FREDERICTON — The premier of New Brunswick says more than $200 million in new private investment projects are an indicator of growth in the province over the past year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blaine Higgs delivered his annual state of the province address Feb. 10, but instead of addressing a large business audience in Fredericton, he delivered the speech online and via community cable television due to health restrictions.
Higgs joked that instead of a packed ballroom, there were only about 10 people in the room. He said the province continues to grapple with the second wave of COVID-19 and that many people are uncertain about what the future holds.
“It is more important than ever that we stay focused on our priorities,” he said. “Since the pandemic struck, we have incurred incremental costs of approximately $202 million to help New Brunswick get through the crisis. Additionally, we did not curtail any of our originally planned and capital expenditures for the fiscal 2020-2021.”
He said the government has remained disciplined with spending because of the difficulty in predicting how the pandemic will evolve.
Higgs said there are a number of positive indicators regarding the provincial economy.
New construction hit its highest level in more than three years in December and real estate sales are breaking records in both volume and price, he said.
Higgs said his government will continue to push for the development of small, modular nuclear reactors and will invest $20 million in ARC Clean Energy Technology, an American company operating in that sector with an office in the province. ARC Canada is one of two companies operating in Saint John that is hoping to develop and market the technology in the province.
“We are convinced that, through this investment, not only will we support the development of local expertise, we will also contribute to creating a critical mass to attract the best talent, which will enable other companies to grow,” he said.
ARC Canada’s chairman, Donald Wolf, responded to the premier’s comments by issuing a statement saying the money from the province is conditional on the company collecting matching funding that he said will come from private investors.
The premier said his government is confident there will be 5G internet connectivity throughout New Brunswick within the next three years.
He said the province will conduct a 90-day review of the rental situation in New Brunswick following calls earlier in the week for rent control and a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, from tenant and low-income groups.
When it comes to health care, Higgs said his government is focused on reducing wait times and exploring opportunities to centralize some services and recruit specialists.
Despite his positive message, Higgs also warned about falling oil prices and federal carbon pricing plans.
“We are seeing an unprecedented increase in new regulations imposed by the federal government,” he said. “The future federal plans around carbon pricing and clean fuel standards together would create a perfect storm in New Brunswick.
“Costs for our provincial utility alone could rise by 25 per cent,” he said. “And that’s just with the federal government’s new rules on carbon. When I look at our oil and gas sector, I am very concerned.”
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