Premier talks health and taxes with St. John’s Board of Trade
Posted on October 26, 2023 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments
St. John’s Board of Trade CEO AnnMarie Boudreau says it was natural to pose questions on healthcare to Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey during a St. John’s Board of Trade event this week. As she told Atlantic Business Magazine, apart from the interest of companies active in the sector, access to primary health services is a top concern for employers.
Business owners and managers need to be certain of the availability of services for their families, employees and employee families (and yes, themselves). A lack of access to proper care can risk losing people to lengthier acute illnesses, or longer-term issues undermining their overall health. A lack of availability can also be a factor in recruitment, Boudreau said.
“As employers, people think about the whole person right now,” she said, explaining why the Board is paying so much attention to healthcare.
The Board had previously held a Health-specific event in September, putting related questions to special guests Health Minister Tom Osborne and Deputy Minister Dr. Pat Parfrey. Boudreau’s questions to Furey following his State of the Province speech continued that focus.
“I’m wondering if you would be able to expand a little bit on what ‘improving access’ would look like, and what plans are underway,” the CEO put to the premier.
“If anybody …promises that everybody is going to have a family doctor in the next year or two or three, I would encourage you all to laugh them out of here.”
—Andrew Furey, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador
Furey was visibly engaged, leaning in, speaking in detail, clearly passionate. A surgeon by trade and training, one who is maintaining his credentials while in office, Furey highlighted the Health Accord, a highly publicized engagement effort launched in the province in 2020, ending with a report to government in 2022, with recommendations for positive transformations in the province’s health system over the next 10 years. He also pointed to more specific actions to date under the health umbrella, including changes to scope of practice for nurse practitioners and registered nurses, pharmacists out in the community treating minor ailments without requiring a doctor’s referral, improved financial incentives for health professional recruitment, changes for speedier specialist credentialling, and a start on longer-term efforts to build more family care teams. It’s about focusing on access to care, he explained, not about physically having a doctor in every community.
“If anybody stands on this stage and promises that everybody is going to have a family doctor in the next year or two or three, I would encourage you all to laugh them out of here. Because that is just not a real promise,” he said.
No election ‘any time soon’
Apart from healthcare, Boudreau took the opportunity to ask the premier about opening the door for taxi-alternative services like Uber and Lyft (something the Board had lobbied for), about housing, cost of living and possible relief for small businesses from inflationary pressures. While Furey referenced actions already taken, he didn’t so much as tease any specific relief ahead, leaving it to the provincial budget process.
Boudreau also asked about the possibility of a provincial election.
On the stage, Furey said it was natural for there to be election speculation after a political leadership race is held (the Opposition Progressive Conservatives named Tony Wakeham leader on Oct. 14). “I am principally and primarily focused on delivering results for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador right now and an election has not even entered my thought process (…) We’re not calling an election any time soon,” he said.
By comparison, it was a more limited response to reporters just moments later. Furey said no one was headed to the polls… just now. Specifically, he said: “No chance of an election before Christmas.”
When the natural follow-up was asked, of whether people might expect to hear more in the spring regarding a possible election in 2024, the questioning was cut off.
“(Our) momentum is reflected in something else we haven’t seen here before: true and sustained population growth.”
—Andrew Furey, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador
‘State of the Province’ address
Before the Q&As, Furey had offered a wide-ranging speech covering a lot of what is likely to be raised whenever an election is called in future. He spoke on topics including healthcare, childcare, cost of living but also employment and population numbers. He described Newfoundland and Labrador as the “best place” to live and work, dismissed “naysayers” and stuck to a theme of optimism for the future.
“It’s too easy to get bogged down in the negativity,” the premier said.
Dropping in a fresh bit of criticism on the federal carbon tax, he more positively mentioned Newfoundland and Labrador has the second-lowest gas tax in the country. He spoke about rate mitigation vis-à-vis the provincial and federal governments’ negotiated relief on Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Project costs. And he noted the new “Future Fund” established by the province from oil revenues, with expectations of having $300 million banked by year-end.
“Given the new industries that we’ve seen develop and the longstanding ones being reimagined, our momentum is reflected in something else we haven’t seen here before: true and sustained population growth,” he said.
Boudreau told Atlantic Business Magazine she agreed with taking a moment for a little optimism. She said it’s important for businesses to feel like it’s OK to celebrate or even just talk about the things that are going well, while recognizing there are still challenges for business, industries or the province as a whole.
“Newfoundland and Labrador’s population growth rate lags the national average, and this appears to have translated into weaker economic activity than elsewhere.”
—Hélène Bégin and Marc Desormeaux, principal economists, Desjardins
Desjardins principal economists Marc Desormeaux and Hélène Bégin authored an “economic viewpoint” report published the same day as the State of the Province address. In looking at activity across the provinces, they found: “Newfoundland and Labrador’s population growth rate lags the national average, and this appears to have translated into weaker economic activity than elsewhere. Hiring and retail sales are slowing and have not kept up with the gains seen in other jurisdictions.”
At the same time, looking ahead, the economists stated the province still fares well in relative affordability. Home sales and prices have not been as hard‑hit here by rate hikes. There’s strong major project activity right now and on the horizon tied to natural resources, boosting capital investment into the province, including the West White Rose extension and the Voisey’s Bay mine expansion.
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