Dec. 21, 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following message was issued today by Premier Shawn Graham.
As another year draws to a close, it's a time to reflect upon 2009. The year began with the world in the midst of one of the most severe economic downturns in decades. While this presented challenges in New Brunswick, the foundation we laid in our first two years in government, and our rapid response to the economic slowdown, meant that the province not only weathered the storm, we continued to move toward our goal of a more prosperous, more self-sufficient New Brunswick. In September and October we actually posted unemployment rates lower than the national average - a New Brunswick first. Rising literacy rates are helping us turn the page on literacy rates that have been too low for too long. Our population continues to grow. More New Brunswickers are home, not just for Christmas, but for good.
While the global economy is now in recovery, we can't ease up on the investments and the decisions that will help us create and seize the opportunities needed to continue toward self-sufficiency. In the final year of our mandate we will focus on seizing the opportunity to keep and create jobs, creating the best learning opportunities, and ensuring equal opportunity for access to health and senior care.
In 2010 we will continue to spur our economy and create more job opportunities for New Brunswickers. Competitive tax rates are making New Brunswick an even more attractive place to be in business, and that means more jobs for New Brunswickers. Our $1.6-billion investments in infrastructure are putting thousands of people to work building New Brunswick. We are also moving ahead on a poverty reduction plan that will ensure that all New Brunswickers can share in opportunity.
We're committed to creating the best opportunities to learn. We've put 400 more teachers in our classrooms since 2006, and funding for education will hit a record high again this year. As well, we're freezing university tuition for a third consecutive year, and community college tuition for a fifth consecutive year. We doubled the tuition rebate, and have put a cap on student debt. In 2010 we will introduce a new, independent community college system so that even more New Brunswickers can get the skills they need to compete.
We will continue to ensure access to health and senior care. There are 153 more doctors and 357 more nurses working in New Brunswick since 2006, and the restructuring of health authorities has reduced costs by $25 million, which is being reinvested in front-line care. In 2010 we will be making record investments in health infrastructure, and massive investments in modernizing and expanding nursing home infrastructure, and we've honoured our commitment to increase the low-income senior's benefit to $400 from $100.
Looking ahead to 2010, the issue dominating discussions across the province is our plan for NB Power and the proposed agreement with Hydro-Québec. I understand that this decision took many New Brunswickers by surprise. Being mindful that many New Brunswickers still have questions and concerns about this proposed agreement, my colleages and I are making every effort to explain the reasons behind the decision, and its benefits to New Brunswickers. As well, an independent advisory panel is currently undertaking a thorough and rigorous analysis of the proposed agreement.
There are realities - rising rates, unsustainable debt levels, significant future risk and a high dependence on fossil fuels - that are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome without taking control of our future and making changes to NB Power. While I continue to believe that the principles of this proposed agreement and our partnership with Hydro-Québec offer us the best chance to overcome these challenges, I have heard the concerns of New Brunswickers. We will give New Brunswickers' concerns, and the recommendations of the advisory panel, every consideration as we continue discussions with Hydro-Québec toward a final agreement. Our objective has been and continues to be securing the best possible agreement for New Brunswickers that will address the challenges at NB Power today, and move us closer to self-sufficiency in the future.
I am very proud of the progress that New Brunswickers have made together in 2009 and over the past three years. We all share a great love for and pride in our province, and a great belief that this is the very best place to be, not only at the holidays but all year round.