'They should be dealt with': Blaine Higgs wants exit clauses on tax breaks

Irving Oil's 36-year-old tax break on its Canaport oil tank farm needs to be reviewed and cancelled if it's found there's no longer a valid reason for the tax concession, says Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs.

Irving Oil's 1980 tax break for Canaport tank farm persists today, despite end of energy crisis long ago

PC Leader Blaine Higgs discusses revelations reported by CBC New Brunswick's Robert Jones of long-standing property tax deals with major corporations in N.B. Higgs says for situations where the conditions no longer apply, the deals should be rescinded 4:15

Irving Oil's 36-year-old tax break on its Canaport oil tank farm needs to be reviewed and cancelled if it's found there's no longer a valid reason for the tax concession, says Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs.

CBC News revealed in a series earlier this week that to help Irving Oil deal with the energy crisis in 1980, the Hatfield government gave the company a special property tax break on its Canaport tank farm that was then valued at $500,000 a year.

The U.S. petroleum markets rebounded within a few years, but the tax break to Irving Oil has continued and grown in value.

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs says exit clauses need to be built into government programs and agreements. (CBC)
"In many ways you find a lot of policies in government that start for a good reason, but they never end," Higgs, a former Irving Oil executive, said in an interview on CBC News New Brunswick on Thursday.

"There isn't any exit clause that says, 'OK, we're here for this reason and when this reason no longer exists" the program gets reviewed and possibly changed, he said.

"But there's no exit clause, so it just doesn't hit the radar again.

"There has to be something that flags that sort of situation of why was it put in place and when does it stop?"

Would change outdated tax breaks

Higgs said he agrees that outdated property tax concessions "should be addressed and changed."

"They should be dealt with."

Higgs served four years as finance minister in David Alward's PC government, from 2010 to 2014, and said he was never provided with any information indicating the tax concession existed.

Confronted with such a situation, Higgs said, he would look at the agreement.

"Are the conditions, have they been met? Those conditions, do they still apply or not?

"And if they don't, you'd change it," he said. "You'd get back to a fair and equitable taxation plan."

With files from CBC News New Brunswick