Catalyst Paper’s brass is now looking for provincial answers to solve what Catalyst sees as unfairly hefty property-tax rates by North Cowichan on the Crofton mill.
The firm’s Lyn Brown saw the sunny side of Friday’s landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, dismissing Catalyst’s appeal that North Cowichan’s bylaw puts unreasonably high taxes on Crofton mill.
The high court saw those tax rates as as harsh, but allowed under B.C.’s Community Charter.
“We were looking for clarity, and that’s what we got in the Supreme Court’s judgement,” Brown said of the ruling she said removed uncertainty about how problems of taxation need to be solved.
Catalyst had no problem with North Cowichan’s tax rates, but with the legislation allowing council to set those rates, Brown explained.
“Arguments by North Cowichan pointed to the government of B.C., and they indicated successfully no court has the right to order the municipality to lower its tax rates; only the province can do that.”
Brown explained Catalyst is anxious to work with various provincial committees examining taxation. Those bodies include finance minister Kevin Falcon’s tax panel, she said.
The Chief Justice dismissed Catalyst’s appeal with costs awarded to North Cowichan.
The court notes council’s five-year plan is working toward a more fair tax rate for its industrial properties, such as the Crofton mill, compared to its residential property tax rates.
“Its approach complies with the Community Charter, which permits municipalities to apply different tax rates to different classes of property,” the court states.
“Nothing in the Community Charter requires the district to apply anything like Catalyst’s consumption of services model.”
Using that model, Catalyst’s lawyers argued North Cowichan’s tax bylaw could be set aside by the court on grounds the mill’s taxes are unreasonable compared to the mill’s use of municipal services such as water and roads.
The court recognized North Cowichan’s industrial-to-residential tax rate is among B.C.’s highest.
But the chief justices said municipal councils have “extensive latitude” in setting taxation bylaws.
“They may consider objective factors directly relating to consumption of services.
“But they may also consider broader social, economic and political factors relevant to the electorate,” the court states.
Catalyst is up to date on its property taxes, outside of a late tax-bill penalty of some $400,000, administrator Dave Devana said, happy about the high court’s decision.
“We’re pleased the Supreme Court ruled out bylaw is lawful and reasonable.
“Now we want to put those behind us and wok with Catalyst and its workers to help them prosper, but that’ll be difficult,” Devana — who’s also a chartered accountant — said of the timber giant fighting red ink amid restructuring tactics.
He couldn’t quote the costs taxpayers have paid during the appeal, however, all of that legal tab won’t likely be paid by Catalyst.
“The courts determine the fair amount,” Devana said.