Everyone Loses In Tax Debacle
September 1, 2009 By Pulp & Paper Canada
In this issue, Brennan Clarke brings us the details of the tax revolt in British Columbia, where several forest products companies have refused to pay all or part of their municipal taxes, and a few m…
In this issue, Brennan Clarke brings us the details of the tax revolt in British Columbia, where several forest products companies have refused to pay all or part of their municipal taxes, and a few mill towns find themselves with far less income than they had anticipated.
I grew up in a mining town in Eastern Quebec, which is not very different from a mill town in B.C., or anywhere else in Canada, for that matter. Murdochville was isolated, sustained by a single, large employer, and subject to the vagaries of the global market for copper.
So I can empathize with both sides in the municipal tax debate, but mostly with a third party, the townspeople, who will see and feel the effects.
The town I grew up in had a population of about 5000 people when I lived there. (Now the population is about 1500, but that’s a whole other story.) Thanks to the largesse of the mining company (in its various incarnations -Noranda Mines, Gaspe Copper Mines), Murdochville had more amenities than any other town in the region -a curling rink, an arena, a public indoor swimming pool, a downhill ski facility, and an English school.
As a kid, I didn’t concern myself with the politics of where the money for those facilities came from, but Murdochville was a true company town and directly or indirectly, many of life’s little luxuries could be traced back to the town’s main employer. A CBC documentary in 2002 called Murdochville “a town created for and by one employer.” It evolved from a camp for mine workers into a town in the 1950s, and later became known for a violent, months-long strike by mine workers.
As the mine became less profitable and eventually closed, the town quickly showed physical manifestations of the company’s demise. Lawns and public spaces became unkempt. Gaps appeared in the neat rows of cookie-cutter houses as houses were sold off cheap and moved to neighbouring towns (if you can call 60 miles through the forest “neighbouring”). My parent’s house was sold and moved.
Catalyst and Zellstoff-Celgar’s tax revolt has been interpreted as a bullying tactic, but in a more charitable light is could be considered a desparate defense. The companies involved clearly have their backs against the wall. In some cases, the towns were given fair warning and negotiations had commenced.
Arguments in Catalyst’s case against four municipalities began in September. It will be left for the B.C. Supreme Court to decide whose actions are deemed illegal – Catalyst’s or the towns’.
Cindy Macdonald Editor
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