W.E. (Bill) Belliveau

748-2019-August 10 – Learning from Equal Opportunity...

In April, 1967, feature writer Blair Fraser, wrote in MacLean’s Magazine about “the other quiet revoluion”.

He was referring to New Brunswick and Louis J.Robichaud’s “Equal Opportunity” program. He wrote

about the discrepencies between the quality of education in the south and southeastern New Brunswick

cities as compared to the medieval circumstances of one room/multi-grade education in rural and Acadian

communities. He noted the low rates of literacy in the latter. He talked about the economic inefficiencies

of county governments and small municipalities, the inefficiencies and unfairness of property taxation in

terms of property assessments and variable tax rates, poll taxes, the personal-property tax that farmers

had to pay on farm machinery or heads of cattle and fishermen had to pay on every fishing net. He talked

about the abolishment of fifteen county councils and the replacement of 422 local school boards with 34

new boards with sharply reduced powers.

Fraser also wrote about the bitterness of opposition to Robichaud’s reforms by K.C. Irving, the multi-

millionaire who owned almost everything of importance in New Brunswick at the time. Some would say

nothing has changed. That notion may have been confirmed this week when the City of Saint John, near

financial collapse agreed to a a twenty-five year property tax agreement with Irving Oil for $525,000 a

year on property that should attract an annual tax estimated at $5 million. Apparently, the deal was struck

to facilitate construction of a natural gas plant.

In 1967, Fraser referred to a potent charge, seldom uttered in public that the Equal Opportunity Program

was a scheme for robbing the English-Canadian majority to subsidize the French Acadians. “Robbing

Peter to pay Pierre,” a popular cliche called it.

It was true that all the rich areas of New Brunswick at the time were English-speaking, but not all the

English-speakers were rich. Charlotte County on the Maine border, 98 percent English-speaking, was

probably in as much financial difficulty as any in the province. King’s County in the Kennchccasis Valley,

which includes the rich Saint John suburb of Rothesay and probably has the highest concentration of

United Empire Loyalists in Canada, had no fewer than 46 one-room rural schools, more than any other

county in the province.

The most inequitable aspect of municipal taxation at the time was the distribution of taxes within

municipalities. It was bad enough when the weight of tax in one town was two or three times the weight in

another but was more unfair when, within the same town, one man paid four times as much as another

although the two were supposed to pay precisely the same tax according to the statutes. This is what was

happening in most cities, towns and counties of New Brunswick. The Byrne Report cited one municipality

where the assessment of one property was only two percent of market value, and another was 128

percent. In a second, the most underassessed property was 17 percent of market value.

Earlier this week, Herb Emery wrote in the Moncton Times and Transcript about New Brunswick’s trade

deficit. He makes some great points – the most significant being that New Brunswick has become a

consumr economy. It’s no longer a producing economy or a trading economy, We borrow, we “spend

down our assets” and we rely on federal transfers of income (employment insurance, welfare, OAS and

GIS) from outside the province to fund our consumerism. That doesn’t mean we produce nothing or trade

nothing. It simply means we produce and trade less than we spend on the purchase of goods and

services and we’re able to do that because the federal government pours millions of dollars into the

province in non-productive transfers.

W.E. (Bill) Belliveau

Emery cites two examples of why we are so desolate (deserted of people and in a state of bleak

circumstance): we lack the investment to offset trade deficits; we rely on income sources from ouside

New Brunswick such as federal transfers and bank loans, employment insurance, pension incomes and

“spend down our assets” to maintain our consumption. In a small economy like New Brunswick’s,

increased government spending results in more imports, not job creation. In other words, we are

stimulating growth and wealth creation but not in New Brunswick. The benefits of government-spending

are flowing to the economies that produce the goods and services that we are consuming as a result of

the federal transfers that fund our consuming habits – think Costco, Walmart, Superstore, etc.

In my opinion, the most instructive observation posited by Herb Emery is the need for New Brunswick to

increase the value of exports and business sector investment – translation; invest in productivity – the

value of economic ouput (GDP) per worker. That means investing in technology, new equipment, worker

training and innovation to improve the value and competitiveness of our exports. It’s not enough for the

Irvings to invest in productivity, the majority of New Brunswick businesses have to invest in productivity,

economies of scale and export readiness. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll be forever dependent on federal

welfrae and the Irvings will take full title to the business assets of New Brunswick.

Herb Emery makes one additional point of significance and that is the reform and reduction of production

taxation in New Brunswick for both business and residential property including but not limited to the

removal of taxation on equipment and machinery property owned by businesses.

There is no future for a consumer economy that produceas and trades less than it consumes. You

couldn’t do that in your household without employment insurance or your old age pension or welfare.

Louis J. Robichaud opened the door to personal and financial opportunity for New Brunswickers. We

cannot afford to ignore that opportunity. The 2006 Finn Report offers a roadmap to municipal reform. We

need the equivalent for healthcare and education.

W.E. (Bill) Belliveau is a Shediac