Is Premier Putting Vulnerable New Brunswickers At Risk?

Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien in The Daily Gleaner which appeared April 26th 2017

We are concerned that the property tax scandal will impact negatively many of the most vulnerable members of our community. New Brunswickers are fully aware of the fast-tracked process that has led to incorrect property tax assessments. We have seen property values rise substantially while no actual assessment was done to ensure accuracy.

We believe that Premier Brian Gallant had his chief of staff in the premier’s office direct Service New Brunswick to speed up the assessment process that has created false assessments and false renovations, and created a level of anxiety for property owners, tenants, seniors and their families that no person should endure.

The anxiety and worry that has extended to renters and residents of seniors’ homes will add to the burden that New Brunswickers already face due to huge challenges from the policies of this government. This is wrong.

We believe that unless this government calls for a full stop to the collection of property taxes where assessments rose higher than the percentage allowed by law, citizens as well as the property owners will feel and experience the brunt of this scandal.

Mr. Gallant’s government in the 2½ since it has been elected has raised taxes and increased fees on many services New Brunswickers need and upon which they depend. A rent increase for tenants and a rising cost for seniors due to interference from the premier are additional costs that can’t be shouldered by an already financially burdened community.

The costs of rent, food, electricity and transportation have been rising substantially, while wages stay about the same. People are already struggling to make ends meet.

For many New Brunswick tenants, paying the rent consumes a large percentage of income. Workers being paid minimum wage have a hard time paying the costs of day-to-day living. A rise in rent for them will be too much.

A shock increase in rents due to incorrect property tax assessments will create a tipping point financially for the most vulnerable New Brunswickers. That concerns us and should concern all residents of the province. More than 100,000 New Brunswickers live in poverty. This includes a staggering 23,000 people under the age of 18. New Brunswick simply can’t afford these tax increases.

For tenants on income assistance, rents consume almost all of the money that a person receives, and an added cost to their rents will be a burden they’ll be unable to address.

With fewer finances to operate households, this can and will create other unnecessary costs that all taxpayers in New Brunswick will have to cover.

The interference on the part of Premier Gallant has and will have a lasting negative effect on the growth of New Brunswick and impact people of our community directly.

Recently, New Brunswickers have heard that Cecile Casista of the New Brunswick Seniors Coalition has raised concerns that Nursing Homes fees have risen, and a nursing-home owner in Moncton cited property taxes as one of the direct causes for rising costs. The cost to seniors and their families is already high. More costs due to made-up property tax assessments aren’t only another financial challenge, but wrong.

We call on the premier to reverse the assessments, put tax payments on hold and allow Service New Brunswick to do its due diligence to ensure assessments are accurate and fair. New Brunswick property owner shouldn’t have to appeal their assessments where the values of the property have risen above the percentage legally allowed. The premier must act on this immediately to begin righting the wrong that he has created.

We believe that our tax system requires a complete overhaul, including the property assessment process. It requires no political interference, and Service New Brunswick staff must be permitted to do their jobs without interference to ensure accurate assessments.

We call on Premier Gallant to act immediately.

Rosaire L’Italien‎ is the interim leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party.