WINNIPEG, Man. - Gaia Overland takes its name from the one of the first Viking ships to visit the New World.The firm appears to have followed its namesake into uncharted territory since applying for a...
NO DICE: Contracted owner/operators can't apply for the IRP tax credit windfall.Photo by Mack Trucks
WINNIPEG, Man. – Gaia Overland takes its name from the one of the first Viking ships to visit the New World.
The firm appears to have followed its namesake into uncharted territory since applying for a tax rebate from the Manitoba government.
When the province started handing out tax refunds on equipment purchases and repairs following its inclusion in the International Registration Plan (IRP), Gaia was one of the first in line.
Karen Graham, who together with her husband, owns and operates the one-truck, independent carrier, says it’s a good thing too; she’s had to go back through that lineup about four or five times and she’s still tangled in bureaucratic red tape.
“We run under our own operating authority so we qualified for the rebate,” she says of the program, which otherwise excludes owner/ops. “I got on the phone as soon as I heard about it because Manitoba Finance said you could only claim expenses from two years exactly in advance of your filing date.”
Despite several messages left for the civil servant in charge of the administration of the special refund program, she heard nothing. Finally after yet another call, she reached Susan James – the government employee in question. Not only did James acknowledge the fact she hadn’t made any effort to get back to Gaia, Graham says she also joked about the number of messages she left on the Manitoba Finance voicemail system.
“If I owed the government money you can be certain they’d be more than willing to talk to me,” adds a frustrated Graham. Initially the delay would have cost her, too. It meant several parts purchases would no longer fall within the two-year window. (Graham has since been assured by her accountant there is no such deadline, despite James’ contrary view.)
But these snafus were nothing compared to the tooth-pulling exercise still awaiting the small fleet.
“I applied to get $1,144 back,” says Graham, “and they sent me a cheque for about $600.”
Instantly she called James to find out why some of the invoices had been rejected.
“She wouldn’t discuss them with me, she wouldn’t tell me which ones weren’t paid, she wouldn’t even send them back to me, all I was allowed to do was come down and pick up what turned out to be a bag filled with my invoices,” complains Gaia’s co-owner.
After a few choice words and being sent on a wild goose chase leading to nothing more than a verbal description of the IRP system, she finally got to hear James explain what was wrong.
“One of the receipts was for a Rockwell Hardware Kit from Breadner Trailer Sales and she told me, ‘Hardware is door knobs and things like that for your house, it doesn’t qualify,'” recounts the bewildered truck-owner. “Numerous bills from Cummins for heavy-duty parts and filters were rejected and all she said was, ‘I don’t know what these parts are so I’m not paying you for them.'”
Graham even offered to take the bills around to each individual manufacturer so they could sign off on them attesting to the fact they were heavy-duty truck parts.
“She told me, ‘How would I know that you simply didn’t sign them yourself? Nope, no good,'” she says. “At one point she said to me, ‘We were under the old CAVR system for years, I don’t know why we switched to IRP in the first place.’ I truly believe she’s trying to sabotage a government regulation she doesn’t agree with.”
The matter has since moved up the chain of command within the government department. Graham has been assured her refund will be reviewed and the amount increased to an appropriate level.
Brian Forbes, Manitoba’s director of administration in the taxation section, would not comment on the specifics of the case, but did admit the final chapter in the Grahams’ ordeal has yet to be written.
“Is there an issue we are currently working on with Karen Graham? Yes,” he says. “Are we trying to resolve the issue so that it is financially acceptable to both parties? Yes.”
At the same time, Forbes insists the government’s first duty is to remain accountable to Manitoba taxpayers.
While James’ conduct is rumored to be under review, Forbes – who is one of the people the special refund administrator answers to – would not comment except to say, “That’s an internal decision we would have to make.” –