Early in 2018 is a great time to reflect on accomplishments of the year past.
Throughout 2017, our government listened to New Brunswickers and made significant progress on our shared priorities – growing the economy, creating jobs, and supporting New Brunswickers and their families through investments in education and health care.
Economically, New Brunswick has a positive story to tell.
Over the last three years our province experienced the best growth in a decade. Real GDP growth into 2016 was at 1.24 per cent. And unemployment rates were in the single digits throughout 2017. Strategic investments that support job creation included further reducing small business income tax rates (to 2.5 per cent, effective April 2018); putting more money in the pockets of hardworking New Brunswickers with generous HST returns for low- and middle-class families; and increasing the minimum wage for the third time since December 2014 .
Recognizing the important role education plays in developing a strong workforce and strengthening the economy, we continued investing in education. We acted to make post-secondary education more accessible and affordable by focusing on providing upfront assistance to New Brunswick students. During the 2017-18 academic year more than 6,000 students have qualified for the Free Tuition Program and more than 1,300 students have qualified for Tuition Relief for the Middle Class. That accounts for 76 per cent of student financial assistance recipients attending publicly funded universities or colleges in the province.
We also followed through on our promise to restore French immersion to Grade 1. Our 10-year education plans focus on delivering the best possible education to our children, and our investments of more than $292 million since October 2014, focus on upgrades to current schools and building new ones.
In terms of quality of life, New Brunswick also has a positive story to tell.
Supporting New Brunswick families in their education and health goals means they have better outcomes in all aspects of life, including economically. In 2017 our province entered into a $71 million, three-year, bilateral early learning and child care agreement with the federal government to improve early learning and child care for preschool-aged children in the province. We signed a 10-year Bilateral Health Agreement with the federal government that will bring an estimated additional investment of $230 million for home care and mental health care to New Brunswick and we expanded our nationally-recognized Integrated Service Delivery model to all public schools. We introduced Family Day, a statutory holiday beginning in February 2018 that will help families and communities come together and strike a good work-life balance during our long winter season.
With a strategic focus on growing New Brunswick’s economy and jobs, and New Brunswickers’ quality of life, we were able also to make significant progress on getting our fiscal house in order. The province’s deficit has been reduced by 67 per cent since 2014, and we are on track to eliminate it by the 2020 budget.
We have shown ourselves to be national leaders as we prepare for the legalization of recreational cannabis. Our primary goal has been, and will remain, public safety – making sure we have strong regulations governing the production, distribution, and sale in order to invest in public awareness and enforcement programs to help us get cannabis out of the hands of youth, and the proceeds away from criminals. That said, we are positioning ourselves to take full advantage of any economic opportunities of an emerging industry with opportunities for jobs, research, and development.
We have continued to show leadership on climate change by developing a made-in-New Brunswick solution that respects the local economy, while taking action on the biggest challenge facing humankind.
This brief snapshot of our collaborative accomplishments over 2017 helps to prepare us for exciting opportunities for us to continue working together in 2018. We look forward to positive changes and continuing to make life better for everyone who calls New Brunswick home.
Minister of Finance