Nickel and Diming at Christmas

I write this column today with Durham’s first heavy snowfall taking place across the riding. Despite the inconveniences it brings, it’s hard to deny that the snow sets the scene for a beautiful holiday season and will provide lots of enjoyment for the kids and the young at heart.

Here in Ottawa as the House rises this week and we all start to prepare for the holidays, many vulnerable Canadians living with diabetes and autism are feeling targeted and are worried that they will have to cut their Christmas spending because of recent disturbing trends that have been identified in recent months.

Throughout the past year, my constituency office staff have noted a trend in the calls that we have received from devastated families who are already facing the stress of managing the challenges that come with a disability, and are now facing the administrative and financial hardship of realizing that they are being denied for a disability tax credit (DTC) without explanation. The DTC is a non-refundable tax credit that helps persons with disabilities or their supporting persons reduce the amount of income tax they may have to pay.

Last week, the Minister of National Revenue told the House, “I would like to reassure all Canadians who receive the disability tax credit that the eligibility criteria have not changed”. However days later, her parliamentary secretary apologized for that very change, which saw 80% of applicants seeing their claims denied. It seems that while the Prime Minster is delivering sunny greetings and talking about how they have been delivering on their commitment to ensure that Canadians get all the benefits to which they are entitled, something is afoot.

According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), any application denials since May 2017 are due to administrative changes to a clarification letter that is completed by medical practitioners in the application process and not the result of any changes made to the eligibility criteria for the DTC.

There is no denying the facts and we know that 80 per cent of the diabetics that were applying for the DTC, that were approved right up until May 1st, 2017. But after May 2nd, the CRA has been declining almost everybody that has applied. A quarter-million Canadians suffer from Type 1 Diabetes. Most require a half-dozen blood tests a day and regular insulin treatments. Failing to keep up these treatments can result in comas, amputations, heart disease or even death. Devices required for these treatments costs as much as $15,000/year to patients. The government is clearly ignoring the law, by stripping people of tax credits that they are entitled to receive under the Income Tax Act, this means thousands of dollars in higher taxes for some of the most disadvantaged people – those suffering with an often-debilitating illness.

Further, people eligible for the DTC, can accumulate government-matched savings in Registered Disability Savings Plans. However, when they lose the tax credit status, they lose their RDSP. This means that the government may expropriate money already built up in the accounts and hit them with a big tax bill.

Now according to the calls that I receive and according to several accountants, mental health associations and advocacy groups, sufferers of autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues have also been getting cut off from the DTC, in the past two or three years after having received the credit for decades.

This is hardly a topic that anyone wants to talk about at Christmas, but there is a positive element to this story. Families that contacted me and other MPs across the country were able to raise the issue in the House of Commons, apply pressure and push the government to change their policy. This is an example of our parliamentary democracy working and shows how grassroots can impact the government. Rather than be seen as a Scrooge nickel and diming families ahead of Christmas, the Liberals appear to be reversing course. Thank you to everyone that reached out to me on this issue. You have shown that our system can work for families that need our support.