by Mary Moszynski
As appeared on Page A1

That’s what some business leaders are suggesting after Premier Shawn Graham announced he wants to “brand” the province as a dynamic place with exciting careers just months after raising business and personal tax rates.

During a speech at a chamber of commerce breakfast event in Fredericton, the premier announced he’s instructed Maurice Robichaud, deputy minister in charge of communications and marketing, to develop a new brand for the province within a year.

Graham said he wants New Brunswick to be seen as “a place where exciting careers and lifestyles await.”

Creating a brand for the province was the first recommendation of the self-sufficiency taskforce’s final report.

The report, released earlier this week, listed 91 recommendations that will help put the province on the road to economic self-sufficiency.

“Within the brand must be the message that New Brunswick has a competitive standard of living. That means wages on par with national averages,” Graham said. “That means quality, affordable housing, education and health services that are on par with the rest of the country.”

However business representatives argue the premier needs to “walk the talk.”

Residents and business owners are still grappling with across-the-board tax hikes announced in the provincial budget. Also, business leaders have said the pending 9.6 per cent rate increase from NB Power could result in job losses.

“That initiative shows that government does recognize that perception is a powerful tool to attract investment and business,” said David Plante of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. “But at the end of the day you have to walk the talk and I have heard from local businesses and from people from away that the recent hikes in taxes and electricity rates are sending a mixed message.”

Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, said he’s concerned about Graham’s assertion the province offers top-quality education and health services. It’s much more important for the province to work on improving its education system, such as boosting literacy rates, he said.

“Marketing is a wonderful thing when you’ve got something to market.”

The recent small business tax hikes took New Brunswick from among the most competitive tax environments in the country to the middle of the pack.

That’s left Andréea Bourgeois, New Brunswick director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, puzzled as to how the premier can market the province as being competitive.

Government can’t convince potential residents and investors to relocate to the province simply by producing a marketing campaign with a snazzy slogan and aggressive advertising, she said.

Instead government needs to foster a welcoming business environment with a competitive tax regime, she added.

“There are no bragging rights in being the same as everyone else,” said Bourgeois.

Graham also announced his government will fulfill an election promise to provide grants of up to $100,000 in start-up capital for new businesses and up to $60,000 for business expansion.

“We want to reward companies that are prepared to make those investments,” he said.

However Bourgeois said she’s eager to see the details of the program to see which businesses will actually benefit from the program.

Robichaud, who developed communications strategies for former premier Frank McKenna, acknowledged it will take time for people to accept a new brand.

“It’s not to say that it’ll be impregnated in everyone’s minds over the course of the few months following its definition,” he said. “However we will work over the next number of years to make sure people become aware New Brunswick is a dynamic place and an exciting place to live.”

Graham fulfilled another recommendation of the taskforce’s report by appointing Brian Dick as deputy minister responsible for the self-sufficiency agenda.

Dick had been working for the taskforce but was on loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. As deputy minister, Dick will be responsible for helping to develop government’s response to the report and work with the various departments to implement the recommendations.

Graham also announced he will soon appoint a commissioner, as recommended in the taskforce’s report, to review the structure of local government, including property taxation and unconditional grants. The taskforce said the province needs fewer, but larger, communities.

The premier reiterated his government won’t force amalgamation upon any communities.

He also promised to try and arrange an annual meeting with the prime minister and a yearly summit with business and labour leaders. Graham said he has asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with him in June.