Local business sector sees promise in throne speech, urges haste on innovation (Article)
By STEPHEN LLEWELLYN
Fredericton Knowledge Park general manager Larry Shaw wants the Tory government to move swiftly on the innovation changes promised in last week's throne speech.
"We need to move quickly through that process and get into the practical aspects of applying innovation," he said Monday.
"We can't stay at the table too long talking about it."
The Tory government's throne speech talked about creating a working group on innovation that will include academic and private-sector leaders to issue recommendations to improve innovation and research and development.
"Highlighting that as part of the throne speech was excellent," Shaw told The Daily Gleaner.
Innovation is what takes creativity and brings it to market, he said, and to create jobs, you need creativity and innovation.
"Innovation is really something that trends across every part of the throne speech, in my opinion," said Shaw.
"It's going to have a huge impact on our health and education, and one could say it already has ... When the province sets dedicated focus towards innovation, I think that sort of sets the stage for a lot of interested parties to begin rallying around that interest."
But doing things quickly tends not to be a strength of government, he said.
"That will be the challenge ... Let's keep this initiative at a fairly small group of key players and influencers," Shaw said.
"If there's going to be recommendations that get developed out of opportunities that are out there or areas to focus on, the sooner we get at that the better."
He said private-sector leaders don't have a lot of time to sit around in meetings and discuss things.
Governments have to play a role in innovation, and research and development, because the private sector can't do it alone, he said.
"Innovation will have and already has the ability to be the great equalizer," said Shaw.
"It equalizes regional areas. We in New Brunswick can very easily compete in the global marketplace."
It also allows smaller companies to make a big difference and access opportunities that might have been outside their reach before, he said.
Shaw said he also liked the way the throne speech addressed improvements to Business New Brunswick and Invest NB.
Fredericton Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Steeves also liked the references to innovation.
"There's been a lot of talk about it by Conservative, Liberal governments in recent years," he said Monday.
"It's good that they're still talking about it ... Whether this will work any better than initiatives of the past, it is hard to say."
Generating income while reducing costs is the best way to cut the deficit and innovation is the key, said Steeves.
The throne speech mentioned smart regulations, which are important, he said.
Steeves said smart regulations mean clear regulations that lay out what the government wants and what will happen if the regulations are broken.
"The wording has to be right," he said.
Smart regulations might have prevented the fears about shale gas exploration within municipal borders this summer, he said.
The throne speech is also promising a report card on government, and Steeves said that sounds interesting.
He said as a businessman, he finds it frustrating Finance Minister Blaine Higgs can't get monthly reports from some government departments.
"If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," he said.
A promise of a strategic plan on primary health care is also important to the chamber, said Steeves.
"The No. 1 priority for the chamber of commerce is physician recruitment ... If this tackles that issue we are totally supportive of it," he said.
"At the end of the day, Fredericton needs more doctors. We are 10 per cent short."
Bruce McCormack, general manager of Downtown Fredericton, said his organization was hoping to hear something in the throne speech about the province's plans for the minimum wage.
"We didn't," he said. "There just wasn't a lot of information there for us."
The Tory government delayed a scheduled increase to the minimum wage and is looking at the issue of a tip differential for servers in bars and licensed restaurants.
Another area of interest for downtown merchants is whether the province will raise the HST to fight the deficit.
Premier David Alward has said it would be a last resort.
"We were anxious to hear how government was going to look at downtowns throughout New Brunswick and if there was anything there... and there wasn't," said McCormack.
"There was a lot of other details they said were really going to come out in the budget in March. We're anxiously awaiting that."