National revenue minister gets an earful from Nunavut business
Chamber members talk about frequent CRA audits, low financial literacy, lack of Inuktitut support, bad internet
The Canada Revenue Agency needs to do more work on Nunavut, members of Iqaluit’s business community told the minister of national revenue, Diane Lebouthillier, during a round-table event at the Qamutiq building with members of the Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce on April 16.
Lebouthillier also met with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Nunavut Finance Minister David Akeeagok, the francophone group Carrefour Nunavut and the Uquutaq Society, which runs the men’s shelter in Iqaluit.
As lead minister for the Canada Revenue Agency, Lebouthillier’s priority at the roundtable was to talk about tax problems faced by businesses in Nunavut.
Five people attended the meeting and while a few were scheduled to attend via conference call, the phone lines didn’t work well enough for business people outside Iqaluit to call in.
The conversation touched on the territory’s poor Internet service, the shortage of banks, low financial literacy and a need for Inuktitut-language material in the tax system.
But Lebouthillier, who is from the Magdalen Islands in Eastern Quebec, said the North is on her radar and her office plans to serve the region better.
“When I took over my job, my priority, since I myself come from a remote area, is that people who are from remote areas receive service,” she said through French-to-English translation. “All public officials should receive a 101-course on Nunavut.”
In 2014 and 2016, CRA staff did tours in Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit to consult northerners on how to make the tax system work better for them.
These visits led to a report titled Serving You Better, which promises to follow up through a 2017-2019 action plan.
In that report the CRA promised to:
• Better educate CRA staff on Nunavut-specific tax issues.
• Help residents gain access to their northern tax benefits.
• Promote community-volunteer income tax programs.
• Create a phone line for northerners.
• Look at more effective ways to make tax payments.
• Help northern taxpayers learn how to get tax credits for their airline tickets.
Nunavut’s smaller communities face even more problems than Iqaluit when it comes to filing income tax, said Kevin Kelly, the CEO of Nunavut Tourism.
“What you see here is not necessarily representative of the territory,” he said.
Providing income tax information in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun would be a game changer for small Nunavut businesses and for private residents, Kelly said, adding that should this be done, the CRA would no doubt see more Nunavummiut file their taxes each year.
“[Community residents] want to comply, but they need to have the tools to make it possible.… They need to have things available to them in their language.”
Kelly also said that levels of financial literacy in the territory are low and, because most communities don’t have a chartered bank branch, there aren’t always people in the community who residents can go to for help.
“People just don’t understand the financial world,” he said.
And CRA staff often don’t understand the North, attendees said, which can be frustrating for businesses and intimidating for private residents.
That’s especially true when the CRA audits them and demands proof of northern residency for those who claim the northern residents tax benefit.
“For five years, I was always audited,” Kelly said.
Matthew Clark the president of the the Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce, who is general manager of Arctic Cooperatives Ltd., said he has been audited every year for 10 years.
Clark also talked about how difficult communication with the CRA can be for Nunavummiut.
“I operate a business where I’m kicked off my Internet 10 to 15 times an hour,” he said. “Internet is critical,” Clark said.
While the poor state of the internet in Nunavut is not in Lebouthillier’s purview, she did acknowledge how poor connectivity creates problems for northerners trying to do their taxes.
“If we have fibre optic in the Gaspésie area, then there is no reason why we can’t have it here,” she said, speaking of her own remote home region.
One attendee told the minister that navigating the tax system is especially difficult for Nunavut youth, a growing demographic in the territory.
“They’re not learning from a previous generation,” she said, also suggesting that Lebouthillier’s office should partner with the Nunavut Literacy Council.
Staff from the Iqaluit chartered accountant service, Lester Landau, could not be at the meeting, but instead sent a question through Clark.
Lester Landau’s office said its go-to staff contact person at the CRA for Nunavut tax issues is soon to retire. The northern firm wanted to know who it could now expect to work closely with at the CRA.
“We need that knowledge shared,” they said.
To help with northern-specific tax questions, a call centre pilot project is ongoing in Yukon, Lebouthillier’s staff said. Another project for community tax clinics is doing well in Canada, and Lebouthillier said the volunteer program can be used in Nunavut.
“We need to support the people, they are entitled to those credits,” she said.
Her staff said there is money in the budget for tax training and support, and the attendees were surprised to learn about some of the tax-related workshops that could be organized in Nunavut.
“We’ve put a lot of money in the budget to protect the North,” Lebouthillier said.