Hunting for tax bargains: How we answered the premier's call

Premier Brian Gallant's public call for help during a CBC radio call-in show to identify "non-equitable" property tax deals in New Brunswick posed a challenge. What deals does the province have, who gets them, and what are they worth?

Premier Brian Gallant asked for public's help identifying special tax breaks for New Brunswick business

CBC News looked into property tax discounts and exemptions in New Brunswick that go back decades, including special breaks on forest and agricultural lands. (CBC)

On a CBC Radio show in September, a caller asked Premier Brian Gallant what he was doing about special property tax deals in New Brunswick.

Gallant's reaction? A call for the public's help identifying such deals, or at least what he called "non-equitable" deals. 

The premier's appeal posed a challenge: What deals does the province have, who gets them, and what are they worth? 

The CBC's search to find out began with legislation that hosts the deals, including New Brunswick's Assessment Act and Real Property Tax Act.   

Premier Brian Gallant told a caller during a provincewide call-in program that he would like to know of any property tax concessions that were not equitable. (CBC)
That turned up six worth looking into.  

Then came several trips — real and virtual —  to the Harriet Irving, New Brunswick Legislature and Saint John Free Public libraries to read explanations from the politicians of the day, between 1966 and 1997, about why each deal was created and how much it was supposed to cost.  

Government and corporate annual reports helped fill in more of the puzzle.

Then came a deep dive into New Brunswick property records — hundreds of them. Service New Brunswick's free map-based property search tool worked beautifully.  

But deeper digging required a subscription to New Brunswick's land registry service.

What kinds of taxes are landowners who are covered by tax deals paying compared with others who have no special treatment? Who specifically are the deals benefiting and by how much?  

Then it was time to talk.

Attempts to reach larger landowners who were subject to some deal or other were remarkably unsuccessful.

Acadian Timber, J.D. Irving, Limited, Irving Oil, Canadian National, the Bragg Group, Wyman's, Bonnefield Farms all proved elusive.  

But other landowners — some covered by tax deals and some not — spoke freely, offering their thoughts and experiences. Also providing useful information and insight, with some exceptions, were New Brunswick government departments dealing with property assessments and taxation.

CBC New Brunswick's Robert Jones walks you through a CBC investigation that showed some $3.5 billion worth of property in New Brunswick enjoying some kind of special tax treatment and a tradition of concessions that cost the province an estimated $380 million, plus interest, over nearly four decades. 2:30

Edited and packaged by Connie Camp

Video by Paul Hantiuk and Earl Cabuhat

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.