With campaign in full swing, N.B. cities press for more power, revenue sharing
New Brunswick cities want Municipalities Act changes, big share of cannabis revenue
New Brunswick's eight cities are demanding a new deal with the province on powers and revenue sharing — including a healthy chunk from cannabis proceeds.
The mayors announced a list of five requests in Saint John on Tuesday as the provincial election campaign swings into high gear.
"We're requesting a new co-operative relationship with the provincial government," said Fredericton Mayor Mike O'Brien.
The asks include a "pretty firm" request for 44 per cent of the provincial share of revenue from cannabis sales to recognize the public safety and administrative costs for municipalities.
"The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has calculated annual cost for our eight cities will be in excess of $2.5 million per year," said O'Brien.
Also on the list are changes to the property tax system to balance the greater burdens now carried by city homeowners when compared with neighbouring municipalities, a re-examination of tax exemptions given to industry and an end to double taxation of non-owner occupied rental properties.
Legislation changes sought
The eight mayors are also asking for changes to the Municipalities Act to allow them to generate non-tax revenue and the ability to implement a hotel levy.
Saint John Mayor Don Darling has pushed hard for changes to provincial arbitration legislation, one of the other key asks from the cities association.
Darling says police and fire wage settlements far outstrip increases given to other city workers because municipal negotiators fear an arbitration will award even higher increases to emergency responders.
"This is an historic day," said Darling. "New Brunswick's eight cities contend that affordability should be a key part of all wage and budget conversations to avoid undue burden to taxpayers.
"New Brunswick's eight cities contend that affordability should be a key part of all wage and budget conversations to avoid undue burden to taxpayers."
Right to strike
The group says the province should look into a number of options including reintroducing the right to strike for police officers, with some being designated as essential workers, similar to how the system worked before binding arbitration was introduced in 1988.
It's a position that upsets Bob Davidson, labour analyst with the New Brunswick Police Association representing officers from municipal departments across the province.
He says the public has no interest in seeing police officers regain the right to strike.
"There's nothing wrong with the present process," said Davidson, who was part of negotiations with the Liberal McKenna government that lead to the creation of the binding arbitration system in 1988.
"It's ridiculous, irresponsible for these elected representatives to be pushing replace binding arbitration with the right to strike. They have no history of this whatsoever."
In a response to questions on municipal reform last week directly from the City of Saint John, the provincial Liberal association said a Liberal-led government would not make the proposed changes to arbitration legislation.
The same document said the party is willing to review of the balance of taxation and powers between the provincial and municipal governments.
In a statement Tuesday, the party said it is "committed to helping with costs related to cannabis legalization."
Progressive Conservative spokesperson Nicolle Carlin says the party will not "immediately" respond to the cities requests as "most of these questions are answered in our platform [which] we're going to be releasing very very soon."
But PC Leader Blaine Higgs spoke to Saint John councillors on Aug. 20 saying his party is "committed to municipal tax reform" and would end double taxation on commercial properties but would not commit to changing the arbitration process.
Green Party Leader David Coon said the province has "unjust tax policies" and, if elected, the Greens would "remove the industrial property tax exemption for crude oil storage tanks and add industrial machinery and equipment as taxable property."
NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie agreed property tax reform, with a focus on making taxation more equitable, should be a priority for Saint John.
However, she said those in power must understand the province-wide implications of dismantling the system and the role of property taxes in the province's overall fiscal framework must be examined first.
In a statement, NDP spokesperson Marie-Philippe Gagnon Gauthier said the party thinks a sharing arrangement on cannabis revenue "is not out of the question" and it supports a hotel levy "that goes to the municipal and provincial government and to be use to promote tourism."