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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.

Full Overhaul Needed of NB’s Broken Property Tax System

commentary by Rosaire L’Italien in The Daily Gleaner
 
A tax system in crisis. $50 million in fabricated renovations. Public trust compromised and eroding. The New Democratic Party has been calling for a full overhaul of this province’s broken, incomprehensible and unfair property tax system for some time and this recent crisis reaffirms that.
 
Currently our property tax assessment system is a tale of two New Brunswicks.
It’s the best of times for the large corporations, which are being given endless tax breaks by not having their property tax assessments increased since the 1970s, which has cost this province hundreds of millions of dollars…
And it is the worst of times for thousands of everyday New Brunswickers who, through no fault of their own, have seen their property taxes skyrocket through the roof with no explanation.
 
New Brunswickers are frustrated when they see their property values decrease and their required tax payment increase. What further exasperates New Brunswickers is properties in the same neighborhoods assessed at different values, with the lesser valued property paying a higher tax bill. This is totally unacceptable.
 
 
According to Premier Gallant this problem has been with us since 2011. Premier Gallant stated that the same errors were committed in 2011 under the previous Progressive Conservative government of David Alward. This illustrates a pattern where New Brunswickers have overpaid their tax bills for a number of years. It must be determined whether political interference occurred in both 2011 and 2017.
 
 
We also believe that accountability begins and ends with the Premier. Our Premier has not been one to accept responsibility for the government’s actions and decisions. We have seen in many instances where the Premier and government placed the blame with staffers and the civil service. We have seen this recently with safety standards at Parlee Beach and financing for the Bas-Caraquet shipyard being blamed on civil servants rather than Ministers taking responsibility for things that went wrong on their watch. We urge the Premier and his ministers to lead and accept responsibility not only in this matter but in any issue where public trust has been eroded.
 
 
What the New Democratic Party knows is that the two previous governments cut jobs in Service New Brunswick. We believe that this reduced workforce contributed to the hasty assessments compounded by possible interference from the Premier’s office.
We applaud that Justice Robertson will lead an inquiry into how property assessments are done. While we support an inquiry, we feel that Justice Robertson should be given a broader mandate beyond just the recent assessment processes, and undertake a full-scale review of the property tax system. Our hope is for a more open taxation process that takes away sweetheart deals given by the province to large companies behind closed doors, where their properties are not assessed for 40+ years. We need a system that’s fair across the board. We also feel that any inquiry into this issue requires full public disclosure: recent changes to the Inquiries Act will give Judge Robertson authority to restrict public access to information or prohibit public reporting. This could allow for hearings to be held in private. That would be unacceptable to New Brunswickers.
 
Finally, we are more than a little confused that at the exact same time as the Premier announced Justice Robertson’s inquiry he also announced that the property tax assessment branch of Service New Brunswick would be made “independent.” That seemed an awful lot like announcing the inquiry’s recommendations at the same time as launching the inquiry. Our hope is that “independent” does not mean privatized in the eyes of the Premier. Privatization will lower standards of work and lower the standard of living for workers. Giving control of property tax assessments to for profit private companies has been tried elsewhere with negative results, and is the wrong move.

 

New Brunswick Can’t Afford Ontario’s Mistake

Further to our previous statement on the property tax scandal, the New Brunswick New Democratic Party has serious concerns that property tax assessments will be turned over to the private sector.

We have seen privatization happen in Ontario, and the results are clear that this is wrong. Most provinces use arms-length independent Crown Corporations to conduct property tax assessments that are free from political interference.

Ontario has privatized their assessment process. Costs for the average homeowner rose, privatization resulted in layoffs, reduced oversight and services.

We reiterate that Justice Robertson must be given a broad mandate to investigate this scandal fully and completely and all information must be made public.

NDP Statement on Property Tax Assessment Scandal

New Brunswick NDP Interim Leader Rosaire L’Italien announced Wednesday that he was deeply troubled with recent revelations that the Premier’s Office was linked to the property tax scandal.

 

Recent revelations uncovered by CBC showed that the Premier’s Office had pushed to fast-track a new automated assessment process which caused over 2000 homeowners to be overcharged on their property taxes for renovations that hadn’t been done. The current government ignored warnings from Service New Brunswick staff that the new automated assessment system would take 2-3 years to properly test and implement in the province.

 

L’Italien called for a broader review of the system outside the assessment processes announced by the Premier. “We applaud the government for launching a review into the matter, but Justice Robertson should be given a broader mandate and undertake a full-scale review of the property tax system. It’s time we had a more open taxation process that prevents the perception that large companies and corporations have had their assessments reduced and home owners have risen. We need a system that’s fair and transparent for all.

 

“New Brunswickers know their taxes pay for crucial services and are willing to pay their fair and honest share. When that does not happen, that is an issue of trust.

 

“It’s time for a full scale review and overhaul of the property tax system.”

NDP Statement on Banning Corporate and Union Donations

“The NDP’s position has long been that corporate and union donations should be banned from politics so we applaud this move by the Liberals to copy another part of our policy,” said NB NDP Interim Leader Rosaire L’Italien. “However, even after cutting it in half, the personal contributions limit is still unusually high at $3000 a year, still one of the highest in Canada, and double what is allowed for federal political parties. This allows wealthy individuals to disproportionately influence the system. The NDP advocates that this should be lowered to $1000.”

However Mr. L’Italien was critical of the way that the government went about it.

“The timeline for doing this is very arbitrary and self-serving and the roll out was not consultative. It’s deeply cynical of the Liberals to ban corporate and union donations the day after a big fundraiser with all of their big money friends.” Said Mr L’Italien, referring to the Liberal Party’s annual $500-a-plate fundraiser which is scheduled for May 31st, the day before the changes come into effect.


« La position du NPD a longtemps été que les dons offerts aux partis politiques de la part des entreprises et des syndicats devraient être interdits. Alors nous applaudissons ce geste des libéraux de copier une autre partie de notre plateforme » a déclaré le chef intérimaire du NPD, Rosaire L’Italien.

« Cependant, même après avoir diminué de moitié la limite des contributions personnelles, cette limite est encore exceptionnellement élevée puisqu’elle se monte à 3000 $ par année. Cette limite est toujours l’une des plus élevées au Canada et le double de ce qui est autorisé pour les partis politiques fédéraux. Cela permet aux individus riches d’influencer de manière disproportionnée le système. Le NPD préconise que la limite soit abaissée à 1000 $. »

De plus, M. L’Italien a critiqué la façon dont le gouvernement va mettre cette mesure en place.

« Le calendrier pour appliquer ces changements est très arbitraire et à l’avantage des libéraux. De surcroit, les autres partis n’ont pas été consultés quant au déploiement de ces changements. Il est profondément cynique de la part des libéraux d’interdire les dons des entreprises et des syndicats le lendemain d’une grande collecte de fonds avec tous leurs gros donateurs » a déclaré M. L’Italien en se référant à la collecte de fonds annuelle de 500$ par assiette du Parti libéral prévue pour le 31 mai, le jour précédant l’entrée en vigueur de ces changements.

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