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Opinion

Someone Needs Replacing at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools

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  • Once you put children safety at risk… I can’t be silent any longer.

    From charitable tax receipts not being issued correctly… to having private information of your child’s educational performance being stored and “pushed” to you by foreign apps that you must agree to their terms saying that information is processed by foreign servers, to hearing wasteful spending radio ads, to leaving an entire bus route of elementary school children stranded for nearly an hour while their “bus status app” says “all buses on time”.

    Yes, this is what the RDCRS has to offer you in just this past year alone.

    I ran for trustee in 2013, so sure, some might try to spin this as sour grapes, but when you are tired of administrators that have stopped focusing on children and have become more focused on child recruitment, you have a problem. I ran for a trustee position to prevent this very type of thing going on, and here we sit.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the teachers, their assistants, and staff doing everything to help the children. But something needs to be done at the top.

    Charitable Receipts

    To be eligible for a charitable donation credit, all tax receipts must have the Registered Charity number on them. This is a 9-digit number followed by “RR” and then 4 more digits. Every single RDCRS receipt received by my accounting firm this past tax season was missing this number. This was raised by yours truly to their office on behalf of my clients. They did not reissue replacements until I pushed back repeatedly and individually per client. They said over the phone they would not be mailing out replacements for everyone. So, if you donated this past year, enjoy your reassessment.

    Performance Reports

    We all want to know how our child(ren) is(are) doing in school. This past year RDCRS decided to launch the use of PowerSchool LLC. They say all of your child’s information is held on Canadian servers. However, when you go to sign up for the app it says that the app uses foreign servers for you to access, view, and receive notifications on, your child’s performance. This is how a foreign app works.

    While you may store information in Canada, it is being sent through other connections and servers in a foreign country like the United States. While I’m fine seeing pictures on social media or getting the quick note from a teacher about what “little Johnny” did today… when it comes to academic performance and review, privacy and security steps should be taken. When I raised this concern with the superintendent, his response is that commercial privacy laws do not apply to them.

    In my request I stated:

    “Further to my previous e-mail: although PIPEDA may not apply to RDCRS directly, by engaging a corporate entity, you are required under FOIP S.38 and 39(1) to have proper controls in place which would require our consent. The corporate entity PowerSchool LLC is to be bound by PIPEDA as well as the stricter Alberta version, PIPA, as it is not a government agency. The app from the Canadian version of the app store that you have instructed parents to use to access is warning us upon installation that the data is being routed via PowerSchool LLC’s US resident servers. This is not a violation of PIPEDA by PowerSchool LLC directly, as they are requesting our permission on installing the app. This warning does not exist unless you are in Canada. This is not a “default”, this is a requirement by PowerSchool for any notifications to Canadian resident users.

    However, the letter sent to parents states that we are required to sign up, or we will not receive information. Requiring parents to use the app in order to access report cards and information on our children is not allowing for our consent, it is being forced. A government department forcing a parent to accept a foreign corporation’s “terms of service agreement” is in violation of FOIP.”

    His response:
    “In your message you reference Sec. 38 and 39(1) of the FOIP Act. Our school division is in compliance with these sections of this Act as we have proper controls in place because our student data is housed on our servers. We protect personal information by using reasonable security arrangements against risk of unauthorized access. As a result parent consent is not required.”

    So parent consent is not required with the school division, but yet parent consent is required by the corporate entity, which then routes the data from Canada through their U.S. server. However, if you don’t consent, you don’t get updates other than a final report at the end of the “reporting term”. Sounds like forced consent to me. Why would I want to have my child’s personal and private information sent through a foreign country?

    Radio Ads

    Instead of focusing on children that they have, they would rather recruit more children instead. During the 2013 election, I was amazed how a former trustee chair stated, “if we convert just one child to Catholicism then it [advertising] is worth it.”

    Apparently, conversion is more important than the education of the children already there.

    I have asked how much was spent on advertising but the only response I received was “fill out a freedom of information request. There will be fees associated with it because it is not your personal information.”

    How many textbooks could we have purchased for the amount they spend on advertising in a year? I’m sure many parents would like to know.

    This brings me to today.

    Transport

    An entire bus route of elementary school children did not get picked up today. Instead, they were sitting outside for 45 minutes when my children contacted me in panic tears and said the bus didn’t come. Like any parent, at first, I was questioning my kids… then worried for other children… then mad.

    Why did I get mad?

    Well, you see the RDCRS has a wonderful “app” that is supposed to notify parents if a bus is canceled or running late. But the status for the route said “On time”.

    So I asked my kids if they missed the bus, they said no, because the other kids at their stop were there too.

    When I picked up my children (and one of the neighbour’s kids after getting permission from her parent) we continued along the route and saw many more children waiting along the route. We pulled over to tell them to contact their parents as it appears there is no bus.

    When I arrived with my children at the school I informed them of the issues. Now, to the school’s staff credit, the school responded quickly and the vice principal drove the route to check the safety of the kids.

    However, when I called the transport office, which is owned and run by RDCRS, they stated that they “had a no-show and only found out now.” They still did not update the bus status on the app and this was one hour after the route was to begin.

    Every employer has some sort of attendance system. Couriers use radios and GPS to track vehicles and routes. But somehow the RDCRS transport office doesn’t have a way to track if a driver showed up to work or not? Or if a bus is on a route or not?

    Then what is the point of an app to notify parents if you don’t use it?

    I’ve been relatively quiet publicly on these things, but today, when you put children safety at risk, it was the last straw.


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    Opinion

    3 wards for the city based on federal and provincial governance models.

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  • An interesting proposal has been suggested for our municipal governance that is modeled after the provincial and federal electoral system.
    Federally we have Members of Parliament (MPs) and one of them is also the Prime Minister. Provincially we have Members of the Legislature (MLAs) and one of them is also the Premier.
    Federally our fine city is divided into 2 electoral districts or ridings both federally and provincially, so we have 2 MLAs and 2 MPs, and anyone could also be our Premier or Prime Minister, or Speaker, Cabinet Member, or Opposition Leader.
    Back to our city’s governance, we elect 9 people currently, 8 councillors and 1 mayor for 1 electoral district. The idea being suggested is 3 wards, 3 councillors each with 1 also being the mayor.
    Population wise and geographically 3 wards would be fairly easy. Using the last municipal census. Approximately 1/3 the population lives east of 30th Avenue so that would make an easy boundary and approximately 1/3 live north of the river, another easy boundary. The other 1/3 would be south of the river and west of 30th Avenue. Easy and already done.
    Now, why would we consider 3 wards over governance of a single entity?
    Look at thhe history of the wards, the services offered, crime rates, return on investments and you can see the reason.
    The east of 30th Avenue ward has, 3 high schools with plans for 2 more, has the Collicutt centre with a recommended site for the next multi-use aquatic centre, 2 emergency services location, and a pickle ball court centre.
    The north of the river ward has no high schools with no plans for any, the Dawe recreation centre, YMCA, and 1 emergency services centre.
    The other ward has 1 high school, 1 college, downtown recreation centre, museum, tennis courts, Michener pool, Westerner, Kinex arenas, curling rinks, a proposed cultural centre, hospital, multiple emergency services to name but a few.
    So it is easy to see the rationale behind and the appeal for a ward system as our city grows in a manner favourable to some and not to others. 3 wards with 3 councillors each and 1 of the 9 would also act as mayor. It works provincially and federally and it would make councillors responsible and accountable for any continued disparities, right?
    It is an option. Just saying.


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    Opinion

    Taxpayers DO have the right to remain silent

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  • A taxpayer-friendly unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling came out this week in MNR v Cameco [2019 FCA 67]. At issue was whether or not the Minister (through the CRA) has the authority to compel oral answers to oral questions from taxpayers or their employees.

    In his ruling, Justice of Appeal Rennie stated “…the Minister does not have the power to compel a taxpayer to answer questions at the audit stage…”, however, it may be in the best interest of the taxpayer to provide reasonable answers to reasonable questions in order to expedite the process. The full entire ruling can be found and read here

    This ruling simply re-confirms, that even in an audit, you (and your staff) have the right to remain silent, and that the Minister’s powers are limited to physical evidence.

    An exception to this is you are required to provide assistance in locating and providing that physical evidence, which may need to be orally.

    Personally, when dealing with a very large number of taxpayers on our own office, we want to be certain that the file that the CRA is talking about is the same file in front of us. As such, we are a firm believer in the Canadian Home Builders’ Association motto that is ironically supported by the Government of Canada: “Get it in Writing.”

    I am not advocating answering no questions, as the Minister (CRA) still has the ability to issue reassessments, thereby shifting burden of proof to the taxpayer further to disprove the reassessment.

    I am, however, advocating at a minimum to get those questions detailed, and in writing. This will help to provide clarity and allow for proper thought in your answers as opposed to stating something with unintended consequences.

    Here is a little example of what happens when you don’t get it in writing: in my dark-side days as a field auditor with the (then called) CCRA, we used to ask prying questions that the taxpayer had no idea they were answering.

    For example, in one particular circumstance I was reviewing a file where it was suggested that the taxpayer was doing under-the-table cash jobs. This meant I would have to be creative in figuring out the taxpayer’s cost of living, and ruling out other sources of income.

    Meeting in a quiet restaurant in a small Saskatchewan town, I was eventually able to have the taxpayer relaxed enough to think that we were having a normal conversation. Just a couple of ‘Riders fans that aren’t a fan of Ottawa, but hey, I have a job to do. When the taxpayer started complaining about the government, I joined in:

    “Hey, I hear you. I’m not some suit from Ottawa. I’m from Regina. I mean both the feds and the province already get enough out of me from tax on my smokes.”

    I don’t smoke.

    The taxpayer didn’t know that, but the anger was timely because the province had just raised up the cigarette tax the previous year so packs were well over $6 a pack.

    “Yeah I know”, the taxpayer said, “I smoke a pack a day”.

    Music to my ears as a tax auditor, the taxpayer just told me that they need ($6 x 365) = $2,190 of after-tax income just to feed their cigarette habit.

    I continued, “That’s terrible! Between getting our money on that, and getting it at the casino, it’s just crazy how much they make it hard to enjoy our weekends.”

    “Yeah, I don’t win nuthin’ at the casino either,” the taxpayer stated.

    To me I heard ‘I didn’t have any non-taxable casino winnings. In fact, the taxpayer likely had lost money in the year. This means the taxpayer needed to have more disposable income to gamble.’

    The conversation continued for a good 30 minutes. Once I was armed with more knowledge of the taxpayer’s lifestyle and spending habits, I went to work. Bank statements, receipts, mileage information, fuel costs, type of vehicle, etc.

    We would use information tools not only from Statistics Canada for price of fuel in different regions, we would also use websites like www.fueleconomy.gov that provide different estimated fuel consumption based on type of use and mileage going back to cars from the 1980s. Then we work backwards to see if the numbers made sense with respect to the taxpayer’s vehicle and costs.

    When it was all said and done, I used the results of our conversation against the taxpayer. When I was finished, I found over $30,000 in an income variance between the taxpayer’s living costs and change in net worth compared to what was reported. Not only that, but the taxpayer had already backed themselves into a corner because of the questions that were answered which I had documented.

    My guess is that in conclusion, the taxpayer thought they should have got the questions in writing instead of meeting me at a restaurant.


    Cory G. Litzenberger, CPA, CMA, CFP, C.Mgr is the President & Founder of CGL Strategic Business & Tax Advisors; you can find out more about Cory’s biography at http://www.CGLtax.ca/Litzenberger-Cory.html


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