Opposition leader Blaine Higgs is calling on all property owners in New Brunswick who had any assessment increases this month to appeal their property tax bills in the wake of hundreds of errors the province has acknowledged but not explained.
"Her Majesty's loyal opposition has no alternative than to ask all New Brunswickers to appeal their property tax assessments if they have increased this year," Higgs said in the legislature during question period.
"Since the government refuses to publicize this issue or extend the deadline to all New Brunswickers, it seems as though we will have to issue a provincewide appeal to help prevent government from taking in millions of tax dollars."
Earlier this week Service New Brunswick said that because of a "human error," 2,400 property tax notices were subject to "miscalculations" and would be reissued.
To date the province has declined to elaborate on the nature of the error or whether the problem is with incorrect assessments, incorrect property taxes or both.
Could swamp Service New Brunswick
According to Shawn Peterson of propertize.ca, 174,710 New Brunswick property owners received an increase of some kind this year, 37 per cent of the total number issued.
Appeals on that scale would swamp Service New Brunswick, but outside the chamber Higgs said that is not a concern.
"The system would have to deal with it," he said. "If the system has caused this problem then they have to figure out how to deal with appeals to make it right."
Part of the problem has been Service New Brunswick ignoring a law that limits property tax increases to homeowners to 10 per cent a year no matter how much their assessment increases.
A CBC review of property tax records in six communities showed 1,186 homeowners have received property tax increases between 20 and 40 per cent.
Increasingly opposition MLAs are also questioning why Saint John MLA Ed Doherty, the minister responsible for Service New Brunswick, has not been answering questions about the assessment controversy.
Premier Brian Gallant, local government minister Serge Rousselle, and Post Secondary Education Minister Donald Arseneault have been handling most of the response.
Questions over Doherty's silence
"The minister from Saint John Harbour has been silent," PC finance critic Bruce Fitch said during CBC's political panel, which debated the assessment issue with Arseneault representing the government. "I'm not sure why he's not here."
In the legislature Higgs asked repeatedly for Doherty to respond to the assessment issue without success.
Gallant suggested Higgs should be concerning himself with other issues.
"The questions of the opposition are on point and on the priorities of New Brunswickers and in case you can't tell that's sarcasm," Gallant said. "We have cabinet ministers that will be pleased to answer any substantive questions the leader of the Opposition has today.
"If he wants to take all of his time to ask why certain people are answering certain questions that's fine."