying off. Second-quarter results for the 2019-2020 fiscal year show a projected surplus of $88.1 million compared to the budgeted surplus of $23.1 million. The net debt is projected to decrease by $232.7 million from budget.

On health care, the government is promising to improve emergency departments in Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton and open nurse practitioner clinics in those three cities. The government also says it will work with health specialists and advocates to develop a strategy to combat youth vaping.

Protestors gather outside of New Brunswick legislature
Protestors gather outside of New Brunswick legislature

Among the education initiatives in the speech, the government says it will explore new approaches to allow more children to learn both French and English.

When it comes to energizing the private sector, the Tory government says it will reduce red tape for businesses, and increase immigration targets to 7,500 newcomers annually by 2024.

“The province has a great record for attracting people, but we need to do a better job of keeping them here,” Murphy read. The government’s goal is to reach a one-year retention rate of 85 per cent by 2024.

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READ MORE: New Brunswick moves to privatize Cannabis NB

The speech repeats the announcement from last week that the government is seeking a single private operator to take over operation of recreational cannabis sales.

The government is promising more action to combat climate change. It will introduce amendments to the Climate Change Act to allow for the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from New Brunswick’s large emitters.

“Your government is working to establish a carbon pricing system and will introduce legislation seeking to achieve fairness for New Brunswickers in relation to our neighbours in the Atlantic Provinces,” Murphy said.

The government said it is planning a review of all major taxation programs in the province.

Among other initiatives, the government said it will amend the Residential Tenancies Act to allow victims of domestic violence to terminate their lease agreement early if there is a threat to their safety or to that of a child.

Ahead of the speech, Green party Leader David Coon said his party wants the Tory minority to increase social assistance rates and pilot a Basic Income Guarantee program.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2019.