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Royal Commission on
Finance and Municipal Taxation in New Brunswick

Abstract

The report of the Royal Commission on Finance and Municipal Taxation, established in 1962 and chaired by Edward Byrne, resulted in a radical restructuring of the local and provincial governments in New Brunswick. Virtually unchanged since the late 19th century, the institutional framework for municipal government had been under increasing financial distress arising from the tremendous social and economic pressures changes affecting the delivery of services.

The structure of government and the provision of services was decentralized, with the fifteen counties and the several cities and towns providing social, education, and health services and some of the legal services. With three counties on the verge of bankruptcy, the Commission was appointed to examine and recommend solutions to the many problems of provincial and municipal finance and taxation. The conclusion of the Commission was that the problem was one not simply of tax administration, but of governmental structure and organization in the broadest sense.

In the report they presented to Cabinet in 1963, the Commissioners emphasized that their recommendations should be implemented in their entirety, and not on a selective or piece-meal basis. The recommendations included the transfer of financial responsibility for education from local to provincial government, and the reduction of the number of school districts from 422 to 60 (further reduced to 33 upon implementation); the transfer of financial and administrative responsibility for justice, public health and welfare from local to provincial government; the abolition of county government and the establishment of some ninety new villages; the assessment of all real estate, to be carried out by the provincial government and to be based on market value; a uniform real estate tax, levied and collected by the provincial government; a system of unconditional grants to municipalities for local services costs, plus equalizing grants to municipalities with an insufficient tax base to provide an acceptable level of quality of services; and a substantial increase in provincial sales tax.

The overriding principle of the Byrne Commission was embedded in the subsequent Program for Equal Opportunity, enunciated in the White Paper on the Responsibilities of Government (1965), and which came to be inextricably linked with the Byrne report. This was that minimum standards of service and opportunity should be available for all citizens, regardless of the financial resources of the locality in which they lived. The Byrne report and subsequent implementation of recommendations changed the face of the province in a fundamental way and remains remarkable among Royal Commissions for the sound process, recommendations, and implementation of action involved in the fulfilment of its mandate.

Commissioners:
Edward Byrne
Alexandre Boudreau
Arthur E. Andrews
Ulderic Nadeau
Charles N. Wilson




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