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