Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Answers to Moncton Chamber of Commerce Questions

The following are Rob Moir's written answers to the questions posed of him by the Moncton Chamber of Commerce at their all-candidates meeting today:

Will your party encourage the provinces to speed up the elimination of capital taxes?

Respectfully, I would suggest that the premise of this question is faulty. On a national scale, consider the recent KPMG study on business taxes and competitiveness (http://www.kpmg.ca/en/services/tax/2008special_report.html). In comparison to 10 other industrialized countries, Canada has the 3rd lowest total tax index for business – lower than traditional powerhouses like the US, UK, Japan, and Germany. Provincially, turn to the data used by Jack Mintz in our newly proposed tax system (http://www.gnb.ca/0162/New_Brunswick_Tax_System/Discussion_Paper-English.pdf). Compared to the rest of Canada, New Brunswick has the lowest or the 3rd lowest METR on capital and we hold a similar ranking when comparing the METR on all costs. We’re only behind Saskatchewan and Alberta.

We can’t simply conclude that taxes are the cause of slow business growth in this province, if this were the case, we’d be doing better than many other provinces (and we aren’t). I’d argue that in New Brunswick there are two problems – the first we talk about quietly and the second we won’t talk about at all.

(1) There’s a great deal of red tape and bureaucracy – regulations that are not only not harmonized (and I favour harmonizing to the higher standards because our companies can be regional and international leaders), but sometimes in direct conflict with each other.
(2) This is the 800-lb gorilla in the room – we have a very uncompetitive province, particularly because of a few big business interests and governments that work with them.

Both of these issues must be solved before we’d see much in the way of a gain from lower tax rates. Right now, simply lowering taxes will only favour incumbent enterprises and further reduce effective competition, thereby stunting economic growth (sustainable or otherwise).

As an economist, I would encourage lower tax rates on small-business, some form of tax rebate on new (especially environmentally-friendly) capital in small- and medium-sized businesses and startups, and targeted R&D tax credits that fit into provincial goals with a specific focus on alternative energy production as this is a rapidly growing market.

Does your party support the development of all economic energy sources in order provide a stable, diverse and flexible energy supply?

The New Democrats have a policy of emphasizing energy efficiency/productivity first. As an economist, I recommend to people the recent work of the McKinsey Global Institute (http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/reports/pdfs/Investing_Energy_Productivity/Investing_Energy_Productivity.pdf) where it is shown that the highest internal rate of return in energy investment is in energy efficiency/productivity (about 17%). I would also stress that we have a great, but underfunded, institution in Efficiency NB and it is headed by a great New Democrat – Elizabeth Weir.

As a party (but also as an economist) we would argue against expansion in the Athabasca tar sands without full environmental impact analysis. As Preston Manning points out, four barrels of fresh water are used to extract one barrel of oil. Whatever we do, we need full cost accounting. This includes complete environmental impact assessments of major projects with potential environmental impacts (e.g., a new oil refinery) – with funding for research in the public interest.

Personally, I am excited by the natural gas that we have in our province. I have worked with groups on the natural gas in the McCully field. The idea was to set up an Energy Park and create local jobs with our resources. There was no success there; I’ll happily discuss my ideas of why this happened at another time. So, instead of a thousand plus jobs employing people from Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton, we got a pipeline spur that is managed with the labour of ½ of one overtime position. The fuel is now in Boston. BUT … there is exciting news on the horizon with mention of new finds of stranded natural gas. I see New Brunswick natural gas and energy efficiency investments as going a significant way to meeting both our job creation needs and environmental objectives.

Finally, I think we should ask for a significant federal investment into a province-wide project that would study Energy Production. This study would compare traditional sources we already have, emerging sources (e.g., natural gas, wood heat), and alternative sources (e.g., wind, tidal, solar-bio-hydrogen, HVDC, cellulosic bio-fuel, energy efficiency, etc.). This would make NB a national and world leader in Energy Studies, Energy R&D, and Energy Production. It might also kick-start new manufacturing and industry.


As an individual, currently spearheading the sponsorship of a refugee family, I am becoming familiar with the immigration process. As a professor at UNBSJ, with very high international student enrolments, I know the problems associated with new immigrants trying to find work here.

Will your party review and streamline current processes to ensure that applications are processed within six to 12 months, starting with economic and business applicants?

This is directly out of the New Democrats’ platform: “Jack Layton and his team of New Democrats will [r]eview the point system used to assess new applications to match the reality of work in Canada, including specific provisions for blue-collar workers and tradespeople. …[i]ncrease financial support for the settlement process for new Canadians to assist with literacy, community integration and orientation, including bridging, mentorship, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs and resource service centres. … [s]ignificantly increase resources and support for immigration processes to reduce the huge and unacceptable backlogs that currently exist in processing applications, work to meet Canada’s target of annual immigration (1 percent of population), and establish firm targets for on-time completion of family class and spousal sponsorships.” There is little I can add.

Will your party work with the provinces and territories to develop national accreditation standards to evaluate foreign credentials, professional and trade qualifications, and certification in regulated and non-regulated occupations?

This is directly out of the New Democrats’ platform: “Jack Layton and his team of New Democrats will [a]ccelerate and streamline the recognition of foreign credentials, overseas degrees and previous employment experience in conjunction with provinces and licensing authorities.” I know this has been part of party policy for years.

Will your party work with the provinces and territories to develop innovative immigration policies, programs and processes necessary to increase the number of immigrants recruited (and more importantly) retained in our smaller regions.

A federal party can work with a provincial government when the provincial government agrees to federal involvement. Inasmuch as the provincial government would like to work on a strategy, I would be more than willing to work on the project. As I noted earlier, I have been involved in immigration issues for a few years and certainly see the benefits to New Brunswick of an immigration programme that includes smaller regions.

Will your party develop and implement an objective-based National Transportation Strategy?

Yes. The NDP has argued for a long time for a more comprehensive method of analyzing transportation (both travel and shipping). I for one would like to see greater integration between ships, rail, and trucks – ships for international shipping, rail for long-distance land-based travel, and trucks for short haul.

Within New Brunswick, I would like to explore the feasibility of light rail as a method of travel between the three major business centres in southern NB (i.e., Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton) with a hub somewhere outside of Sussex.

Will your party invest the funds necessary to complete the Restoration of the Petitcodiac River – an important environmental initiative?

Yes. I have argued for the opening of the Petitcodiac before I ever entered the fray as a politician. It is a sensible thing to do. To date, the holdup from the federal government has been MP Rob Moore of Fundy Royal with support from MP Greg Thompson (a more senior cabinet minister in Mr. Harper’s government).
While this requires coordination with the provincial government, I view this as a critical issue and one that has been held up for far too long, throwing people’s lives – from both sides – into disarray.
I would expect that we can get money from an environmental grant, and infrastructure grant, and perhaps worker training grants.

What is your party’s strategy to address Literacy Issues?

As you are well aware, investing in children is a top priority of the New Democrats – just look at our costed platform. I have written a number of times on the issue of tax cutting without mentioning programme cuts. Indeed, with those tax cuts in the first part of Mr. Harper’s mandates, we saw programme cuts across Canada, and here in NB, including many of our literacy programmes.
The New Democrats see your tax dollars as a source of coordinated social investment. I personally see literacy, and more broadly education, as a very sensible investment. Why? Because it enhances productivity, thereby attracting new investment in higher-paying jobs, and it also enhances civic responsibility. Informed people are the cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy.
The New Democrats have long advocated that training of workers include a literacy component – it is a part of our platform.
On a related note, I would like to see CBC bring back Sesame Street or something similar. There seems to be little on public TV across Canada that focuses on issues like literacy and basic numeracy. Speaking as a parent, this would be a great asset.

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