Here we go again

November 20, 2016

Fifteen years ago, when I addressed the representatives of a number of health charities, I was naive enough to believe that a few dedicated individuals can make a difference. I assured them that "by combining our credibility, our strengths and our membership, we will win… too many people in this country are counting on us." I didn't realize at the time how hard we would have work to right a wrong.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) was discriminating against people with mental illnesses by denying them the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). At the time, the guidelines were very specific: if you were able to think, perceive and remember, you did not qualify for the DTC unless you needed supervision with self-care activities. In Buchanan v. The Queen, Judge Diane Campbell disagreed with CRA's simplified interpretation of the Income Tax Act and opened the door for future claims from people suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

There were other problems as well. CRA did not recognize the disabling impacts of diseases with episodic manifestations of symptoms including MS and epilepsy. There were also serious shortcomings with the Life-sustaining therapy for children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes requiring daily insulin injections.

Fighting for Fairness

Last time around, it took a unanimous vote in the House of Commons in November 2002 before the government finally responded to our call for a major overhaul of the DTC program. Organizations representing Canadians with disabilities participated in parliamentary hearings and lobbied Members of Parliament for major reforms to the DTC. My Member of Parliament, Carolyn Bennett was chair of the Sub-committee for Persons with Disabilities. She became our champion, working tirelessly on our behalf. In March 2002, her committee issued its report, Getting it Right for Canadians: The Disability Tax Credit criticizing the tax system for practices "grossly inadequate" for people with both physical and mental disabilities. The report recommended immediate action to amend the Income Tax Act and improve the administration of the DTC.

Technical Advisory Committee

In April 2003, I was appointed to the Technical Advisory Committee for Tax Measures for Persons with Disabilities. The federal government set aside $85 million per year to improve tax fairness and provided considerable assistance during our deliberations. Our recommendations were outlined in the report, Disability Tax Fairness submitted in December 2004 to the Minister of Finance, The Honourable Ralph Goodale and the Minister of National Revenue, The Honourable John McCallum.

Disability Advisory Committee

Our recommendations led to major reforms of the Income Tax Act in 2005 along with significant improvements to the application form for the DTC .One of our most important proposals also received full government support, the creation of "a consultative committee to oversee the implementation and monitoring of our previous recommendations." Although we made significant progress on a number of important issues during our first year, our committee was canceled soon after the Conservative government was sworn in on February 6, 2006. Not only was our tenure cut short when the government changed but the significant improvements that were made to the administration of the DTC ten years ago by our Liberal government have been all but lost.

Advocacy Campaign

The former chair of the Disability Advisory Committee, Peter Weissman and myself have appealed to the Ministers of Finance and National Revenue to reinstate the Disability Advisory Committee to address serious problems with the administration of the DTC. We are asking you to join us to help ensure that the reforms we fought for so hard more than 10 years ago are upheld by the CRA.

Lembi Buchanan

Peter Weissman