2020-05-10 NB's Road to Recovery

With New Brunswick’s move to the “Orange” COVID-19 Recovery Plan phase late last week, our province has taken another important step in our response to the crisis. We’ve been able to achieve best-case-scenario projections and are now seeing more benefits to that success. As Dr Russell has said, dealing with COVID-19 is not a linear process and we will be dealing with it to varying degrees for a long time to come – but this is still an important milestone and New Brunswickers should be proud of our collective efforts. We have made tangible progress by working together, following the advice of experts and taking decisive action. Let’s keep doing that. 

Many groups, organizations and individuals deserve credit for putting New Brunswick in the relatively positive position we are in today. All levels of government have been responsive to the crisis – particularly the provincial government and its all-party provincial COVID-19 cabinet committee. The leadership of Dr Russell and the cooperation by all parties and political leaders through the crisis has set an example for all to follow.  

I am so proud of the business community’s response to COVID-19 – both because of their efforts to follow Public Health advice and contribute to our collective success and because of their adaptability, innovative efforts and resiliency that are core pieces of the entrepreneurial spirit.  

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the province’s media members over the past two months. I believe that keeping New Brunswickers informed throughout the crisis has been a key contributing factor to our success. I know it has been a relentless grind for many of you, but your efforts have not gone unnoticed! 

Of course – none of the previously mentioned efforts would have mattered if citizens did not step up to do our part as individuals. This really is an #NBProud moment, and we can have many more of those in the future if we can harness this collectiveness that we are living and breathing right now. 

These are still early days and there are many unknowns that will be with us for quite some time, but there have been a few key observations that we shouldn’t let pass in the moment. 

Government can make decisions and act more quickly than it usually does. Being in crisis-mode with a State of Emergency in effect and unprecedented political cooperation are obviously the big factors to getting decisions made more quickly over the past two months. Those won’t last, but that spirit of “getting things done” can – by doing more to empower the civil service once this is all over. 

It has long been a concern of the private sector in New Brunswick that it is difficult to compete with government as an employer – this has led to many talented people moving to the public sector over the years. This means that the civil service is now full of talented people that are eager to use their experience, creativity, and passion.

There are opportunities to do things differently if we are properly motivated. This is likely true across all government departments (and outside of government), but the two most obvious and impacted are health and education.  It seems like for decades that there has been a consensus that both of these areas are in need of reform and modernization – but transformative action has not taken place. Now when pressed by the virus and State of Emergency both have responded with developing and implementing innovative solutions that can remain with us moving forward. 

The relationship between the economy, the government’s finances, and its ability to deliver services are symbiotic and inextricably linked. In other words, in order to provide the services that New Brunswickers need and deserve – we must all be focused on economic growth and business success. That is a message that we have been delivering for many years and it will become clearer as the economic toll of the virus mounts. Government revenues will be strained and the only sustainable way to get back into a better financial position will be economic growth – so please continue to support your favourite local businesses. (The other two options are raising taxes and/or cutting services – neither of which are appealing – and quite frankly, NB doesn’t have a lot of room left for either).  

Moving forward, government should view business as more of a partner when it comes to policy making, program development and economic decision making. Get us in on the ground floor – consultation processes can often seem like the government checking off a box and the decisions have already been made. We can help guide processes that makes practical, real-world sense and help set realistic timelines. An example of this would be if government were to at a minimum tell the business community in advance, the actual date that the ‘yellow’ COVID-19 Recovery Plan phase will begin (barring circumstances to prevent it), especially since we’ve already been told what is to be included in it, so that businesses can prepare in relation to human resources and other requirements.  

We have to be forward-looking and leverage our strengths. The whole world is dealing with COVID-19 and facing many of the same struggles as we are in Canada and New Brunswick. This is as close to a global reset and creating a “new normal” as we can ever expect to get. With our borders being closed for the foreseeable future, we should soberly evaluate our strengths and challenges (most of which are well known) and plan to focus on what we do best throughout the various regions of the province. Despite our isolation, New Brunswickers are feeling connected to a common purpose like has been rarely seen – I hope this continues throughout the recovery process and beyond. 

As the reopening and recovery process continues to unfold and evolve, we cannot become complacent – Dr Russell has told us to expect setbacks, but we can continue to limit those through our collective actions. We also cannot become complacent when it comes to supporting our local businesses that are so central to what makes our communities great. They will need our support now more than ever. And let’s not slip back into old ways of interacting with government – which can sometimes feel like a push/pull relationship – we now know that we can do better at pulling in the same direction with a common purpose, like we have been for the past two months – let’s keep that momentum going! 

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with more than 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’