The New Brunswick government was warned a year ago that new legislation allowing firefighters ill with cancer to claim workers compensation benefits would cost municipalities millions of dollars, CBC News has learned.

CBC News  has obtained documents that show Worksafe New Brunswick and the Department of Local Government warned officials working on the legislation that it would cost municipalities that employ firefighters $34 million up front in premiums.

They warned that would mean either municipal tax increases or firefighter layoffs.

Municipalities only learned two months ago about the cost of the new system, and the province has since backed off the plan.

In the past, firefighters with certain types of cancer received workers compensation – but only if they proved the illnesses were job-related.

The new legislation, Bill 12, tabled last November, would have reversed that, giving firefighters benefits unless Worksafe New Brunswick could prove no link.

In e-mails, memos and power point presentations in 2007, officials were warned that the proposal would force municipalities to raise their property tax rates.

Worksafe chairman Doug Stanley urged the province to tell municipalities about the cost in a June 14, 2007, memo.

"The costs of claims are expected by our consulting actuary to be much greater. … The employers of municipal firefighters should be made aware of this," he wrote.

One provincial bureaucrat appeared to shrug that off, writing in an e-mail that the province "shouldn't be on the line either financially or administratively/ethically" for the cost.

Donald Arseneault, the province's labour minister, said there were communication problems, and he would now try to come up with an alternative.

"Well, I definitely can’t go back in the past and fix those problems, but I can honestly tell you I want this legislation to pass, and I want it resolved by the spring of '09," he said.

"If that means new legislation, then that's what we'll do. But we definitely are committed to make sure this issue closes by spring of '09."