Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the newly elected premier of the province of New Brunswick, Canada, Shawn Graham. Premier Graham was in New York City to meet with business and financial leaders, as well as to participate in a new tourism launch for the province. He outlined his vision for New Brunswick's future and what he hoped to achieve during his term in office.
Question: What is the Charter for Change?
Graham: As the province's 31st premier, I have been given a unique opportunity. Our province has traditionally punched above its weight as a smaller province. The other Canadian provinces combined don't match New Brunswick's export capacity. As part of the Charter for Change, we want to make job creation a priority again and build a self-sufficient province.
Question: What do you mean by "self-sufficient"?
Graham: Every other province is asking for increased equalization payments from Ottawa; I'm asking for none. Twenty-four percent of our provincial budget is now dedicated by revenues from Ottawa. I want to position New Brunswick as a contributor to the Confederation of Provinces.
Question: What specific measures are you implementing to accomplish this?
Graham: The government is now reviewing 91 recommendations on self-sufficiency. The bottom line is we want to become a more populous and more prosperous province. We are in a period of population decline and we must recognize that that's a problem.
Question: How do you propose to address this problem?
Graham: We need to increase our salaries and wages. More importantly, we need to create job opportunities so that people will settle in New Brunswick. We have an opportunity to do this by positioning New Brunswick as an energy hub.
Question: Tell me about some specific plans for the energy sector.
Graham: There are a lot of exciting things happening in New Brunswick's energy sector. Irving Oil has announced a new $7 billion refinery project that will bring capacity to 600,000 barrels. Irving Oil already exports 76 percent of its product to the United States. Amazingly, north of New York, 6 out of every 10 cars are running on Irving Oil gas. The new refinery, which will employ 1,000 permanent workers, will push this to 80 percent. Strategically, we are in a perfect position to be the energy hub of the Eastern Seaboard. In fact, Governor Baldacci of Maine and I have just signed a new Memorandum of Understanding on energy. Additionally, a new trunk line between New Brunswick and the United States is a possibility. Security of supply is the message today.
Question: What other new generation capabilities are coming online?
Graham: We're looking at building a new nuclear reactor. Currently, we have a 630 MW nuclear reactor outside of St. John in Point Lepreau. We're looking at advanced Canadian technology or foreign technology to accomplish this project. All options are on the table.
Question: What about renewables, e.g., wind energy?
Graham: We've just partnered with TransAlta of Alberta to put 75 MW of wind power on the grid; and we've recently received proposals for an additional 300 MW of wind power projects to come online, bringing a total of approximately 400 MW of intermittent wind power on the grid.
Question: How about conservation measures?
Graham: I'm proud to say New Brunswick has the best energy-efficiency and conservation programs in Canada. We have a four-pronged approach that includes renovation of existing housing stock and energy-efficiency measures for new construction, tenant-occupied residential and commercial buildings, as well as for industrial facilities.
Question: What other sectors are being targeted for growth?
Graham: Tourism is one. We're also at forefront for universities in New Brunswick to become better aligned with our community colleges, thereby increasing opportunities for R&D. We have, per capita, more universities than any other Canadian jurisdiction and one of the highest graduation rates within our public school system. But it's been over 40 years since we've had a review undertaken of our universities and community colleges, and that is under way right now.
Question: Are specific educational incentives being offered?
Graham: The former government had introduced a tuition cash-back incentive, wherein the provincial government would pay back (in the form of a tax credit) 50 percent of postsecondary tuition costs paid after Jan. 1, 2005 - with a $10,000 lifetime cap - to students who chose to live, work, and pay taxes in New Brunswick - no matter where in Canada they pursued their education. This program has just started and is being implemented as we speak.
Accessibility on the front end is also being addressed. Our government, on its first day in office, initiated a $2,000 grant program for first-year university students at public institutions. We've seen a large increase in enrollment numbers as a result of this program. For second-, third-, and fourth-year students, we've also eliminated the parental contribution requirement for student loans.
Question: You're offering incentives to students, but what specific incentives are you offering to businesses to locate in New Brunswick?
Graham: Because we are a small province, we have the ability to adapt to the requirements of the business community. We'll tailor a plan around a company's needs. I'm proud of our many successes in New Brunswick - like McCain Foods and Moosehead Breweries. McCain Foods is truly a global company; it brought the world to New Brunswick.
Question: Is New Brunswick partnering with the other provinces or the U.S.?
Graham: This year I assume an important role as Chair of the Council of the Federation of provinces. I've taken a cooperative approach. We are in the process of releasing the Atlantic Gateway Strategy. As I said, we are an export-producing province, and we are the gateway to the U.S. marketplace. I have been reaching out to my counterparts in the United States on a level that, historically, we are not accustomed to in New Brunswick. I've met with Governor Patrick of Massachusetts and I'll meet with New York's Governor Spitzer while I'm here.
Question: Any closing thoughts?
Graham: It's an exciting time in New Brunswick. We have a unique opportunity to forge a new path for New Brunswick and we're going to take it.