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Opinion

Staff shortages forces ambulances to be rerouted to Lacombe. Red Deer’s population is declining due to job losses. What?

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  • I was informed yesterday that Edmonton news was reporting that due to staff shortages at Red Deer’s hospital, ambulances were being rerouted to Lacombe.
    The nurses union filed a grievance with the province about nurses having to work long hours and extra shifts because of 27 unfilled vacancies in the emergency room.
    Ironically this came after a heated discussion about Red Deer’s shrinking population when I was told, that it was due to job losses.
    Quite the conundrum, job losses and unfilled vacancies.
    One would wonder if Red Deer is habituated by unskilled labour or is simply unattractive to professionals. If the case can be made that Red Deer is not attracting professionals, then we should address the issue.
    One of the main considerations about moving to any community is access to health care. If we have limited access to health care, when we are sent by ambulance to smaller communities like Lacombe, or as is often the case we are sent to smaller communities like Olds for surgical procedures. Don’t accept it, address it.
    If one is concerned about being separated from your spouse when, due to age related issues, your health declines, I can name many who have been sent, due to lack of beds, to Innisfail, Stettler and Rimbey while their elderly spouses remained in Red Deer.
    If these are concerns, why move to Red Deer?
    Red Deer did not make the top 100 lists for places to retire or friendliest communities, but did make the top 10 lists for crimes and violence. These could also influence professionals from relocating to Red Deer and leaving vacancies unfilled.
    The Edmonton news reported about the hospital issues, CBC reported about our poor air quality, Globe and Mail reported about our high crime rate yet here in Red Deer we ignore the signs and support the status quo, and condemn those who dare question or offer suggestions.
    Trust me, I know.


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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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