“New Brunswick is back — in a big way.”
That’s the phrase New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs used during his annual state of the province address Thursday night at the Fredericton Convention Centre.
The event saw the premier highlight what he calls achievements by the provincial government, focusing on areas like health care, education and the economy.
“We are no longer at the edge of the cliff,” Higgs told the crowd.
“We are now standing on the cusp of greatness.”
Higgs said the province continues to attract more people, with population growth reaching numbers not seen since Confederation in 1867.
He also noted New Brunswick’s population has “gotten younger” for the first time since 1961.
“That’s because 60 per cent of the people we attracted from other provinces are prime working age and they are bringing families,” said Higgs.
While he claimed victory with increased manufacturing, seafood exports, agriculture and construction sectors, he said education, housing and health care remain a challenge.
That comes on the heels of a recent proposal by the provincial government to introduce large changes to New Brunswick’s French immersion program this fall.
Education officials recently held public consultations across the province to gain insight from parents and teachers, many of whom voiced criticism of the proposed changes.
The proposal would devote 50 per cent of the school day to learning in French and the rest to English instruction for subjects such as math, reading and writing.
That number would decrease to 40 per cent by the time a child reaches middle school.
Higgs said the consultations highlight the need to equip students with better resources for literacy and math and help kids who require targeted, professional interventions.
“I don’t pretend to have all of the solutions, and we may not all agree on the path forward,” he said.
On the topic of health care, Higgs said it is the biggest challenge in New Brunswick and that the provincial government needs to see quick action.
New Brunswick’s shortage of health-care professionals often results in hospital emergency departments in New Brunswick being forced to close.
“We are competing more than ever for health-care talent right around the world … and we are not alone,” he said, noting how every province’s health-care system seems to struggle.
While Higgs said the province is dedicating “record amounts of money” into funding better health care — such as hiring doctors and nurses — he believes funding isn’t the entire solution.
“We are going to have to do things differently … and we are,” he said.