Tax Filing By Phone Ensures No Canadian Has To Leave Money On The Table

Canadians for Tax Fairness applauds Canada Revenue Agency’s announcement last week that they will allow about 950,000 low- and fixed-income Canadians to file their income tax returns by answering a series of questions over the telephone.

In addition to raising revenue for the government, the tax system plays a vital role in helping to deliver social benefits to millions of Canadians including the Canada Child Benefit, the GST Credit, the Working Income Tax Benefit for low-income Canadians and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors.

In recent years, the federal government has made some improvements to the system by, for example, automatically registering those who qualify for the GST credit based on information filed through income tax returns and automated child benefits applications when parents register the birth of their newborn.

But eligibility for many social benefits is still dependent on an income tax return being filed, even if you do not have any income. And many low-income Canadians do not file those returns because of multiple barriers.

Statistician Richard Shillington estimates that five to 10 per cent of eligible low-income people are not getting the GST credit, five to 10 per cent are missing out on the Child Tax Benefit, and as many as 75 per cent of those who would be eligible are not getting the Working Income Tax Benefit.

Navigating the Canada Revenue Agency website, understanding the bureaucratic language and filling out the forms is difficult, even for those with a post-secondary education.

These rates are much higher for marginalized communities such as First Nations and recent immigrants, who also have much higher levels of child poverty. It is estimated that 38 per cent of First Nations children and 30 per cent of black children live in poverty, compared to 17 per cent overall. Campaign 2000 estimates that 50 per cent of families in First Nations communities are not filing income tax returns and therefore are not accessing the up to $6,400 a year per child they are entitled to through the Canada Child Benefit.

Many recent immigrants and Indigenous people face greater challenges in filling out tax returns and application forms because of language and literacy barriers. Navigating the Canada Revenue Agency website, understanding the bureaucratic language and filling out the forms is difficult, even for those with a post-secondary education.

The way the government announced this tax filing by phone initiative did not make clear what this would mean for many low-income Canadians, according to John Stapleton, who has been studying the problem of low uptake of social benefits by low-income Canadians. He suggests they should tell the public, “We think we have money we owe you, but we are not quite sure of the amount. If you give us a call, we can find out the amount and arrange to send it to you.”

Being able to file by phone will be a big improvement in accessibility. But the CRA needs to ensure this initiative is properly staffed. The recent auditor general’s report noted that many Canadians were having a very difficult time getting through to anyone on the phone at the CRA offices.

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While the filing by phone option is a big step forward, further efforts are needed to ensure the children, low-income Canadians and seniors who need help the most are receiving it.

The federal government could learn a lot from a recent Ontario government initiative by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development to promote student assistance improvements and funding to youth in Indigenous communities. They partnered with the Chiefs of Ontario to help train over 300 Indigenous education counsellors about the new OSAP benefits specific to Indigenous learners, and sent staff to numerous central locations and first nations across Ontario to inform indigenous education counsellors about the new government support available for post-secondary education. This effort has resulted in a 36 per cent increase in Indigenous students going on to post-secondary education.

Ultimately, we might hope that the Canada Revenue Agency would prepare income tax returns for us.

The federal government needs to look at this type of direct, proactive community engagement around tax filing and ensuring those who most need social benefits are informed about the supports they are entitled to.

And staffing help centres in CRA offices where someone can go and get help filling out their income tax return in person would help get many young people started in the annual habit of filing a return. One of my sons had not filed a tax return after several years of starting to work, partly because he had lost some of his T4 slips from the various jobs he had had. But more than 15 years ago, he was able to go to a CRA office in Montreal and get them to provide the missing T4 slips and help him fill out his tax return. This kind of personalized assistance is no longer available. It should be restored as investing in helping people to get started on filing tax returns would pay off in the long run.

Ultimately, we might hope that the Canada Revenue Agency would prepare income tax returns for us. This is what tax authorities in Norway, Denmark and Sweden do for their citizens. For most people, CRA already has all the information that is needed to complete a tax return, as employers and charities are required submit salary and donation information to the CRA.

The revenue agency would send out initial tax return forms annually to all who sign up with the information it already has on file about each individual’s incomes, deductions, taxes paid and other relevant information. Individuals would then be required to correct this information as necessary and verify its accuracy. This would not only make tax time a lot less expensive, time consuming and painful for Canadians, but it would also help better ensure that all Canadians, and especially lower-income people, receive the different benefits and credits delivered through the tax system that they are entitled to.

Tax filing by telephone is a step forward in the CRA recognizing barriers for low-income Canadians. We hope it is just a first step, as there is much more that can and needs to be done to ensure that those who are entitled to social benefits are able to get them.

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82% Of Wealth Created Last Year Went To Top One-Percenters

A marina in Monte Carlo, Monaco, playground of the world's wealthy. A report from Oxfam says 82 per cent of the wealth generated in the world last year went to the top one per cent.

DAVOS, Switzerland — A CEO from one of the world’s top five global fashion brands has to work for just four days to earn what a garment worker in Bangladesh will earn in an entire lifetime, campaigning group Oxfam International said Monday.

In the run-up to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, Oxfam has sought to put inequality at the heart of this week’s deliberations of the rich and powerful.

“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s executive director. “The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors.”

In its report “Reward Work, Not Wealth,” Oxfam says 82 per cent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest 1 per cent of the global population while the poorest half of the world’s population — 3.7 billion people — saw no increase in their wealth.

Billionaire wealth, it added, has risen by an annual average of 13 per cent since 2010, over six times more than the wages of average workers, and the number of billionaires rose at an astonishing rate of one every two days in the year to March 2017.

Oxfam listed a series of actions government should take, including limiting returns to shareholders and top executives, ensuring workers receive a minimum “living wage” and pushing through policies to eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of women workers. It also urged a clampdown on tax avoidance and other associated practices, which have been highlighted by the recent publication of the “Panama Papers” and the “Paradise Papers.”

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Oxfam, which has sought for several years sought to highlight the problem of inequality on the eve of the World Economic Forum, said that without action, the populist and nationalist tides around the world will only become more acute.

“We’ve seen a shift in narrative in terms of what people say, but we haven’t seen action to match those words,” said Nick Bryer, Oxfam’s Davos campaign manager.

Governments, he said, need to “get back into the driving seat” and challenge the big corporations and the billionaires.

“There’s plenty they can do,” he said.

‘Shocks are fueled by inequalities’

While conceding that the efforts of Oxfam and other civil society groups have yet to force substantive change among governments, Bryer said it’s important that they carry on delivering the message to the rich and powerful at events like the World Economic Forum, a gathering that’s perceived by many as solely serving the needs of the global elite.

“People are realizing that shocks are fueled by inequalities,” he said.

Oxfam’s findings are based on the annual Global Wealth Databook of Swiss bank Credit Suisse, and Forbes’ billionaire ranking series.

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82 Percent of the Wealth Generated Last Year ‘Went to the Richest 1 Percent of the Global Population’

(LONDON) – Four out of every five dollars of wealth generated in 2017 ended up in the pockets of the richest one percent, while the poorest half of humanity got nothing, a report published by Oxfam found on Monday.

As global political and business leaders gather for this week’s World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the charity’s report highlights a global system that rewards the super-rich and neglects the poor.

It found that 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth in 2017, while 82 percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population.

“(It) reveals how our economies are rewarding wealth rather than the hard work of millions of people,” Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s executive director, told Reuters Television.

“The few at the top get richer and richer and the millions at the bottom are trapped in poverty wages.”

Byanyima blamed “tax dodging” as a major cause of global inequality and urged leaders to clamp down on tax havens and plough money into education, healthcare and jobs for young people.

In particular, Byanyima criticised U.S. President Donald Trump, who is attending the World Economic Forum, for creating “a cabinet of billionaires” and implementing tax legislation that she said rewarded the super-rich, not ordinary Americans.

The annual report by Oxfam found that the number of billionaires rose at a rate of one every two days between March 2016 and March 2017, while in the United States the three richest people own the same wealth as the poorest half of the population.

Oxfam said that women workers were worst hit by global inequality as they consistently earn less than men and usually have lower paid and more insecure forms of work.

The World Economic Forum has previously estimated that it would take 217 years before women earn as much as men and have equal representation in the workplace.

According to the 2017 Forbes rich list, the five richest people on the planet are all men – from Microsoft’s Bill Gates, to veteran investor Warren Buffett, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Inditex founder Amancio Ortega and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

“The economic model is not working at all,” Oxfam report co-author, Iñigo Macías Aymar, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “The way this wealth is being distributed we are really worried, it’s being concentrated in fewer hands.”

Oxfam called for all workers to receive a minimum living wage, the elimination of the gender pay gap and tougher rules to crackdown on tax avoidance.

NAFTA Talks: Ill Will Between Canada, U.S. Threatens To Unhinge Negotiations, Experts Say

Robert Lighthizer, U.S. trade representative, speaks to Chrystia Freeland, minister of foreign affairs, after opening statements during the first round of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 16, 2017.

Canada will be hosting an annoyed and angry United States as the sixth round of talks in the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation unfold over the coming week.

The Trump administration is making known its displeasure about Canada’s contributions to date and demanding progress over the marathon 10-day session.

Multiple sources aware of the U.S. administration’s views say the acrimony has a variety of causes, including Canada’s recent decision to file a sweeping complaint about U.S. trade practices at the World Trade Organization and its pursuit of a progressive trade agenda that includes Indigenous and labour provisions.

The rhetoric around its implacable rejection of the most controversial U.S. positions — raising continental content provisions on automobiles, scrapping a dispute resolution mechanism, limiting Canadian access to U.S. procurement, and instituting a five-year sunset clause — as well as bitterness over apparent leaks are all fuelling the U.S. animosity towards Canada, say sources.

Sources familiar with the Canadian position dismiss all that and say the tone at the negotiating table is professional and cordial, and that Canada is prepared to table counter-proposals in order to make progress.

They say Canadian negotiators are making constructive proposals to find common ground with the Americans on what some have called poison pills designed to kill the deal.

Indeed, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are showing signs they all want to see tangible progress in this round in order keep the negotiations on track, and discourage U.S. President Donald Trump from announcing his intent to withdraw from NAFTA.

It will be another week before Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, American counterpart Robert Lighthizer and Mexico’s Ildefonso Guajardo arrive in Montreal on Jan. 29 to close the extended round that gets underway earlier than planned on Sunday.

The feeling of ill will between Bob Lighthizer’s office and the Canadians — I don’t think you can underestimate it.Sarah Goldfeder

The way some see it, Lighthizer is in no hurry to come back to Canada.

“The feeling of ill will between Bob Lighthizer’s office and the Canadians — I don’t think you can underestimate it,” said Sarah Goldfeder, a former U.S. diplomat who now represents American clients in an Ottawa consultancy.

“He’s extremely frustrated with China and Canada,” added Goldfeder.

“Those are the two countries he thinks are being most unfair to the United States … Those are the ones taking up a good chunk of his time, and not in positive ways.”

Goldfeder noted that when Freeland went to Washington two weeks ago she met Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and members of Congress — but not Lighthizer.

When Guajardo visited later in the month, Lighthizer’s door was open to him, she said.

Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat with extensive experience in the U.S., said the body language between Lighthizer and Freeland is “terrible,” which is telling.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, Mexican Economy Minister Idelfonso Guajardo and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer greet each other during a press conference on the third last day of the second round talks of the NAFTA in Mexico City on Sept.  5, 2017.

“He’s a bully and she gets under his skin,” said Robertson. “She and Guajardo are amigos. No one would say that about Freeland and Lighthizer.”

Canadian officials say Freeland and Lighthizer intend to meet this week while the two are in Davos, Switzerland for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Lighthizer isn’t willing to blow up NAFTA over the WTO challenge, but Canada should brace for some bilateral retaliation. Meanwhile, his office isn’t interested in the Canadian progressive trade agenda — entrenching Indigenous, gender and workers’ rights issues in the pact — because it has the whiff of Canada dictating social policy to the U.S., Goldfeder said.

‘There could be a notice of withdrawl’

Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a group normally at odds with the Republicans, was also critical of the Canadian posture.

“Canada is 100 per cent not engaged. Mexico started engaging in the last month or so,” said Wallach, who knows Lighthizer.

”Probably after the Montreal round, that increases the prospect that there could be a notice of withdrawal.”

Ottawa is defensive. The characterization of Canada as obstructionist is nonsense, and the product of strategic leaking of information, according to another official familiar with the content of talks, and who agreed to speak anonymously citing the sensitivity of the ongoing negotiations.

The official said Canadian and American negotiators, as well as their Mexican counterparts, know each other well and are working methodically in the 30 separate negotiating rooms to make incremental progress.

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer with Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarrea speaks during the conclusion of the fourth round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 17, 2017.

The official pointed to Freeland’s Jan. 11 comments at the Liberal cabinet retreat in London, Ont. as evidence Canada is doing some “creative thinking” about how to deal with “unconventional” U.S. proposals.

The complaints about Canada’s progressive trade agenda are also a bit rich, the official said, because the real obstacles are more fundamental — the American poison pill proposals that wouldn’t fly in any trade negotiation.

In particular, the official cited the U.S. proposal to ditch the dispute resolution mechanism, saying Americans remember full well that former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney considered that idea a deal breaker during the original Canada-U.S. free trade talks in 1988.

Freeland told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that the progressive chapters on labour, gender, environment and Indigenous issues are not a problem. She said the Indigenous chapter would be discussed for the first time in Montreal.

Perry Bellegarde is seen in a file photo.

Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde said it’s about time — he has pushed Freeland hard on the issue in recent months as part of her NAFTA advisory committee. Bellegarde told The Canadian Press he hopes the Americans and Mexicans support a chapter affirming Indigenous Peoples’ inclusion in the economy.

“Canada is supporting that,” he said.

“Tuesday will be the first formal response by U.S.A., Mexico to that new chapter, and so it’s very important.”

Canada’s economic livelihood is on the line.Eric Miller

Today’s NAFTA talks are unusual because Canada is being told it needs to give up benefits or lose access to its fundamental trading partner, said Eric Miller, head of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group in Washington.

“Canada’s economic livelihood is on the line,” said Miller, a former Canadian official who worked on the auto bailout.

“One should expect Canada to be very focused on it, and to react very strongly.”

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