Blood and turnip

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It’s the kind of thing that really sticks in your craw: when you get a parking ticket or another sort of fine, it’s annoying but you pay it. Turns out plenty of people aren’t paying, and, if you look at the latest report from the provincial auditor general, that’s not about to change.

What can you take from the report? Well, the clearest thing is that there are 150 or so people who owe more than $20,000 apiece in fines, and that the province is owed a total of $33 million, a number that has grown by 20 per cent in just five years.

Another harsh number?

The Department of Justice apparently considers 74.5 per cent of that $33 million to be uncollectable.

The AG gave the division a pretty harsh examination: without repeating every single problem, it’s worth pointing out that Terry Paddon found the division didn’t have an operational plan, performance monitoring or proper reporting requirements, wasn’t using every method it could to collect moneys owing, and is not collecting money in a timely fashion. It has painfully few staff — fewer since job cuts last spring — and the amount of fines owing just grows and grows.

One interesting fact? Departments that have their work questioned by the auditor general get a chance to give their responses to the AG’s recommendations, and those responses are printed in the report itself. Most of the time, the tenor of the response is “work is already underway on improving …” or “Changes have already been …” The response from the Department of Justice? It can pretty much be summed up as “Ain’t happening.”

Most (almost all) of the AG’s recommendations are dismissed as unnecessary or impractical, which seems to suggest that the volume of unpaid fines will continue to grow. That’s especially the case because, since the department laid off 25 per cent of its eight collections officers last spring, each officer now has an individual case load of 1,400 files.

There are some areas where you can agree with the department: refusing to re-register delinquent payers for MCP seems a little too close to health blackmail to be acceptable. On the other hand, preventing ticket debtors from holding hunting licences, registering companies or obtaining copies of brith certificates would certainly demonstrate that the government meant business.

One of the greatest ironies in the responses from the department? The AG suggested that the provincial government use the power of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to dock ticket dodgers of GST rebates and income tax refunds. The department’s response was that’s impractical because “collection action must be taken, documented and exhausted before accounts will be accepted by the CRA for collection.” Read between those lines and  you can see that even the federal government isn’t convinced its Newfoundland and Labrador counterpart is doing its best to collect fines in this province.

One thing’s for sure. The status quo — the provincial government essentially throwing its hands in the air — can’t continue.

The bottom line? If you take the government’s diminishing effort in recovering fines, its resistance to basic performance and operational standards and its stonewalling on broadening methods to collect what it is owed, you could rightly decide the province isn’t trying very hard. And if you’re one of the people who owes money, that’s not going to make you move any faster to settle up.

Organizations: Department of Justice, Uncollectable.The, Canada Revenue Agency

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • brett
    January 26, 2014 - 07:03

    Sorry Joe, driving requires insurance. I think that insurance companies should be forced to contact the ministry of transportation in the event of insurance lapsing, and in that case, the plates on a vehicle need to be revoked. So either the plates are brought back to the ministry of transportation within a week or new insurance is applied to the vehicle and registered. You need to show your insurance to get your plate in the first place, why allow the removal of insurance after? If plates are not brought in, you have the address of the individual, police go and remove them. Outstanding tickets could also be required to be paid in order to renew your driver's license. I would also suggest wage garnishment. If you can't afford to pay for insurance, or can't afford to pay for your tickets then you can't afford to drive, and should relinquish that privilege. Anyone caught driving a vehicle with over XXX$ in fines should be jailed (short time) and the vehicle sold.

  • sc
    January 25, 2014 - 18:38

    Typical NL government response of 'it's too difficult to...' Instead of trying to finding a remedy the politicians and bureaucrats simply throw up their hands and give up. I find it quite amazing that the government cries that it has no money but is perfectly content to ignore somewhere around $20-30 million in fines owed to it. How many jobs would that provide and how many families would that support? How much of that could be used on education or health care? Instead, the government does nothing. Now before someone starts with the 'can't get blood from a stone' spiel, there is other ways of showing the government isn't going to allow people to rack up huge amounts in fines without any repercussions whatsoever. The most obvious is garnisheeing wages or benefits. If that doesn't work, confiscate cars, boats, tvs and sell them at auction. If that still doesn't cover the fines, force the person to declare bankruptcy with all the implications that arise. Or, how about requiring these people to perform community service e.g. shovelling driveways, picking up garbage, cleaning up the various illegal dump sites etc? Most of us do pay our fines, taxes and fulfil other obligations of being citizens. For the life of me I can't understand why there is such sympathy and tolerance for those who don't abide by the laws. I wonder if the government would be so indifferent if we all stopped paying our taxes because, well, we'd rather not.

  • M. Atkinson
    January 25, 2014 - 16:51

    Sums it up nicely. And if I don't pay for an expired meter ticket, when I go to register my car, I'll be refused. I don't think its the legitimate driver, one with proper insurance, registration, driver's license that's not paying their tickets. I think it is those driving with non-registered car ownership; no insurance; no driver's license getting away with all this. And one of them could kill or maim you or your family, or destroy your car, and you have no recourse to compensation.

  • Hank
    January 25, 2014 - 15:49

    If a person owes thousands of dollars in traffic fines, driving with no license , no insurance, living on welfare, and only laughs at the law, so much so that the law can call them by name, the law officers only shake their head when they see them knowing it is pointless giving them another ticket. The courts do nothing about it. Then who is to blame? It has to be the courts and the justice system! It is the poor innocent person they run into and hurt that suffers. The court system has to be make them pay for breaking the law, they are more forceful.

  • Joe
    January 25, 2014 - 07:39

    Great superficial review of the problem! Back up a step and ask when the driver is convicted are you going to fine them or put them in jail? Both will cost money either in unpaid fines or jail costs. And high fines for no insurance, etc. were a decision of the politicians who create the problem.