Gallant's denial of role in assessment scandal undermined by document
Premier Brian Gallant and his office have consistently denied they intervened to speed up use of new system
Service New Brunswick has released a full PowerPoint presentation it created last year that includes a slide that seems to suggest Premier Brian Gallant personally asked for the accelerated introduction of a controversial new property assessment system — something he and his office have consistently denied.
The slide was originally leaked to CBC News by a Service New Brunswick employee and reported on last spring, but government has not previously acknowledged it to be genuine and the larger presentation it was part of has never been disclosed.
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"I want to see it in half that time," the document appears to quote the premier as saying after he was given a demonstration of a new automated assessment system and told it would take three years to complete.
In the slide, Service New Brunswick then suggests its "response" to the premier's "demand" was to put the new assessment system on what it called FASTtrack, shortening its implementation from years to months.
Problems with program
The FASTtrack program was supposed to be able to find $350 million in hidden property values the province and municipalities could then tax.
Instead it ran into significant problems this spring when it generated thousands of inflated assessments and tax bills on properties, and Service New Brunswick managers were caught making up renovation amounts on some homes to justify some of the larger increases.
More than 7,000 landowners have so far won assessment reductions worth more than $250 million in the wake of the controversy.
Thousands of other disputed assessments are still to be evaluated, and the auditor general is investigating the origins of the scandal.
In April, Gallant told reporters he played no role in Service New Brunswick's adoption of the FASTtrack program.
"We did not intervene or overrule with them in their decision to proceed," he said.
"These ideas that it was blessed by the Premier's office — pushed by the premier's office — completely unfounded."
But Service New Brunswick's 29-slide PowerPoint presentation, which is dated 2016, appears to contradict that.
The presentation offers basic information to Service New Brunswick employees on the new assessment system and answers questions under headings such as "Why change?" and "Where are we going?"
The reference to FASTtrack being a response to a demand from Gallant appears about halfway into the presentation.
The full PowerPoint presentation was turned over to CBC News by Service New Brunswick as part of a larger right to information request.
But although the department has confirmed the slide and the presentation are genuine, it is still answering no questions about it.
A request for information about who created the document and why it appears to credit the premier with initiating the decision to speed up adoption of the new assessment system went unanswered Tuesday.
In April, Opposition Leader Blaine Higgs asked Gallant about the slide during question period after CBC News first reported on it.
"Does he dispute the authenticity of that slide," asked Higgs.
Gallant did not directly respond.