Question Period: Property Tax – 13 December 2016

Here is the video and transcript of oral questions, recorded in the language in which it was spoken.

Mr. Coon: CBC’s Robert Jones has published a series of stories drawing attention to the fact that New Brunswick has forgone nearly $380 million in property tax revenue over the last 40 years. Some of these tax expenditures were designed to meet important social goals, such as preserving agricultural land, but others have long ago outlived their raison d’être, such as exempting Irving Oil’s petroleum storage terminal or the Irving Repsol LNG terminal. I have tabled a motion that would see the government publish revenues forgone through tax expenditures so it is transparent to all New Brunswickers where we are giving up tax revenue and for what purpose. Will the Minister of Finance commit to supporting this motion so that New Brunswickers can have a transparent accounting of revenues forgone?

Hon. Ms. Rogers: The province is currently conducting a review of all tax expenditures. Of course, it is very important for us to take into consideration the priorities of our province. We have a fiscal responsibility to get our house in order. Also, we want a system of taxes that is relevant, that is fair, that is progressive, and that also serves both economic and social purposes. I am happy to say that we are taking on this review. It is a thorough review of all expenditures together so that we are not looking at it piecemeal. There is impact, interplay, among them. It is important that we do stay relevant. Yes, we are committed to doing this review. Results will come back to government, and we will make some decisions. Thank you.

Mr. Coon: One of the things that CBC’s Robert Jones found was that large freehold forestland—all forestlands, in fact—have received special tax treatment for years, whether or not the land is owned by a large multinational corporation or a family and whether or not it is managed sustainably. For example, Brookfield, a global asset management corporation, owns 308 ha of freehold forestland in New Brunswick, valued at $228 million. For tax purposes, the province assesses it for $31 million. J.D. Irving owns even more land than that. We want to see fairness, as the minister has said. The question is: Will the minister modernize the property tax treatment of corporate-owned freehold forestlands so that billion-dollar corporations start paying their fair share?

Hon. Ms. Rogers: I would like to thank the member of the third party for the question. Of course, we want to consider competitiveness and fairness. In this, we have to consider individuals and small business owners. We have to consider what is fair and what is progressive. All these principles have to guide us in how we go forward with treating taxes. It is also important to say that, with respect to tax credits, tax exemptions, and tax rebates, all these systems were built by multi governments over many, many years. It is important that we commit to take a look at these, and that is what we are doing.

Mr. Speaker:
Final question.

Mr. Coon: In 2012, the Department of Finance launched an initiative to make the property tax system fairer, more equitable, and transparent. It published a white paper, in fact, called Improving New Brunswick’s property tax system. At public accounts the other day, when I asked the Deputy Minister of Finance whether they had evaluated the effectiveness of this effort that was undertaken just four years ago, she said, no, they had not. My question for the minister is: When will the minister report back to this House on the results of her reevaluation of the property tax systems, tax expenditures? When will we hear about it?

Hon. Ms. Rogers: We are operating in an arena here where we want to be transparent. We are undergoing this review at the moment. When the review is complete, the recommendations will come to government. We will make some decisions at that time. However, it is going to take a few months to complete the review. I want to remind people as well that the tax exemptions, rebates, and credits all serve very important purposes that are economic and social. We care very much that they are relevant and that they are still serving the needs that they intend to serve today. We have done some great things on the social front through our tax expenditures, and we will continue to do so. Thank you.

Mr. Speaker: The time for oral questions has expired.