If New Brunswick wants to become a ‘have’ province in the near future it has to develop its non-renewable resources. That is the reality of public finances in Canada in 2014.
Right now four of Canada’s 10 provinces do not receive equalization payments. Three of them – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador – earn resource revenues that are either equal to or greater than New Brunswick’s equalization payments. The fourth, British Columbia, earns far less from its resource development, the majority of which comes from the forestry sector. B.C.s primary sources of revenue are taxes, user fees, health plan premiums and licenses.
I did a quick comparison of of government revenues in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick. Here’s my initial interpretation of the data:
- Growing populations mean a greater percentage of personal income tax revenue for the western provinces, and as the population increases so does the corporate sector, leading to a higher percentage of corporate tax revenue.
- Provincial sales tax revenue is fairly consistent across the three provinces. Alberta doesn’t have provincial sales tax.
- Federal transfer payments are tied to per capita numbers and are consistent with the relative size of each province’s population.
So what is New Brunswick to do?
Increasing public revenues is the single most important task awaiting our next government. We simply do not make enough money to pay for the programs and services we value. While savings can be achieved by introducing new technological innovations and through cost-cutting, the best way to afford the stuff we want is to make more money.
How will New Brunswick make money if not through the development of its natural gas, mining and forestry resources? I don’t know – but I’d love to know if other revenue models exist. I’d also like to hear about a comprehensive resource development plan that addresses public health concerns, climate change, Aboriginal rights and revenue-sharing. Why? Because our values are shifting and public policy must follow.
For the past 60 years, North America has witnessed incredible economic growth and we placed great value on capitalism’s ability to improve our living standards, but we are now making room for a second value system. Our concern for our environment and the impacts of climate change is butting up against classic economic growth models and it is creating conflict across the continent – and here in New Brunswick.
A recent CBC/Radio Canada poll found what most of us probably suspected – New Brunswickers are split on shale gas development, with 49 for development and 44 per cent against. Nonetheless, 61 per cent believe shale gas is important to the province’s future. It seems some New Brunswickers are prepared to hold their noses at the prospect of shale gas development.
Is it possible, in 2014, to be a ‘have’ province in Canada without natural resource development? The data says no – which is why we must figure out a way to get to yes.
Lisa Hrabluk is the founder of Wicked Ideas. Follow her on Twitter @lisahrabluk.
Wicked Ideas’ 2014 election series is financially supported, in part, by the New Brunswick Business Council. Wicked Ideas retains full editorial control of all content and members of the New Brunswick Business Council are not consulted or informed of Wicked Ideas’ content prior to publication.