Senior officials put Brian Gallant at 'genesis' of assessment scandal
Premier's office disputes accuracy of documents claiming Gallant initiated decision to rush new technology
An internal Service New Brunswick document obtained by CBC News shows senior civil servants who were asked to explain what went wrong with a new property assessment system this year put Premier Brian Gallant at the "genesis" of a decision to "fast track" the project.
The document, obtained by a right to information request, was drafted in early April for a Service New Brunswick board of directors meeting and was released to CBC News late last month.
The paper, titled "Fast track project Genesis moments" claims the decision to abandon a multi-year implementation plan for a new property assessment system in favour of quick deployment was initiated on the afternoon of May 6, 2016, the same day Gallant was shown the new technology, known as Pictometry.
"The term fast track was born following a Pictometry presentation to the Premier during the Open House at the new created Digital Lab," reads the briefing paper prepared for the board. "In the afternoon, the CEO of the time requested to accelerate this initiative."
Premier denies involvement
Gallant has denied any role in pushing for the accelerated adoption of the troubled new assessment system and on Tuesday his office questioned the accuracy of the newly released document, saying the premier and Gordon Gilman, the CEO of Service New Brunswick at the time, had no discussions with each other at all that day.
"The Premier did not discuss the presentation with Mr. Gilman," wrote Gallant's spokesperson Jonathan Tower in an email to CBC News. "It should also be noted that Mr. Gilman was not present at the presentation."
Still, the latest document is the third obtained by CBC News that mentions the premier in attempting to explain why "fast track" began.
A Service New Brunswick memo sent to employees in June 2016 said Gallant had directly "requested" Gilman accelerate the project after witnessing its capabilities at that May 2016 demonstration.
In addition there was a separate PowerPoint presentation made for Service New Brunswick employees, also obtained by CBC News, that called fast track a "response" to a "demand" made on the agency after the premier's briefing.
Senior officials involved
But while it was unclear who wrote those earlier two documents connecting the premier to the fast-track initiative, emails obtained by CBC News show the latest was pieced together and reviewed by some of the most senior assessment officials involved in government.
Those included Service New Brunswick chief executive officer Alan Roy, former executive director of assessment services Charles Boulay, current acting executive director Stephen Ward and former director of assessment modernization Rene Landry.
"Hi Alan," reads one email from Boulay to Roy that is copied to both Landry and Ward about what they had dubbed the "key moments" document. "Here are the draft notes ... for next week's presentation to SNB's Board of Directors."
Tower said it is untrue Gallant ever requested Gilman to accelerate the implementation of the new assessment system and said the timeline Service New Brunswick executives put together about the controversy is error ridden.
Tower cited a claim there was a "Ministerial Statement" about Pictometry the day after the presentation to the premier, which was a Saturday.
"The house wasn't sitting and there was nothing posted to the newswire," wrote Tower.
Service New Brunswick did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday on why the agency says fast track was "born" the same day the new assessment system was shown to the premier or why in a separate document it claims he "requested" it.
Last spring Gallant told reporters Service New Brunswick accelerated the adoption of the new assessment system on its own initiative.
"These ideas that it was blessed by the Premier's Office — pushed by the Premier's Office — completely unfounded," he said in April.
Fast track caused problems
Putting the new assessment system on a fast track was supposed to allow Service New Brunswick to find $350 million in hidden property values this year that the province and municipalities could then tax.
Instead, it ran into significant problems in the spring when it generated thousands of inflated assessments and tax bills on properties. Service New Brunswick managers were caught making up renovation amounts on some homes to justify some of the larger increases.
More than 8,000 landowners have so far won assessment reductions worth more than $300 million in the wake of the controversy, so far forcing the province to rebate $6 million in tax revenues it collected on behalf of itself and municipalities.
Thousands of other disputed assessments are still being evaluated, and Auditor General Kim MacPherson is investigating the origins of the scandal. She has promised a report later this month.