By Mary Moszynski
As appeared on page A1

Business groups are anxiously awaiting today’s release of the province’s self-sufficiency taskforce’s final report, hoping the blueprint for economic independence focuses on a competitive tax regime.

Francis McGuire and Gilles LePage, the taskforce’s chairmen, are set to release their final report complete with a series of recommendations this morning.

However, already groups are skeptical of the report’s findings based on previous comments and reports from the taskforce.

“First thing is there are a lot of concerns the taskforce will recommend either financial or tax incentives that may favour large businesses,” said Andreea Bourgeois of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “Small businesses are the economic engine of New Brunswick.” The taskforce has already said it favours a tax regime in which businesses must earn their tax breaks by investing in employee training and infrastructure.

As well, McGuire has said it will be large businesses that will ultimately push the province towards economic self-sufficiency.

However Bourgeois said she hopes the taskforce doesn’t forget about the province’s small businesses.

About 98 per cent of the province’s firms have fewer than 50 employees, she said.

The taskforce has said self-sufficiency means boosting the province’s population and increasing wages so they’re on par with national averages.

“There is no economist at the head of the taskforce because high taxes and high wages don’t go hand-in-hand,” Bourgeois said.

David Plante of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters said he’s equally concerned about the taskforce’s musings about higher wages.

“The issue with regard to wages won’t be driven by public policy but by the marketplace,” he said.

“And government intervention in the labour market will only lead to less productive, less flexible and a less competitive workforce.” Plante said he sees the taskforce as a positive initiative and hopes to see a blueprint that will attract needed investment to the province.

However he said he hopes the taskforce realizes the importance of an aggressive tax regime.

“Providing relief in terms of making investments would seem to be a solid approach,” he said. “But the problem lies in the fact you need a positive taxation regulatory regime to attract the investments in the first place.” Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, said it’s understandable business groups have some concerns.

“I think that you’re seeing all kinds of reasons to be concerned. You’ve got costs of operating going up, you’ve got people saying businesses have got to earn their tax cuts.”

The real problem is that behind the taskforce’s controversial statements and proposals are some interesting ideas that could attract new businesses, he said.

“Hidden in the tone and the language around basically some very anti-business proposals are some things that could open New Brunswick for business.”