Within these past few weeks, Canadian politics has been so tumultuously rocked with the worrying stories of Rob Ford and Mike Duffy that a number of other issues have not been explored as deeply as they should have been. For example, the ruling in the Robocall case by the Federal Court turned out to be a sort of win-win for both sides. The judge found that fraud did occur, but found no evidence that the Conservative Party or a candidate condoned the fraud. However, the Conservatives' CIMS database was "the most likely source of information used to make the misleading calls." Additionally, it was found that "there is no evidence that the election results in the six ridings would have turned out differently," and the presiding judge thus did not annul the results.
The appellants, backed by the Council of Canadians, are not appealing to the Supreme Court, but are demanding a public inquiry. On a similar note, the CRTC has fined federal and provincial election campaigns a combined total of $369,000, including Marc Garneau, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, the federal NDP, and Alberta's Wildrose for violating the "Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules."
Another issue which has not generated nearly as much controversy as it should have was the revelation that numerous elected officials have failed to pay their taxes. These are individuals who receive six-figure paycheques and gold-plated pensions that the average citizen can only dream of. MPs start off with a base salary of $160,000. The two NDP MPs who owed back-taxes, Hoang Mai and Tyrone Benskin, have been relieved of their critic responsibilities by Thomas Mulcair. Benskin owes over $58,000 to Revenu Quebec. Mai, who did not reveal exactly how much he owed, stated:
I was self-employed before I became a Member of Parliament and I still owed some taxes. I made arrangements with the Quebec government to meet my obligations and pay my taxes, as every citizen should.
Ironically, in 2012, Hoang Mai spoke passionately about halting tax evasion, stating that:
In the current context of budgetary austerity, the government should make every effort to recover money that's due.
When campaigning against tax havens he stated that:
At a time when the government is pinching pennies, it is essential to our economic health for all citizens and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.
Benskin, likewise, "regrets" that he wasn't able to pay his taxes until now. The Conservatives, who have been (rightfully) criticizing the NDP MPs, now look much less credible after it was revealed that the prime minister's former director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, owed taxes while he was working in the Prime Minister's Office. Court documents obtained by iPoliticsreveal that he owed $27,849 which he eventually paid back after losing a court ruling. He even quipped that "I believe that no tax is a good tax."
These indiscretions of the public servants not only reflect poorly on these individuals' characters, but those of their caucus, and, unfortunately, the institution of Parliament as a whole. When elected MPs, who should be exhibiting honourable behaviour, neglect to pay their taxes, it sends the wrong message to Canadian taxpayers. Neglecting this duty is a civic irresponsibility on the parts of the legislators.
The website of the Canada Revenue Agency lists a number of arguably irresponsible but fairly hilarious tax myths:
- The income tax system is based on voluntary compliance because the government knows tax laws are unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.
- You can force the CRA to lower or even eliminate taxes by refusing to cooperate with its employees.
- The Income Tax Act applies only to corporate entities and not to "natural" persons or human beings. The Common Law rights dating back to the Magna Carta make all taxes on individuals voluntary.
- Some individuals claim that they have not filed a tax return in years and that the government has not been capable of forcing them to file a tax return because the Income Tax Act is unconstitutional and unenforceable.
Revelations like these in the news may spawn new myths that encourage citizens to avoid paying taxes. It is the federal government that passes the laws and regulations under the Income Tax Act which the Canada Revenue Agency must enforce impartially. No politician or citizen stands above the law, and each citizen must pay income taxes. When the lawmakers fail to follow their own regulations, citizens should demand better. In order to take parliamentary suggestions and regulations on tax avoidance and evasion seriously, citizens should feel confident that their MPs, first and foremost, are following the rules.
For these reasons, Hoang Mai and Tryone Benskin should resign.
Originally published inThe Prince Arthur Herald.