The Liberal government is conducting an internal review of taxation in New Brunswick, according to Finance Minister Cathy Rogers.
"This is an ongoing practice, but we have been looking at everything from taxes, tax exemptions, tax credits, tax rebates, what exists," Rogers said.
The objective is to simplify provincial tax policy, she said, but it doesn't necessarily mean reduced taxes. Instead, Rogers said it's about being "innovative" to meet increasing costs while improving services.
Rogers outlined the review during the latest episode of the CBC New Brunswick Political Panel, during which members from the five main provincial parties debated whether taxes are too high in the province.
The five panellists agreed most New Brunswickers are fine with paying taxes for quality services, but some opposition panellists argued the quality isn't sufficient to balance the tradeoff, while others said the province's total contribution isn't anything to balk at and industry should pay its fair share.
The Liberals were criticized for generating $1 billion in new tax revenue but failing to balance the budget — revenue raised through higher harmonized sales tax and land transfer tax, high municipal tax rates in cities and the "double taxation" of rental properties and second homes.
Rogers said they have taken a "balanced approach" to finding revenues and savings.
"We recognize there are a lot of costs being passed on to New Brunswickers, but we all have to share the burden," Rogers said, referring to the increasing cost of public services.
Progressive Conservative MLA Brian Macdonald said despite the increased tax revenue, the province continues to spend more than it brings in.
"We all run a household budget and we know if we're spending more than we earn, then at some point we've got to reverse that and fix it," he said. "Otherwise, we're going to go bankrupt."
Macdonald called for a more progressive tax structure for residents and a review of tax policy. Rogers then noted the internal review, something she said was mentioned previously in the legislature.
Green Party Leader David Coon said when you dig into the numbers, New Brunswickers aren't taxed any more than other Canadian provinces.
Citing a recent study by the Province of British Columbia, he said total tax contributions — for a single income of $85,000 or $25,000 or for a family of four with a household income of $90,000 — are all on par with most Canadian provinces, including the Atlantic neighbours.
"It's important to understand that we in Canada we have a deal and the deal in Confederation is we provide comparable services at comparable levels of taxation across Canada," Coon said.
"If we want good health care and good education, it costs money. There's no free lunch."
New rules for Industry
Coon said new laws must be passed requiring privately held companies to disclose earnings and taxes paid to ensure transparency and that industry is paying its fair share.
NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie said tax breaks for industry further widen the wealth gap in the province.
"When you look at the LNG terminal, for example, paying much much less tax than the Tims across the road, there's clearly inequitable taxation there," McKenzie.
The property assessment controversy surrounding Irving Oil's Canaport LNG facility in Saint John came up several times as a reason to change tax policy for large companies.
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin argued that point, while saying New Brunswick residents have reached their tax limit.
"We don't need to gouge industry," Austin said. "All we need to do is bring them up to par with the rest of Canada so it's reasonable tax rates.
"If industry isn't paying, then the rest of us are."