The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, C.P., M.P., Minister of National Revenue

May 31, 2016

Services for Northern Canadians

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: First, some background on my region of Nunavut, Madam Minister. The population is composed of 85 per cent Inuit, the vast majority of whose first language is neither English nor French but Inuktitut. Yet, the Inuit pay taxes like other Canadians and are also entitled to tax deductions like any other Canadians.

Your predecessors in the Canada Revenue Agency deserve credit: 11 years ago at the instance of former Liberal MP Nancy Karetak-Lindell, four Inuktitut-speaking people were hired by the CRA with a mandate to travel to Inuit regions to provide education on income tax and assistance to people in understanding both their obligations and their benefits. They were given responsibility for collection accounts. They travelled three or four times a year, meeting with communities, giving workshops and going on radio advertising. Unfortunately, this assistance has been greatly reduced. There’s only one employee and no longer an outreach program. With our high unemployment rate, many Inuit people are dependent on the CRA to access their child benefit entitlements, but they need help understanding their obligations and entitlements.

Would you consider reinstating the greatly valued outreach program for Inuit in the Inuit regions of Canada?

[Translation]

Hon. Diane Lebouthillier, P.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue: Listen, I share your concerns. This is part of the discussions I am having with the Canada Revenue Agency about responding to people in remote areas with unique characteristics.

(1600)

Because I live in a region, I have noticed that service centralization has a negative impact on people who are poor and less educated and who have a harder time standing up for what they need. I can assure you that we are working on this. My mandate letter clearly indicates that all Canadians, including the poorest, must receive the services and information they are entitled to.

[English]

Senator Patterson: Thank you for that response, minister.

I believe you spoke about simplifying forms earlier this afternoon. I do want to point out that Inuit elders who have lived their entire lives in small Nunavut communities are sometimes being required by CRA to fill out a detailed five- page form to establish their Nunavut residency. This is very important for residents to qualify for the Northern residents tax deduction, which is appreciated. That form is available only in English or French. The Internet is very slow and limited in bandwidth, so even if they can use the Internet, they can’t easily access your forms.

Another parent from a small community with six children was asked to provide original immunization certificates to prove their children were Nunavut residents. It’s very challenging.

In light of these challenges, is the minister willing to consider reducing red tape and simplifying demands of CRA for proof of facts like Northern residence and children?

[Translation]

Ms. Lebouthillier: I thank the honourable senator for his question. We are working very closely with the Minister of Indigenous Affairs and with communities to provide them with the best possible services and to simplify those services while taking regional characteristics into account.

There are some problems with the Internet. In some communities, people don’t have access to the Internet. In others, they don’t have access to the cell network.

I can assure you that this issue is important to me. It is part of my mandate to meet the people’s needs and to ensure that people are receiving the services they are entitled to.

I have taken note of your request concerning translation of documents. That could be done.

QP – Tax Services for Northern Canadians