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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

#visionCanada2119

Will you give just a little bit of your energy to support Canadian Energy?

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I love Canadian oil and gas

How do how average Albertans feel about this effort by Canada Action to rally support for Canada’s energy industry?  They’re trying to reach at least 750,000 people with their Stand Strong With Canada message.

As part of Todayville’s #visionCanada2119 project we’d like to share in this conversation.

For those of you who are working or want to be working in the energy industry… Does this make you feel proud?

For those of you who realize that Alberta’s economy relies on energy production… Is this a campaign you can get behind by forwarding to your various social media accounts?

For those of you who would prefer that we stop producing oil and gas and immediately transition to a new entirely renewable energy based economy…  Is this a step backwards?

We’ve opened comments on this post and we invite your strong and well intentioned opinions.  Just remember this is a community platform and comments should always be G rated!

Please feel free to forward this post to your social media accounts.. and let us know how it goes.

Message From CanadaAction.ca

SHARE THIS VIDEO AND STAND STRONG WITH CANADA

Canada is a leader in protecting people and the planet – a fact that should be known by every single Canadian.

So, we need your help to get our video to 750,000 views across all platforms by sharing this link with staff, friends, family, and on social media!

We are no longer apologizing – a future in energy and a future in the environment are not mutually exclusive.

The world needs us. We are Canadian energy — and we are proud!

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#visionCanada2119

Garfield Marks; “Oil-by-Seaway” proposal still draws interest.

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The proposal to by-pass Quebec in shipping oil to refineries in New Brunswick via Thunder Bay then shipping through the St. Lawrence Seaway still has legs.

Nov 9 2019, Comments by D.B. Chalcroft on the

PROPOSAL TO SHIP OIL TO EASTERN CANADA VIA ST. LAWRENCE SEAWAY by Garfield Marks

Garfield Marks published his “Oil-by-Seaway” and it has subsequently been covered in the CBC media and more recently on CHQR 770 radio.

The Garfield Marks “Oil-by-Seaway” Proposal

Concept – To replace the eastern half (about 2600 km) of the proposed Energy East Pipeline with tanker shipping from Thunder Bay via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway to St. John, New Brunswick.

The Energy East pipeline proposed by TC Energy in 2014, would have converted about 3000 km of the existing natural gas pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to the Ontario-Quebec border, to diluted bitumen transportation; and would have built 1600 kms of new pipeline from the Ontario-Quebec border to St. John, New Brunswick. The capacity of the pipeline was to have been 1.1 million barrels (200,000 tonnes) of crude oil per day, was estimated to cost $12 billion, and at 4600 km would have been the longest pipeline in North America. TC Energy subsequently cancelled the project in October 2017, citing regulatory rule changes. In addition the Government of Quebec has stated that there is no social license for the Energy East pipeline through Quebec.

“Oil-by-Seaway” Tanker Shipping Option

The “Oil-by-Seaway” proposal would include converting 2000 km of the existing TC Energy Natural Gas pipeline from Hardisty, Ab, to Thunder Bay to carry diluted bitumen, and creating a new oil tanker shipping system from Thunder Bay through the existing St Lawrence Seaway and by ocean to the major Irving oil refinery at St. John , NB.

The existing St. Lawrence Seaway has more available shipping capacity than is presently being utilized. During the 1970s and 1980s, cargo shipments from Thunder Bay, for example, averaged about 20,000,000 metric tonnes per year with between 850 and 1470 vessels per year leaving the port. Since 2009 cargo shipments from Thunder Bay have averaged only about 8,000,000 tonnes/year on some 400 vessels per year.

The existing locks in the St. Lawrence Seaway at the Welland Canal and near Montreal, impose length, width, and draft, size restrictions (maximums of 225.5 m long by 23.8 m wide and draft of 8 m) on the vessels that can use the Great Lakes shipping system. The maximum size of bulk cargo that can be shipped through the system is about 29,000 tonnes per Seaway-capable ship – these ships are known as “lakers”.

The St Lawrence Seaway averages about 275 days of navigation per year – the other 90 days being closed to shipping due to winter conditions.

In order for “Oil-by-Seaway” shipping to deliver the 1,100,000 BPD (200,000 tonnes per day) of oil to the St John, NB terminal as envisaged by Energy East, in a shipping season of 275 days, would require the daily shipping deliveries to be 265,000 tonnes/day during the navigation season. This would require close to 10 “laker-tankers” per day to unload at St. John, NB. Assuming the turn-around time for a “laker-tanker” from Thunder Bay to St. John to Thunder Bay is about 16 days including 2 days for loading and unloading – means that a fleet of about 160 “laker-tankers” would be required to achieve this delivery commitment, plus storage facilities at St John of about 100,000,000 barrels.

The Welland Canal currently has about 1500-1800 vessel transits each way per year, or on average 5-7 transits per day each way. However in 1960 the total number of vessel transits was as high as 4500 each way (an average of 16 /day) although vessels were smaller carrying an average of only 3,400 tonnes of cargo. The Oil-by-Seaway proposal would add 2700 passages per year bringing the total to around 4500 per year or 16 per day each way, very similar to the 1960 record rate albeit with larger average vessel sizes.

Ballpark Cost Estimate for 160 Laker-Tankers

What would it cost to create a fleet of say 160 “Laker-tankers”? As a very rough comparison, the three Newfoundland Off-shore Shuttle Tankers that pickup roughly 230,000 BPD (47,000 tonne/day) of oil production from the five producing platforms on the Grand Banks, cost a reported $375,000,000 (ie $125M/ship)in 2016, and have a deadweight of 148,000 tonnes and gross tonnage of 85,000 tonnes each, meaning each ship can carry up to about 60,000 tonnes of cargo (oil) . These three Shuttle Tankers deliver the 47,000 tonne/day of Grand Bank oil production to the trans-shipment terminal at Whiffen Head, NL with an average turn-around time of 3-5 days . A rough cost estimate for the Laker-Tankers can be obtained by taking $125M X 29,000 t/ 60,000 t = $60 million. Therefore the cost of one “Laker-tanker” with 29,000 tonne capacity is estimated to be in the order of $60 million, and a fleet of 160 Laker-tankers would be in the ballpark of $10 billion.

Discussion

The St. Lawrence Seaway is currently handling 20-25 million tonnes of cargo per year through the Welland Canal in the Downbound direction, ie towards the east, with total transits of 1400 – 1900 per year. Oil-by-Seaway to equal the Energy East proposal of 200,000 tonnes per day would add 73,000,000 tonnes/yr. to the Downbound traffic. This is a significant increase to nearly 100,000,000 tonnes/year and 16 vessel transits per day each way, through the Seaway System. It would appear that the present Seaway infrastructure may be able to accommodate this magnitude of increase without major upgrades, because it doesn’t exceed the historical highs in vessel transits which occurred in the 1960s. This would need to be confirmed with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

The Oil-by-Seaway proposal would require a fleet of 160 or so “Laker-Tankers” which most likely don’t currently exist, and which would cost in the order of $10 billion . This concept would also require the creation of about 100,000,000 bbl. of incremental oil storage capacity at St. John, NB, that probably wasn’t part of the Energy East proposal, to cover the 90 days each year when the Seaway is closed.

Utilizing the existing Seaway Infrastructure to transport oil by tanker would reverse a long trend of declining commodity traffic through the Seaway system. This scheme could create the impetus to update and modernize Seaway facilities, and could also reinvigorate the communities along the Seaway, with substantially more economic activity in their midst.

Fabricating 160 Laker-Tankers could provide a significant workload for Canada’s ship-building industry, perhaps including the Davie Shipyard in Quebec, and the Irving shipyard in Halifax.

There are undoubtedly many other technical, social, environmental, and regulatory issues to be identified and considered, as well as whether this concept is commercially viable.

Preliminary Conclusion

On the surface, the Garfield Marks “Oil-by-Seaway” proposal seems to have sufficient merit to warrant a more thorough analysis than presented herein.

 

Comments by: David B. Chalcroft, P. Eng.

Previously published;

 

We have not been able to run our bitumen through a pipeline to a refinery in New Brunswick. There has been resistance in parts of Ontario and in Quebec. What if we came up with another plan. Would we consider it? There will be road blocks, but not insurmountable, would we consider it?

Yes how about Thunder Bay?

Thunder Bay, Ontario, the largest Canadian port of the St. Lawrence Seaway located on the west end of Lake Superior, 1850 kms. from Hardisty, Alberta. A forgotten jewel.

So what, you may ask.

They used to ship grain from Thunder Bay in huge tankers to ports all over the world. Why not oil?

The Saint Lawrence Seaway ships fuel, gasoline and diesel tankers, to this day.

We could run oil tankers to the Irving refinery in New Brunswick, bypassing the controversial pipeline running through eastern Ontario and Quebec.

The pipeline, if that was the transport model chosen, would only need to run through parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Like, previously stated the pipeline would only be 1850 kms. long.

The other great thing about Thunder Bay is the abundance of rail lines. Transportation for such things as grain and forestry products from western Canada. If you can’t run pipeline from Hardisty, through to Thunder Bay, use the railroad.

Why Hardisty, you may ask.

Hardisty, according to Wikipedia, is mainly known as a pivotal petroleum industry hub where petroleum products such as Western Canada Select blended crude oil and Hardisty heavy oil are produced, stored and traded.

The Town of Hardisty owes its very existence to the Canadian Pacific Railway. About 1904 the surveyors began to survey the railroad from the east and decided to locate a divisional point at Hardisty because of the good water supply from the river.

Hardisty, Alberta has the railroad and has the product, the storage capacity, and the former Alberta government planned on investing $3.7 billion in rail cars for hauling oil while Thunder Bay has the railroad and an under utilised port at the head of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Economics are there along with opportunity, employment would be created and the east coast could end its’ dependency on imported oil.

Do we have the vision or willingness to consider another option. I am just asking for all avenues to be considered.

In my interviews in Ontario there is a willingness to discuss this idea.

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation is still reviewing the idea of shipping crude oil from western Canada through its system, and it’s a long way from happening, according to Bruce Hodgson, the Seaway’s director of market development.

“Obviously, there needs to be an ongoing commitment on the part of a producer, and so that’s going to be required for any project of this nature,” he said.

We could consider it, could we not?

CBC NEWS did a story about this idea on March 7 2019;

A retired oil field worker in Alberta has “floated” a novel solution to Alberta’s oil transportation woes: pipe the bitumen to Thunder Bay, Ont., then ship it up the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Irving oil refinery in New Brunswick.

Marks’ proposal might be more than a pipe dream, according to the director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy.

‘I don’t think that it’s a totally nuts idea’

“I don’t think that it’s a totally nuts idea,” Warren Mabee said. “I think that there’s some flaws to it … but this is an idea that could work in certain circumstances and at certain times of year. … It’s not the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

The chief executive officer of the Port of Thunder Bay said shipping oil from the port “could easily be done.”

“We ship refined gasoline and diesel up from Sarnia. We’ve done that for many many years,” Tim Heney told CBC. “So it’s not something that’s that far-fetched.”

There are, however, plenty of potential drawbacks to shipping crude through the Seaway, Mabee explained, not least of which is the fact that it isn’t open year-round.

The need to store oil or redirect it during the winter months could be costly, he said.

Potential roadblocks

Another potential pitfall is capacity, he added; there may not be enough of the right-sized tankers available to carry the oil through the Seaway.

Finally, he said, the journey by sea from Lake Superior to the Irving refinery in New Brunswick is a long one, so it might make more sense to transport the product to a closer facility such as the one in Sarnia, Ont.

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation is still reviewing the idea of shipping crude oil from western Canada through its system, and it’s a long way from happening, according to Bruce Hodgson, the Seaway’s director of market development.

“Obviously, there needs to be an ongoing commitment on the part of a producer, and so that’s going to be required for any project of this nature,” he said.

So far, no producer has come forward seeking to ship crude through Thunder Bay, he said.

Asked about the possible environmental risks of shipping oil on Lake Superior, both Hodgson and Heney said shipping by tanker is relatively safe; Hodgson noted that any tankers carrying the product would have to be double-hulled, and crews are heavily vetted.

Time to rethink pipelines?

There hasn’t been a spill in the Seaway system for more than 20 years he said.

Nonetheless, Mabee said, the potential for an oil spill on the Great Lakes could be a huge issue.

“The St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes have a lot of people living in close proximity, a lot of people who rely on it for drinking water,” he said. “There’s a delicate ecosystem there. I think a lot of people would push back against this proposal simply from that perspective.”

 

In fact, one of the reasons Mabee appreciates Marks’ proposal, he said, is because it invites people to weigh the pros and cons of different methods of transporting oil.

“If we’re not going to build pipelines, but we’re going to continue to use oil, it means that people are going to be looking at some of these alternative transport options,” he said.

“And if we don’t want oil on those alternative transport options, we need to give the pipelines another thought.

Time to consider all options, I dare say.

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december, 2019

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