The Supreme Court of Canada recently came out with a decision in which it decided that reasonableness was the appropriate standard of review on a municipal tax appeal arising out of Alberta. In Edmonton (City) v Edmonton East (Capilano) Shopping Centres Ltd., 2016 SCC 47 the court was split 5-4 as to what standard of review was warranted in the circumstances.
The backdrop to this case involved the City of Edmonton assessing a mall at a value of $31 million. The assessed company appealed to the Assessment Review Board seeking a reduction in the assessed value. The City, upon reviewing its evidence, discovered that it had made an error and asked the Board to increase the assessment. The Board for the most part agreed with the City’s request and increased the assessed value to $41 million. The Alberta legislation allowed an appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench on a question of law or jurisdiction of sufficient importance as long as leave was obtained. Both the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Alberta Court of Appeal determined that the standard of review on appeal was correctness and that the Board had erred in increasing the assessment.
Karakatsanis J. writing for the majority determined that there was a presumption of reasonableness in this case because the Board was interpreting its home statute. The majority found that the presumption could not be rebutted: the Board was given significant expertise as a body, no true question of jurisdiction arose, nor did a statutory right of appeal create a new category warranting a correctness review.
Côté and Brown JJ. wrote for the dissent and determined that a correctness standard applied. They reached this decision through contextual analysis. In their view, there was clear legislative intent to limit the deference applicable to the tribunal by creating a separate appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench on specific questions of law and jurisdiction. The dissenting justices also focused on the nature of tribunal expertise, determining it is a relative and not absolute concept. The Board did not have expertise on statutory interpretation and therefore no deference was warranted. Questions of law and jurisdiction, the majority determined, cannot have a range of reasonable outcomes, rather there must be one single correct decision.
The impact of this case in Saskatchewan remains to be seen. While it is possible our Court of Appeal will now adopt a reasonableness standard on municipal tax assessment appeals, there are also some differences in Saskatchewan’s legislation that align Saskatchewan with the reasoning of the dissent. The ability of the Saskatchewan Municipal Board to send questions of law and jurisdiction to the Court of Appeal for advice that it will be bound to accept, suggest that our Legislature intended a correctness standard and can potentially be argued to mean that the legislature has attempted to curtail the expertise and deference afforded to the Board.
No matter which way the case is applied in Saskatchewan, it is evident that the Edmonton East case has significantly shaken up municipal tax assessment in Canada.