Too little, too late

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“Under the authority of Section 19 of the Financial Administration Act, the Lieutenant Governor in Council is pleased to authorize a remission of provincial income tax for provincial income tax or interest paid, or payable, in relation to payments received under the Atlantic Groundfish Licence Retirement Program during the 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 or 2002 tax years, on the same basis as the related federal remission order P.C. 2013-936, provided however that such remission to a taxpayer of provincial income tax is subject to the payment of any outstanding provincial tax assessments by the taxpayer.”
— Newfoundland and Labrador Order in council 2014-071.

It’s a story that never seems to end. More than a decade ago, the federal government played a dirty trick on a group of fishermen who had agreed to retire their fishing licences.

Here’s how we described it in an editorial in 2011: “The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) told fishermen that they would have to pay capital gains tax on fisheries buyout packages. Scores of fishermen did — but a group of fishermen took the CRA to court, and the revenue agency offered them a settlement. The 752 others were not told about the deal, because the successful fishermen had to sign confidentiality agreements about the settlement.

“By the time word finally leaked out, the time limitation on taking action against the CRA had expired, with the CRA laughing all the way to the bank. … Fishermen who should have received reassessments, no question asked after the first settlements, instead had to hire lawyers and fight to keep the issue on the public and political agendas …

“Hopefully the fishermen will get their due — not only the thousands of dollars of taxes that were improperly collected, but also a decade’s-worth of interest on the amount. It’s unlikely to do anything to dispel the deep mistrust these people must have for an agency of their government. But there are things the money can’t do. It’s little reward for the 76 fishermen who have died since the money was paid out in error. And nothing will undo the most despicable aspect of the government’s behaviour: insisting on confidentiality agreements as part of a settlement to essentially deprive other fishermen from knowing they had an opportunity to challenge the decision. At that point, the CRA should have notified everyone affected about its new determination about fishing licence buybacks and capital gains.”

At the time, a new group of retired fishermen had won a court case against the federal government, and the feds had said they wouldn’t appeal.

The provincial government has been a ride-along on this issue for years, because the province shared in the taxes collected by the federal government — although, in 2008, the House of Assembly passed a resolution calling for equal treatment for all fishermen in the same situation.

It wasn’t until September 2013 that the federal government grudgingly passed an order making the latest round of tax and interest remissions, with the province joining in this week.

The point, though, is that it should have taken nowhere near this long to treat everyone fairly and equally.

Organizations: Canadian Revenue Agency

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