Bill 40 draws concerns over possible municipal tax hikes
MONTREAL -- The CAQ continues to face heat over its new school board law, Bill 40.
The party has promised to freeze school taxes, but some are concerned about the last-minute amendments that could see a hike in municipal taxes if cities and towns are forced to hand over land to the province to use for schools and service centres.
That problem could be especially pronounced in Montreal, which is home to some of the most expensive property in the province.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said the city can't afford to buy a $40-million piece property downtown simply to hand it over to the province for a new school.
The worry is that because the new service centres have that power, it could mean municipal taxes will go towards paying for new schools – and therefore, they would go up.
In the past, sometimes cities and towns would give land over for free, but they were never forced to until now.
Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge refused to answer questions about the matter on Wednesday, but said earlier this week the new amendment would formally regulate how land transfers would operate.
Previously, some negotiations would take up to five years and the province said often the only land the municipalities were willing to part with were either swamplands, contaminated or in an undesirable location like near a busy highway.
Under Bill 40, there is now a tighter timeline: If no deal between a service centre and a municipality is reached in two years, the service centre can demand land – an "exceptional measure" said Roberge.
Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy was on the attack again, saying this is another way the CAQ isn't being transparent.
"There is no way we can take a building, with no compensation, and it's going to be for free. Someone has to pay for it. So on one hand, yes, with Bill 3, they gave a tax deduction, but now they're just asking for more money from the other taxes," she said.
Premier Francois Legault said he's confident it shouldn't be a problem.
"There are many reasons why a municipality can increase or decrease taxes. But one thing is clear: When you open a new school in a municipality, it's because you have more people living in this municipality, which means more houses, which means more taxes," he said.
The Union of Quebec Municipalities (UQM) met with the education minister on Wednesday. A representative for the UQM said following the meeting that municipal taxes could, indeed, go up as a result of the CAQ's amendment. "Eventually, of course, someone has to pay. When a government builds a school, why wouldn't they pay for the land under the school?" Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, the mayor of Gatineau, said.
"I can't understand that at all and to ask municipal taxpayers to pay while it should be paid by the Quebec government and by a tax system based on revenue that is a lot more, we're asking the cities to subsidize the rich government, which is the provincial government," Pedneaud-Jobin said.
Minister Roberge disagreed. "I don't think the tax will raise," he said. "During the past years a lot of land was given to the school [boards] ... and we didn't see tax raising."
The minister has agreed to have another meeting with the UQM.