Chris Speyer, the Tory MP who provoked the current tax quota furore, says he understands why the issue erupted in Cambridge, Ont. An unimposing community of 75,000, 100 km west of Toronto, most of its residents are descendants of Presbyterian Scottish settlers accustomed to going quietly about their business. But the recent recession “savaged manufacturers in Cambridge,” said Speyer, “and the bitter irony is that as conditions became worse, Revenue Canada just turned the screws.”
Speyer said he first became concerned about the tax department’s “unbridled use of power” in the late 1970s when he worked as a lawyer. After he became Cambridge’s MP in 1979, constituents started sending Speyer complaints about Revenue Canada’s aggressive tactics. But it was not until a group of eight accountancy companies in Cambridge, led by Richard Mathew of the firm Kelly Graham Myska, complained to Revenue Minister Pierre Bussières and to Speyer last November about unfair tax collection methods that the MP decided to question Bussières. On Nov. 29 Speyer stood in the
House of Commons to ask if local tax assessors had to fill revenue quotas, and the battle was joined.
The publicity that the original Commons exchanges produced quickly prompted others to get in touch with Speyer. As a result, the MP produced in the House a confidential Revenue Canada document which had been issued at the Kitchener tax office. It informed an auditor that he and nine others in a section of the office each had to recover an additional $3 million in unpaid taxes per year. Cambridge is within the taxa-
tion district covered by Kitchener, the neighboring community to the northwest. Said Speyer, who refused to name the source of the Kitchener document: “It is a particularly bad centre. I think there is a real malignancy in that office.”
Hectic: Speyer’s crusade has drawn considerable support from local business people. But it has also meant a hectic time for his riding assistant, Evelyn Gordon, who runs his Cambridge office. She has had to start her day at 7 a.m. instead of 8:30 to handle the flood of inquiries and complaints about tax auditors. After the CBC aired a controver-
sial National Film Board production about superefficient tax collection methods, Excuse Me, But There's a Computer Asking for You, Gordon had to persuade one irate caller not to throw away his social insurance card or stop paying his taxes.
As for Richard Mathew, he said that he convinced other accountants to join him in protesting to Revenue Canada after he noticed a growing tendency within the department to press harder for collections, to audit more heavily and to lay more charges. He said that one assessor had threatened a bookkeeper with a personal audit if she did not give the answers he wanted. “Revenue Canada, through quotas and God knows what other methods, is applying pressure on the rank-and-file assessors,” said Mathew. “The assessors should be permitted to apply objective judgment. They will do a good job because, like everyone else, they have pride in their work.”
Reprisal: One assessor who had pride in his work was Darryl Cruickshank, 36, who quit his $30,000-a-year job in the Kitchener office on Dec. 2 after one of his superiors denied to the press that there were any quotas. Cruickshank said that he considered the denial to be “a blatant lie.” He quickly established his own payroll tax consulting firm in Cambridge, but he became a central figure in the issue when he told his story to a local newspaper reporter. “I was no angel when it came to collection,” Cruickshank told Maclean's, “but I do not believe that every single person that owes money to the government warrants that sort of [heavy-handed] treatment.” Cruickshank’s main concern now is that local businessmen might avoid his new company because of fears of reprisal from Revenue Canada.
At the Kitchener Revenue Canada office Director Harold Enstone said that he is personally investigating the files of anyone who complains of unfair assessments. His staffers are demoralized by “hate mail,” he said, and they wonder who among them is feeding information to Speyer. He denied that his superiors ever instructed him to step up collections and suggested that public resistance to paying taxes may be increasing. As for Cruickshank, Enstone said tactfully that he understood the former assessor resigned for personal reasons. Added Enstone: “If you want to be liked, there is no sense coming to work at the tax department.”
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