PC Opposition Leader Blaine Higgs has called for the resignation of Premier Brian Gallant for his involvement in the ongoing property tax scandal. On Monday we learned that the premier ordered the roll-out of the new assessment program be done in one year rather than three or four. This follows three weeks of questions in the legislature and a further week of media examination.
On March 30 the premier was asked in a media scrum if his office was involved in the decision to hurry the roll-out and his response was” That may be the case, I’m not aware”.
On April 6 the premier called a late afternoon press conference in which he said “We did not intervene or overrule in their (Service NB) decision to proceed.”
Media reports on Monday suggested the premier was indeed aware and the decision to proceed was upon his order.
The premier and his government have now fallen silent on the matter, hiding behind the premise that an inquiry is coming and they will not comment until its results are revealed in August.
On Wednesday Blaine Higgs scrummed with media and explained why an inquiry under the Gallant government’s direction and ultimately reporting its findings to the Gallant government is absolutely unacceptable.
The Opposition leader advised that he did not know Justice Robertson, the judge who has been named as heading the inquiry, but that it was his understanding that the justice has a fine reputation and a great deal of credibility. He went on to suggest that the government is borrowing the reputation and the credibility of the justice to mask a flawed inquiry process.
Blaine Higgs referenced the Auditor General’s March 2015 ATCON report as an example of interference by the Gallant government in a supposedly independent report. In that report, the executive council, headed by Premier Gallant, disagreed with her findings which were backed by expert legal opinion that Victor Boudreau was acting outside his authority when he gave $50 million of taxpayer credit to Scotiabank.
As this scandal continues to grow and fester, there are two things New Brunswickers should know.
1) The deadline for appealing your property tax assessment has been extended until Aug. 1. The deadline was March 31st, but it has now been extended just as Blaine Higgs advised Premier Gallant to do for 3 weeks in the legislature.
2) The yellow form included in this year’s property tax assessment documentation is NOT an appeal form. The appeal request is on the white assessment page. The inclusion of this yellow form has been the source of much confusion and Opposition MLA’s are still hearing from folks who sent in this yellow form believing it was to appeal their assessment.
We will continue to do all we can to publicize these two facts, since the government has refused to launch any sort of publicity campaign to advise New Brunswickers of the extended deadline or yellow form confusion. In fact, a visit to the GNB website will show that nothing at all is published regarding the extended appeal deadline.
The official opposition will continue to gather stories of victims of the property tax scandal and to press the Premier to once and for all confess to his involvement and allow a true, independent, external public inquiry into the entire debacle to proceed, unimpaired by government meddling and interference.
ROSS WETMORE is the Progressive Conservative MLA for Gagetown-Petitcodiac