National Newswatch

FREDERICTON — Premier Blaine Higgs says it's time to imagine a "new" New Brunswick, and he is setting goals to increase the population and grow the economy.

Higgs issued the call to action Thursday as he delivered his annual state of the province address to a business audience in Fredericton.

"There is an obvious gap between where we are now and where we want to be," Higgs said in a prepared text. "We need to stop saying 'I can't' and instead say 'I will.'"

The premier outlined the challenges facing the province, including an aging population and labour shortages.

"Over the last 50 years, the average age in New Brunswick has gone from 24 to 45 and rising," he said. "It costs eight times more to care for those over 80 than those under 65."

He said the health care system will need to hire 1,300 more nurses over the next decade just to maintain staffing at current levels.

The province has a looming skills gap that will see 120,000 jobs become available in the next 10 years, he added.

The premier said advisers from academia, business and the technology sector have advised Opportunities New Brunswick — the government's business development agency — that the province needs to embrace a pro-growth agenda.

As a result, he said, the province is opening new offices in India and Europe to attract talent and new investment. Representatives of the business development agency, the province's population growth secretariat and the University of New Brunswick left Thursday on a mission to India.

The government had previously announced that it has a target of attracting 7,500 immigrants a year by 2024, which is the maximum allowed by the federal government.

"That's why New Brunswick will be aggressively pursuing the federal government to increase our immigration intake to at least 10,000 newcomers a year," Higgs told the crowd.

The premier said New Brunswickers are by nature modest, and that has to change. He said it's time boast that the province is home to major companies such as Cooke Aquaculture — the world's largest independent seafood company — and has attracted other big global names.

He went on to list Siemens, IBM, EXXON, McCain Foods, Irving, Imperial Manufacturing, Barbour and Moosehead.

"Any of those sound familiar?" he asked.

Higgs said in the years ahead, Opportunities New Brunswick will be focused on attracting business in emerging sectors such as cybersecurity, digital health and energy innovation.

He cited as an example recent announcements about efforts to develop small modular nuclear power reactors in the province for export.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 30, 2020.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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