CRA & People
2023.01.05 [CRA] NEWS JOURNAL
News and Opinions on CRA from 2022.12.00 to 2023.01.05
Kelly McParland: Why should we respect the CRA if it shrugs at billions overpaid?
The Canada Revenue Agency’s headquarters in Ottawa. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON/POSTMEDIA
For some time now the Canada Revenue Agency has been pursuing me with claims that I owe them money.
They maintain that I failed to report some income. The “proof” I’ve received is a number of income slips they say weren’t included in my return. But I’ve checked my return and there they are, large as life.
There’s not a lot of money at stake — it’s in the hundreds, not thousands — though nobody wants to pay money they don’t owe. There’s a theory out there that demanding modest sums from moderate-income Canadians is a standard CRA practice, in the hope that a big percentage will just pay up rather than fight about it, even if they feel the claim is unjust. That sounds a bit Machiavellian to me, though you don’t have to belong to QAnon to harbour some doubts.
This would hardly be worth mentioning if not for the report from Auditor General Karen Hogan indicating the government paid as much as $32 billion in pandemic benefits to people who were ineligible. It’s no secret that the federal Liberals were firing off money in all directions in an effort to protect people and the economy from going under, and with little time or opportunity to sort out the fine details. The idea was to get the money out there, and deal with the rest later. Except the CRA has indicated it now has little if any interest in exploring those details, even if there are tens of billions at stake, contending it “would not be cost effective nor in keeping with international and industry best practices to pursue 100 per cent of all potentially ineligible claims.”
I didn’t raise Hogan’s report the last time I spoke to the CRA, but I imagine they’ll be hearing a lot about it. Anyone who owes less than $32 billion can now call up the CRA hotline and demand to know why they’re being chased if the agency considers anything under $32 billion isn’t worth the bother.
The reason this matters, apart from another bit of evidence that this government has lost the plot, is that the CRA is a big institution, and Canadian institutions already have a struggle on their hands against a growing sense of distrust.
We learned from the freedom convoy/trucker occupation of Ottawa that three levels of police combined — municipal, provincial and national — wasn’t enough to clear a protest from the capital without a national emergency being declared. It’s one thing to have local cops befuddled by their duties, but how many times now has it been made abundantly clear that the RCMP simply isn’t up to many of the tasks required of it?
Canada’s military has been struggling against Ottawa’s indifference for so long it can no longer find enough recruits willing to join up to be ignored. Officials say they have thousands of unfilled positions, only get about half the applications they need and are offering signing bonuses of up to $20,000 in about 25 particularly short-staffed positions. Pay is a big problem, respect is another. Ottawa can’t manage to buy new fighter jets without a decades-long political brawl, or build new ships without years of delay and billions in overruns. Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre says Canada’s troops can handle smaller operations well enough, but would be “challenged” by an extended large-scale operation. Like defending the country?
Most people would consider the Constitution and the Charter of Rights to be valuable institutions, yet Quebec has once again announced it is unilaterally altering the Constitution to get rid of something it doesn’t like. “Section 128 does not apply to Quebec,” it says, referring to the section of Canada’s founding legislation that requires all members of provincial legislatures swear an oath to the Crown. Quebec has done this before, previously legislating that Quebec is legally a “nation” and the “official” language is French, despite decades of Canadians being told official bilingualism is a non-negotiable reality.
If you’re like most Canadians, you were probably under the impression the Constitution was something that applied equally across the country and couldn’t simply be changed on the whim of this premier or that. Yet far from stepping in to protest Quebec’s actions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shrugged it off, professing that the province “effectively has the right to modify a part of the Constitution.” That view might be fair enough if all provinces were accorded the same leeway, but Ontario Premier Doug Ford endured an outpouring of opposition when he tried to use the notwithstanding clause — which is actually a fully legal part of the Constitution — to avoid an education support workers’ strike. And Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is slogging through similar vituperation for her admittedly problematic Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, which — inspired by Quebec — says Alberta doesn’t have to enforce federal laws if it doesn’t want to.
Canadians have just been through a pandemic that unsettled much of what they took to be accepted, every day normality. In unsettled times it’s valuable to have national institutions you can look to for a sense of security and assurance. But the message Canadians are getting is that their institutions aren’t there for them. If anything, they’re adding to the uncertainty. When national security, Constitutional standards and the government’s competence in handling tax dollars are all wide open to doubt, trust becomes a commodity with a severe shortage of supply.
This column has been updated to reflect the fact that Premier Ford’s legislation was brought in to prevent a strike of education support workers.
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2023.01.05 [CRA] NEWS JOURNAL
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