In last week’s report I referenced some of the challenges single parents, particularly single moms, were facing with the Canada Revenue Agency in receiving their Canada Child Benefit (CCB) support.
Since that report I have heard of literally dozens of more cases that illustrate the severity of this problem.
This matters because in many cases, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), with often dubious information at best, will send out an advisory informing a single parent that their marital status has been arbitrarily changed to married or common-law.
Typically this occurs because an ex-spouse has left the marriage and has not filed a change of address; often to avoid being found as child/spousal support payments are not being made either.
I have heard from many single mothers, the great lengths they have gone to attempt to prove an ex-spouse is no longer living at the same address. Even in cases where a restraining order is present, the CRA may still refuse to change the status of the single parent in question.
What is most troubling about this conduct from the Canadian Revenue Agency is essentially single parents are being treated as guilty. The important Canada Child Benefits are being withheld, denied or reduced until such time they can prove to the satisfaction of CRA that they are innocent. Only then do they receive the benefit to which they are entitled.
I would submit nowhere else in Canadian society would we accept a presumption of guilt to deny single parents benefits that help care for children.
Yet I have witnessed evidence that demonstrates the Canada Revenue Agency is doing precisely that and it is wrong.
Keep in mind - in cases where fraud can be proven and established by CRA - the agency has the ability to garnishee wages, bank accounts and other assets. I mention this as I believe Canada Revenue Agency has sufficient tools to deal with fraud.They do not need to penalize single parents and label them guilty without due process.
From a political standpoint, this is all part of a disturbing trend.
In the last few months, the Canada Revenue Agency has attempted to go after staff discounts, began denying significant numbers of Type 1 diabetes applicants their Disability Tax Credit and now single parents, most often single mothers, are being targeted.
Although the Canada Revenue Agency may not give many single parents the benefit of the doubt, I will offer the benefit of the doubt that the Trudeau Liberal Government has not sanctioned these actions.
I will also publicly pass on that the Minister of National Revenue's office has recently reached out to my office suggesting they are well aware of this problem.
However I will also state that the Minister of National Revenue must get this agency under control, or the Prime Minister is going to need to find a new Minister who can.
My question this week:
Do you think it is fair that Canada Revenue Agency can unilaterally change the marital status of a single parent thus potentially penalizing the Canada Child Benefits and essentially say “prove us wrong”?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
When former Prime Minister Stephen Harper first introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit program that provided direct financial benefits to parents with kids, it was heavily mocked and criticized by the Liberal Opposition at the time.
Specifically, the Liberals suggested the money that would be provided towards supporting children under this program would instead be spent by parents on “beer and popcorn”.
Fast forward to the present, and the Liberal Government have not only continued this program, with changes that adds a means test, they have also significantly increased the funding.
In the House of Commons some Liberals refer to this program as the most significant social policy innovation in a decade as many believe it has helped to reduce child poverty in Canada.
The Canada Child Tax Benefit has become particularly important for divorced single parents who will often receive an increase of overall monthly financial support, if their household income has been reduced as a result of a divorce.
As with all taxpayer funded financial programs, there is a need for Government to confirm eligibility for a program and to take measures to protect against fraud. In the case of the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) this typically requires an applicant to provide various forms of documentation to confirm eligibility.
In my view, it is a reasonable expectation to provide this documentation.
Recently I have become aware of a number of cases where the Canada Revenue Agency may also request additional documentation from a separated or divorced spouse. The challenge in these circumstances is what if a separated or divorced spouse refuses to cooperate with the Canada Revenue Agency or cannot be located?
Amazingly, in these situations, the benefits of some single parents are being frozen or denied.
In some extreme cases, the Canada Revenue Agency has even gone so far as to change the tax status of a divorced or separated person to “married”. This change in tax status may result in a single parent having their monthly assistance significantly reduced and in some cases they might be determined as ineligible for the program, as it is no longer universal. In those cases, a demand is made for repayment of any CCTB benefit paid prior to the ineligibility decision.
For a single mother or father, who have been legitimately divorced or separated, this can be an extremely stressful and traumatic situation. More so if the primary cause is a former spouse, who either cannot be located or refuses to provide documentation to the Canada Revenue Agency.
Currently I am pursuing this matter in Ottawa as I believe these actions that sometimes occur with the Canada Revenue Agency can adversely impact affected single parents unfairly.
As some will know, the breakdown of a relationship is not always an amicable or pleasant experience. For the Canada Revenue Agency to penalize and deny some single parents financial support for children because of the inaction of a former spouse is, in my opinion, unreasonable and unfair.
My question this week relates to fairness.
Is it fair that in some situations a single parent could be denied Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) benefits due to the inaction of a former spouse to provide supporting documentation?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711
Changing the channel
This week in Ottawa, it was revealed that Finance Minister Bill Morneau is now being investigated by the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
This investigation centers around his involvement in a pension bill that may have financially benefited a company that Mr. Morneau was reported to own roughly $21 million worth of shares in.
Ottawa pundits have observed that this is the first time both a sitting Prime Minister and the Finance Minister have been under ethics investigations at the same time.
As is often the case when a Government is under an ethics scandal, efforts are made to “change the channel”.
Early this week the Liberal Government announced it would publicly post an online “mandate tracker” where Canadians can see the Governments progress on key initiatives. In theory this a good idea, however in execution the Liberals have come up short on this one and I will explain why.
The first challenge with the Liberal mandate tracker is that it is not based on the promises that the Liberals made in order to get elected. Rather the mandate tracker is based on the mandate letters to the Ministers of the Liberal Government. For example, the Liberals promised to restore Canada Post door to door delivery. However in the mandate letter to the Minister who oversees Canada Post, only a review of door to door mail delivery was requested but not a restoral of service.
As the Liberals have conducted the review of door to door mail service, they can boast they have met this commitment even though it falls short of what was actually promised during the election.
The other challenge I have with the mandate tracker is that the Liberal Government themselves decide how much they have actually accomplished.
In other words, it is not the Parliamentary Budget Officer or any other independent and objective department providing this information.
Ultimately I would submit this mandate tracking idea could have had more usefulness to Canadians if it was handled differently.
Also this week we learned the long awaited details of the Liberal Government's new peacekeeping measures. As some may recall during the election, Mr. Trudeau had suggested that Canada was out of peacekeeping business and promised an increase in Canadian peacekeeping forces.
This promise led to a commitment from the Prime Minister before the 2016 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in the UK, to provide up to 600 troops and 150 police for a specific deployment that was promised to be announced at a future date.
Today we know this 2016 commitment will be yet another promise that is not fully honoured by this Prime Minister. Instead only 200 personnel and 50 police will be provided in primarily training and transport roles. There will be no specific deployment zone despite many promises and overseas trips to explore potential peacekeeping opportunities over the past two years.
I am not suggesting that Canada will not continue to serve a useful role in UN peacekeeping operations with this significantly reduced commitment. My observation is that once again we see a pattern where Mr. Trudeau is pleased to make a significant announcement with a photo opportunity, as was done in the 2016, only to move the goal posts at a later date.
My question this week- should the Prime Minister have fully honoured his 2016 commitment to the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Trouble in paradise
The major issue reverberating around Ottawa this week was the recent release of the 'Paradise Papers'.
For those of you unfamiliar with the 'Paradise Papers' , they are leaked documents that contain the names of individuals who have involvement in offshore accounts that in some cases are used to avoid paying domestic taxes.
The reason this has become a political issue in Ottawa is that one of the names on the list happens to be the Liberal Party of Canada's chief fundraiser.
This same individual accompanied the Prime Minister to an exclusive dinner at the White House during the Obama administration. This in turn raised the question why a Liberal Party fundraiser was brought to an exclusive dinner when the Liberal Government's Natural Resource Minister was left off the guest list.
To date the Prime Minister has refused to answer this question.
From my perspective I think it is important to recognize that being named on the Paradise Papers is not indicative of having done anything illegal. The real issue is, we have observed the Canada Revenue Agency attempt to tax employee discounts. At the same time the Liberal Government attempted a large tax grab against farmers and small business owners.
Meanwhile individuals of immense wealth can utilize offshore accounts and family trusts here at home with no proposed taxation change whatsoever.
In many ways this creates two tiers of taxation where the wealthiest are treated differently by this Liberal government then everyday Canadians.
This raises a question on exactly how much potential tax revenue is lost by these types of tax policies. Officially this is known as the “tax gap”. The tax gap is the Government's potential tax revenue as opposed to the amount of tax revenue it is actually able to collect.
In the United States this type of taxation data has been tracked and publicly disclosed for many years.
As the recent release of the Paradise Papers has brought the extent of this problem to light, many have questioned what the tax gap is in Canada.
Unfortunately the Canada Revenue Agency refuses to disclose this information. In fact, there has been considerable effort in Parliament by MP's and Senators alike to obtain this information. To date, there has been no success. Considering that some estimates believe Canada’s tax gap could be as high as $47 Billion annually, this is a serious and growing concern.
The Liberal Government has justified the position of the Canada Revenue Agency, arguing that Canadians tax information is confidential and as a result this aggregated data should not be publicly released. The Liberals have also pointed out they are increasing the budget for the Canada Revenue Agency for enforcement and investigation purposes.
My question this week: do you believe that Canada Revenue Agency should join countries such as the United States, Sweden, Australia and others in publicly disclosing the tax gap?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Legalization of marijuana
Although the topic of the Finance Minister and his assets that were not being held in a blind trust, leaving a potential conflict of interest investigation looming remains an active one in Ottawa, it will not be the topic of this week’s report.
Instead I would like to solicit your thoughts on the pending legalization of marijuana.
For those of you unfamiliar, the Liberals in the last election openly campaigned on the legalization of marijuana. I raise that point as I believe the Liberals received a democratic mandate from voters to move ahead with marijuana legalization.
The intent of my column today is not to wade into ideological discussion on this topic but rather to hear concerns that in turn can be passed on in Ottawa.
Some of the concerns I have heard thus far are quite varied.
From landlords I have heard that insurance will not cover rental units where marijuana is present. From potentially approved and legally licensed growers I have heard concerns that they might be illegally undercut by those selling marijuana with a higher THC content under the table tax free.
More recently I have heard concerns from food vendors that their products at a wholesale level might be contaminated with marijuana and resold as edible marijuana potentially creating a liability concern.
From a law enforcement standpoint I have heard that it might be difficult if not impossible to determine the point of origin to determine between legal and illegal marijuana.
Locally NDP MP Dick Cannings has raised another concern that chronic users of Marijuana may have higher THC levels in their blood that could subject a user to be subject to potentially unfair criminal charges if operating a vehicle.
Those who frequently cross the border have questioned what impact legal marijuana use in Canada would have on someone crossing into the United States. Local Governments have asked about who will pay for potentially higher policing costs while the Provinces will be responsible for setting policy.
At this point there are no answers to any of these concerns that have been raised but given that the Liberal Government has promised to implement legalization in eight months, the answers will need to be found relatively soon.
The above is only a small sampling of concerns that I have heard and do not include comments around secondary smoke and smoking marijuana in public places. I have also heard many questions from educators on how to restrict marijuana from teenagers given scientific evidence has shown potential harm for brain development among youth if using marijuana.
My question this week: what concerns do you have, if any, on the legalization of marijuana?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.
Central Okanagan – Similkameen – Nicola