Tax collectors have been told to get off taxpayers' backs in Canada as a government desperate for cash tries to squeeze every cent out of the system. It is part of a scandal that broke in the House of Commons in Ottawa when opposition members of Parliament discovered that the tax department was using a quota system to collect more money.
Quotas mean that tax inspectors were given targets and were expected to come up with extra money by going over tax returns and getting as much money as possible. Critics say this meant the tax inspectors were interpreting sections of Canada's complicated tax act loosely. A number of businessmen and farmers have been forced into bankruptcy by overzealous federal tax collectors.
The opposition Conservative Party has launched an attack on the minister of national revenue, Pierre Bussieres, a relatively junior member of Pierre Turdeau's Liberal Cabinet. Mr. Bussieres seems to have little sympathy for hard-pressed businessmen and farmers. He admits his department is getting tough with people who try to dodge taxes. ''The pile of unpaid tax bills had been growing steadily. Our accounts receivable show that we're out something like $3. 5 billion.''
At first Mr. Bussieres denied there was a quota system, but he later had to admit it was being used at some district tax offices. Then the tax minister was upstaged by one of his own ex-employees.
David Cruickshank, an official with the tax department in Cambridge, Ontario, quit his job in December, saying ''I had to live with myself.'' Members of Parliament had been quoting disgruntled tax officials for weeks, but Mr. Cruickshank was the first who didn't need the protection of anonymity. He had already quit and was telling tales of taxpayers being ''harassed'' under the quota system.
He suspected the reason for the stepped-up campaign against taxpayers was the federal government's $31 billion deficit.
In its eagerness, the Department of National Revenue had seized $100 a month from the $254 check being given an Alberta pensioner who owed taxes after a bankruptcy; forced a part-time British Columbia farmer to sell his farm because he was reassessed $13,700 for farm tax losses; and disallowed deductions for artists who don't sell enough of their work.
A memo went out to tax collectors early this year, urging them to be polite, return telephone calls, and not pass the buck by shifting hapless taxpayers from office to office.
But the department failed to heed its own advice when it released a film showing how a tax computer, or ''Big Machine,'' can peek into private lives. One scene shows a man opening his post office box and the computer suddenly talking to him, telling him he can't hide from the taxman. He has been selling firewood for cash and the computer says, ''We know about you, Bob.''
It has been noted the film came out in 1984.