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After not filing her income taxes for three years, Janet Smith is struggling to find all the paperwork she needs to send to Revenue Canada.

As someone with a low income, she’s expecting to receive government benefits once her taxes are filed. 

“That could probably help me make ends meet. Right now, being on disability and just scraping by, sometimes not even scraping by, it’s pretty tough,” she said. 

‘This is a huge deal. Huge for families that are literally almost not being able to meet their basic needs on their income. And it’s free, it’s tax-free.’ — Franco Savoia, Vibrant Communities Calgary

“It’s been a while since I filed taxes, there’s a lot of new things that have come out since I last filed. A lot of benefits that I’m sure I qualify for that I’m missing out on.”

Filing taxes is becoming the key strategy for organizations looking to lift people out of poverty. It’s also a way to stimulate the economy in parts of the country in a downturn. The challenge is convincing low-income households to actually do their taxes, since that demographic has the lowest filing rate. 

Janet Smith knows she’s missing out on income returns because she hasn’t filed her taxes in three years0:39

Families, in particular, are at risk of missing out on thousands of dollars of benefits and credits that are only accessed by completing a tax return. 

“It’s extremely important,” said Franco Savoia, with the poverty reduction group Vibrant Communities Calgary. ”This is a huge deal. Huge for families that are literally almost not being able to meet their basic needs on their income. And it’s free, it’s tax-free.”

A family of four with both kids under five and a working annual income of $40,000 qualifies for more than $13,000 in Alberta, which offers its own tax credits.

“To me, if we have one family in Alberta that hasn’t filed their taxes for 2015, we got to to get them to file it or else shame on us,” said Savoia. ”If every poor family actually filed their taxes, this could be life-changing. This is not small stuff.”

For agencies like Savoia’s, having poor people do their taxes is becoming the quickest way to help them get out of poverty. Government benefits are increasing, but without a tax return, you don’t qualify.  

Franco Savoia on the critical need to help the poor file their taxes0:37

How many miss out?

Several not-for-profit groups offer free tax clinics to help low-income people with the paperwork, but many still don’t get their taxes done. Exactly how many is difficult to pinpoint.

The Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank found in a 2005 survey that 25 per cent of its users had not filed their taxes. Others suggest the rate could be lower.

“Based on past experience, I think you could guess that about five to 10 per cent of low-income families are not getting the GST credit and the child tax benefit that they are entitled to,” said Richard Shillington, a social policy researcher.

The Canada Revenue Agency would not say how many families are not filing their taxes. Instead, the agency said it has issued more than 9.3 million Canada Child Benefit payments, totaling over $5.5 billion in the first three months of the program. The agency is on track to issue the $23 billion the federal government estimated for the first year of the program in the budget.

“We don’t know exactly how many people don’t get their tax returns filed. That would be of interest,” said Gordon Turtle with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Alberta. The agency organizes several free tax clinics.

“We know from our own experience the tax clinics are well received by community groups and their clients,” he said. ”I think the accounting profession would be interested in those kind of statistics.” 

Tax benefits for a low income family

A boost during a downturn

If every low-income household filed their taxes, it could provide some much needed economic stimulus in parts of the country struggling through a downturn.

“If they earn more, they will spend more,” said Mary Moran with Calgary Economic Development. ”That is on things that are basic to you and I, but they may see as a luxury such as cultural events, putting their kids in sports or buying new running shoes. Definitely, earning more has a direct impact on the economy.”

Low-income families are more inclined than people in other income brackets to spend money locally because a higher percentage of their income goes to basic needs such as housing, food and utilities.

“We really do care about this,” said Moran. ”During an economic downturn, it makes it even more important because there’s a large percentage of the population teetering on poverty.” 

Mary Moran on the economic benefits of low income households filing their taxes0:26

Why not file?

Smith said she didn’t file her taxes three years ago because all at once she suffered a business failure, one of her parents died and she had major back surgery. Getting the papers together for her taxes wasn’t a priority. She’s still trying to find all the documents she needs to catch up.

“Dealing with health issues and emotional issues — it makes it tough,” Smith said. “Enough was enough. I just had to put it off.”

‘The sooner you do it, the better. The longer you wait, the worse it is going to get.’ — Janet Smith

She hopes to finish her taxes soon, after doing the paperwork on and off for the last four months.

“It’s going to feel phenomenal. I do have some debts that’ll get paid out with any money I get back from this,” she said. ”The sooner you do it, the better. The longer you wait, the worse it is going to get.”

Prosper Canada, a national charity, lists barriers to tax filing felt by people with low income:

  • Complexity
  • Low awareness of benefits available
  • Lack of mailed tax forms
  • Low computer access
  • Low literacy
  • Lack of access to advice
  • Newcomer status
  • Low self-confidence and trust
  • Difficulty assembling documents

The CRA does have copies of many documents someone needs to file their taxes such as T4s, T5s, RRSP receipts and some tuition records. They would not have charity receipts or health expense records, for example.

Free tax clinics are helpful, but some advocates, like Savoia, say much more needs to be done.

“We have to pull out all the stops, all the stops, to make sure that every single vulnerable family, every single vulnerable individual files their taxes.”

The risk, he said, is that governments will see low participation rates and reduce or cancel programs like the child benefit.

polar bear pumpkinFlickr/ValerieMarkets are closed in Canada on Monday for Canadian Thanksgiving. 

The holiday is pretty similar to American Thanksgiving — it definitely involves a turkey — but there are a few big differences.

For one thing, it’s always held on the second Monday of October. That said, Canadians will feast on the Saturday, Sunday, or Monday of the Thanksgiving long weekend.

The Canadian holiday also has a different history and origin than the US one — and many argue it actually came first.

Here are a few things you need to know about Canadian Thanksgiving.

Mitch MacDonald
Published on October 01, 2016

Published on September 30, 2016

Tammy MacKinnon holds up some of her handmade wooden signs and home décor during the Etsy Made In Canada Charlottetown fair at Murphy’s Community Centre last week. MacKinnon owns and operates her business “Sticks and Stones” out of Cornwall.

Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald

Published on September 30, 2016

Trevor Young, left, Sean Young and Krista Young, at the All Aboard P.E.I. booth during last week’s Etsy Made in Canada Charlottetown market at Murphy’s Community Centre. The company, which is owned by Trevor and sees all family members help out, specializes in wood cutting boards and serving boards. The booth also had hand-made cards, which are made by Trevor’s daughter Whitney Young.

Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald

The fair shone a spotlight on many small P.E.I. businesses, local artisans and entrepreneurs with thousands of customers going through the market.

Tammy MacKinnon didn’t foresee the career turn her life would take when she decided to make a few signs for her son’s bedroom four years ago.

After posting pictures of her work online, MacKinnon received a lot of attention and decided to make a few more as a fundraiser for a school in the Dominican Republic.

The requests for MacKinnon’s wooden signs and home décor haven’t stopped.

“People were emailing and calling asking if I could make this or that. All of the sudden two years ago I left my full time job and now I do this,” MacKinnon said during the Etsy Made In Canada Charlottetown Fair at Murphy’s Community Centre recently. “It just never stopped.”

The fair shone a spotlight on many small P.E.I. businesses, local artisans and entrepreneurs with thousands of customers going through the market.

Etsy is an e-commerce website and community that opens up small entrepreneurs to millions of consumers.

While MacKinnon runs an online shop for the website, it’s reputation has also benefitted her through the group’s local pop-up markets.

“People really appreciate the work and time that goes into these and they trust Etsy to have top-notch products,” said MacKinnon. “When people come here to shop they know they’re getting a good product and I love having the Etsy name behind me.”

Trevor Young, owner of All Aboard P.E.I., has also found benefits in networking through the site.

Young, an instructor with Holland College’s heritage retrofit carpentry program, said he would often show beginning students how to make cutting boards.

“We started from that and sold a few at Christmas then went from there,” said Young, who soon found a growing demand for the boards.

He then registered onto Etsy and also began selling the boards at Avonlea Village over the summer.

“It (Etsy) does very well. It attracts more people and does bring in more customers,” said Young. “It definitely gets your name out there and helps with networking more than anything.”

Young said last week’s market brought in a lot of traffic and that he’s looking forward to participating in the Etsy Christmas market in late November.

MacKinnon also encouraged others to check out the Christmas market.

“If people have never been to one, they have to come. It’s always a fantastic event,” said MacKinnon. “There’s a lot of talent in P.E.I.”

mitch.macdonald@tc.tc

Twitter.com/Mitch_PEI

Organizations: Holland College, Dominican Republic, Community Centre

Geographic location: P.E.I., Canada, Avonlea Village

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Geographically speaking, investors are well aware of where Apple, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) priorities lie. Greater China is one of the company’s main growth engines at this point, and continues to march toward a day when i…

The Canadian economy performed better than expected in July, growing by 0.5 per cent on the back of a rebound in oil and gas output following the Fort McMurray, Alta., wildfires.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had been projecting a 0.3 growth figure for the month.

Statistics Canada said activity in the mining, oil and gas extraction sector was up 3.9 per cent from June, including a 19 per cent increase in non-conventional oil extraction, as oilsands production returned to normal levels following maintenance shutdowns in April and the Fort McMurray wildfires and evacuation in May.

The goods-producing sectors of the economy rose by one per cent, while the service side was up by 0.3 per cent for the month, Statistics Canada said.

“The story is more positive than just the recovery [from the wildlfires] however, with a welcome broad-based expansion of economic activity in the month,” said TD Bank economist Brian DePratto. “Today’s report points to healthy (if somewhat artificially boosted) economic momentum for the third quarter. We are currently tracking economic growth of roughly 3.0 per cent for the quarter.”

TD, along with several other financial institutions, have cautioned that the healthy economic growth forecast for the third quarter is expected to be followed by a return to more modest expansion.

“The only other real story of note in the data this morning was a dropoff in construction activity, something that we could see more of as residential investment cools down from strong levels,” said Nick Exarhos of CIBC Economics.  

Activity in the construction sector fell by 0.8 per cent  

In the wake of the report, the Canadian dollar closed Friday at 76.24 cents US, up 0.19 of a cent. as some economists saw the July GDP figures easing pressure on the Bank of Canada to make a near-term interest rate cut.

When Japanese apparel retailer Uniqlo decided to open its first location in Canada, it sent Yasuhiro Hayashi to Toronto every month for nearly a year to get a read on the Canadian customer.

During each visit, Uniqlo Canada’s chief operating officer would spend the week taking notes on what people wore.

“I didn’t expect that everyone was so unique and multicultural,” said Hayashi, who previously helped launch Uniqlo in Singapore and Indonesia. “That was very surprising in a very positive way.”

Unlike competitors that aim for a particular demographic, Uniqlo is hoping its appeal-to-all business model will succeed in a cutthroat industry that has laid waste to some fashion retailers, such as Aeropostale and Danier Leather.

“We don’t have a specific target customer,” said Hayashi. “That’s our uniqueness. We say we are made for all.”

The company is opening its first store in Canada on Friday, a 28,000-square foot space in the Toronto Eaton Centre wedged between fast-fashion rival H&M and the newly arrived luxury retailer Nordstrom. A second store opening is planned for Oct. 20 at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in north Toronto.

Uniglo Opening 20160929

Clothing is seen at the first Uniqlo retail clothing store in Toronto. When Uniqlo decided to open its first location in Canada, it sent chief operating officer Yasuhiro Hayashi to Toronto every month for nearly a year to get a read on the Canadian customer. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Founded in 1974, Uniqlo is known for its array of affordable basics — everything from parkas to khakis — in a variety of colours and sizes for children and adults.

“If our clothes are not affordable to the people — the regular real people, not the fashionistas, not just the celebrities, not just the rich, but for all — then I think it defeats our philosophy and what we stand for,” Hayashi said.

Even with more than 1,000 stores worldwide, Hayashi acknowledges Uniqlo may not have the same name recognition in Canada that some of its international rivals had before entering the country.

It’s one of the challenges it will have to overcome if it wants to continue expanding in Canada, something Hayashi says he would like to do but is in no rush to.

“We want to be very cautious,” he said, before alluding to the arrival of one well-known retail behemoth to Canada that went bust.

“Of course, I don’t want to give a name, but some other brands have a little too ambitious plans that didn’t work out so we want to make sure that we serve the customers well and fine-tune the merchandise mix as well.”

Last year, Target abruptly announced it was shutting down all 133 of its Canadian stores only two years after its highly anticipated arrival north of the border. Some of the criticisms levelled against the U.S. retailer were that it expanded too quickly, did not understand the Canadian customer and did not have the right product mix that it featured in its American stores.

Since then, a number of international retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Muji and Nordstrom have opened locations in Canada — albeit with a more slow and steady approach.

Retail analyst Doug Stephens said Uniqlo is priced at the right end of the fast-fashion market, which still has a lot of cachet with Canadian shoppers.

But they’ll have to distinguish themselves if they want to set themselves apart from competitors and win with customers short on disposable income, he said.

“You’re always living on the razor edge at that end of the market,” said Stephens, the founder of Toronto-based consulting firm Retail Prophet.

Another challenge Uniqlo will face is generating customer loyalty, said retail expert Brynn Winegard.

“The Target lessons that we learned is that we don’t want you to come and tell us about us. We want you to be authentically and indigenously you,” said Winegard of retail consultancy Winegard and Company.

“So don’t try to be Canadian. Be authentically Japanese.”

Hayashi said the Toronto stores will largely be the same as its other locations, whether they’re in New York, London or Paris — with a few nuanced differences tailored to Canadian shoppers.

Customers can expect a bigger than usual selection of plaid and flannel shirts. Most sizing will be for a North American fit, but there will also be some smaller sizing to reflect Toronto’s multicultural population. Uniqlo will also sell house slippers, which is commonplace in its Asian locations.

A record number of immigrants and refugees arriving on Canadian shores helped push Canada’s official population over 36 million as of July 1, Statistics Canada says.

The data agency says there were 437,815 more people living in Canada than there were on the same day a year earlier, bringing the official population to 36,286,425.

In absolute terms, that’s the biggest annual surge since 1988. In percentage terms, the population grew by 1.2 per cent.

The “increase is one of the largest increases since the baby boom in the 1950s,” BMO economist Doug Porter said, “although this recent increase is driven more by immigration.”

Indeed, the numbers show that some 320,932 immigrants arrived in Canada between the two Canada Days. More than 30,000 Syrian refugees are included in that figure, as they are classified as permanent residents by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“The country had not received such a large number of immigrants in a single annual period since the early 1910s, during the settlement of Western Canada,” Statistics Canada said in a release.

Two provinces still make up the majority of the country’s population:

  • Ontario at 13.9 million.
  • Quebec at 8.3 million.

By age bracket, the single largest demographic group was people between ages 50 and 54, with 2,711,318 across the country.

Other statistics as of July 1 include:

  • The average age was 40.6, up slightly from 2015′s level.
  • There were 7,345 centenarians across the country.
  • There were more than 56,000 people between ages 95 and 99.

A record number of immigrants and refugees arriving on Canadian shores helped push Canada’s official population over 36 million as of July 1, Statistics Canada says.

The data agency says there were 437,815 more people living in Canada than there were on the same day a year earlier, bringing the official population to 36,286,425.

In absolute terms, that’s the biggest annual surge since 1988. In percentage terms, the population grew by 1.2 per cent.

The “increase is one of the largest increases since the baby boom in the 1950s,” BMO economist Doug Porter said, “although this recent increase is driven more by immigration.”

Indeed, the numbers show that some 320,932 immigrants arrived in Canada between the two Canada Days. More than 30,000 Syrian refugees are included in that figure, as they are classified as permanent residents by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“The country had not received such a large number of immigrants in a single annual period since the early 1910s, during the settlement of Western Canada,” Statistics Canada said in a release.

Two provinces still make up the majority of the country’s population:

  • Ontario at 13.9 million.
  • Quebec at 8.3 million.

By age bracket, the single largest demographic group was people between ages 50 and 54, with 2,711,318 across the country.

Other statistics as of July 1 include:

  • The average age was 40.6, up slightly from 2015′s level.
  • There were 7,345 centenarians across the country.
  • There were more than 56,000 people between ages 95 and 99.

Blackberry is getting out of the handset-making game to focus on software

Blackberry is getting out of the handset-making game to focus on software (Photo: Eduardo Lima/CP)

Earlier today, BlackBerry finally did what many have expected for almost five years and announced it would stop making its own handsets. There hasn’t been a Canadian business strategy so heavily scrutinized since Avro scrapped the Arrow.

According to CEO John Chen, the move positions the company for growth and removes a significant burden on its balance sheet. “We are reaching an inflection point with our strategy,” he said in a statement. “Our financial foundation is strong, and our pivot to software is taking hold.”

“Pivot” is the key word here. No one is surprised to hear it used—it is the buzziest of buzzwords—but the word is a bit startling coming from the CEO of a $3-billion company with more than 4,500 employees. Businesses as big as BlackBerry aren’t generally known for making major shifts in their strategies. Chen’s willingness to do it now suggests the company is a lot more forward-thinking than skeptics might give it credit for.

The idea of rapidly changing course is a central tenet of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. If you’re not familiar with that phrase—or its more grating synonym, “Industry 4.0”—it describes the economic shift spurred by the merging of digital and physical systems. As World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab put it in a much-discussed piece published in January, “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace.” He went on to state that, for business leaders, “the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate, and these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed.” In non-wonk terms, that means things are changing crazy fast; companies better be able to adapt on the fly.

It’s a notion that also forms the bedrock of Eric Ries’s entire Lean Startup movement. “When we discover that our experiments have stopped being productive, let us pivot to a new, fundamental strategy that can allow us to do better experiments,” Ries told a rapt audience at South by Southwest a few years back. “That’s what a pivot is.” He and his devotees believe in the mantra of “build something, test it, adjust, repeat.” It all makes perfect sense for a scrappy young digital outfit whose fixed assets amount to little more than a few laptops and a latte machine.

But it’s a concept bigger businesses—those with growing head counts and tangible assets—have had difficulty adjusting to. Pivoting doesn’t look quite so sweet when you’ve just sunk $500,000 into a machine for a tool and die shop or hired 30 new employees to staff your restaurant or signed a five-year lease on a warehouse. For all the hoopla surrounding the digital economy and virtual businesses, the success of many ventures still hinges on serious capital outlay; indeed, a recent benchmark report by the Business Development Bank of Canada identifies “significant” investment in fixed assets as a key variable that helps mid-size companies grow into large ones.

Business functions differently when your work necessitates a lot of tangible things, yes. The problem is that it’s too easy for the leaders of these companies to conflate “we have a lot of stuff” with “we have to do things a certain way.” This is dangerous thinking that can obscure opportunities to pursue new processes or revenue streams—or to respond to indelible market indicators.

Which brings us back to BlackBerry. The company is a few decades and several billion dollars removed from being a nimble disrupter, and it’s certainly carrying around some baggage. And, to be fair, even the most ardent Priv-toting superfan would have a hard time describing the company’s reinvention as a software outfit as overly progressive. But the move does suggest that Chen and his leadership team aren’t wed to using the strategies and successes of its storied path as the tools to keep it going in the future. It’s a reminder to any business interested in surviving in the economy of tomorrow that you don’t necessarily have to be ahead of the game, but you do have to be willing to adapt while playing it.


MORE ABOUT BLACKBERRY AND PIVOTS:

Blackberry is getting out of the handset-making game to focus on software

Blackberry is getting out of the handset-making game to focus on software (Photo: Eduardo Lima/CP)

Earlier today, BlackBerry finally did what many have expected for almost five years and announced it would stop making its own handsets. There hasn’t been a Canadian business strategy so heavily scrutinized since Avro scrapped the Arrow.

According to CEO John Chen, the move positions the company for growth and removes a significant burden on its balance sheet. “We are reaching an inflection point with our strategy,” he said in a statement. “Our financial foundation is strong, and our pivot to software is taking hold.”

“Pivot” is the key word here. No one is surprised to hear it used—it is the buzziest of buzzwords—but the word is a bit startling coming from the CEO of a $3-billion company with more than 4,500 employees. Businesses as big as BlackBerry aren’t generally known for making major shifts in their strategies. Chen’s willingness to do it now suggests the company is a lot more forward-thinking than skeptics might give it credit for.

The idea of rapidly changing course is a central tenet of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. If you’re not familiar with that phrase—or its more grating synonym, “Industry 4.0”—it describes the economic shift spurred by the merging of digital and physical systems. As World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab put it in a much-discussed piece published in January, “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace.” He went on to state that, for business leaders, “the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate, and these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed.” In non-wonk terms, that means things are changing crazy fast; companies better be able to adapt on the fly.

It’s a notion that also forms the bedrock of Eric Ries’s entire Lean Startup movement. “When we discover that our experiments have stopped being productive, let us pivot to a new, fundamental strategy that can allow us to do better experiments,” Ries told a rapt audience at South by Southwest a few years back. “That’s what a pivot is.” He and his devotees believe in the mantra of “build something, test it, adjust, repeat.” It all makes perfect sense for a scrappy young digital outfit whose fixed assets amount to little more than a few laptops and a latte machine.

But it’s a concept bigger businesses—those with growing head counts and tangible assets—have had difficulty adjusting to. Pivoting doesn’t look quite so sweet when you’ve just sunk $500,000 into a machine for a tool and die shop or hired 30 new employees to staff your restaurant or signed a five-year lease on a warehouse. For all the hoopla surrounding the digital economy and virtual businesses, the success of many ventures still hinges on serious capital outlay; indeed, a recent benchmark report by the Business Development Bank of Canada identifies “significant” investment in fixed assets as a key variable that helps mid-size companies grow into large ones.

Business functions differently when your work necessitates a lot of tangible things, yes. The problem is that it’s too easy for the leaders of these companies to conflate “we have a lot of stuff” with “we have to do things a certain way.” This is dangerous thinking that can obscure opportunities to pursue new processes or revenue streams—or to respond to indelible market indicators.

Which brings us back to BlackBerry. The company is a few decades and several billion dollars removed from being a nimble disrupter, and it’s certainly carrying around some baggage. And, to be fair, even the most ardent Priv-toting superfan would have a hard time describing the company’s reinvention as a software outfit as overly progressive. But the move does suggest that Chen and his leadership team aren’t wed to using the strategies and successes of its storied path as the tools to keep it going in the future. It’s a reminder to any business interested in surviving in the economy of tomorrow that you don’t necessarily have to be ahead of the game, but you do have to be willing to adapt while playing it.


MORE ABOUT BLACKBERRY AND PIVOTS:

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