Hundreds of non-native teachers working in the north have won a major battle with Revenue Canada, which has accepted arguments by the Northern Quebec Teaching Association over the way evaluations of the housing accommodation tax in the north is calculated.

NQTA President Patrick D’Astous and 40 teachers fought for more than two years to prove the discrepancy between housing costs in the north in comparison to the south. D’Astous is relieved the battle is finally done – and won.

“I was elected because of this issue,” said D’Astous, who was already fighting the issue on his own when he was asked to fight for roughly 450 NQTA members affected by the discrepancy. The teachers are employees of the Cree and Kativik School Boards. “I feel glad for sure, but there is still a lot to do.”

The ruling also affects Inuit teachers who teach in other communities and pay tax.

The early August agreement means non-native and Inuit teachers, who had an income tax evaluation on homes provided by the two school boards of $942, which is the same across the country, were re-evaluated and would now only be expected to pay income tax on $380 a month – a savings of between $1,000 and $2,500 annually.

The flaw is in the cheap rent offered by the CSB and KSB as an incentive, which ended up penalizing teachers. The difference between the $ 160 many paid towards their rent and the evaluation of this benefit’s worth as $942 by Revenue Canada ($782 per month) was calculated as taxable income.

D’Astous found this unacceptable and he set out to change the way they were taxed. Court cases in 1998 and 2001 involving the Inuit community of Puvirnituq demonstrated a difference between northern accommodations – often times dilapidated, not properly insulated and in general disrepair – were much different from southern living standards.

D’Astous made a request to Jean Luc Belanger, the Certified Evaluator who helped the non-native and Inuit teachers in POV to get on board and prove the same thing across the board. Prove it he did.

“He produced a report using the same techniques that were accepted by the Court of Appeal of Quebec in the POV case,” said D’Astous.

Using a system that calculates the value of living quarters based on many variables, including distance from a major city centre and remoteness of the village, Belanger convinced Revenue Canada to change their minds.

“There is no real market in the north,” said D’Astous. “It’s bulletproof as it was upheld by the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2002. It was the only way to calculate the real value of those houses.”

Philip Kropveld, who teaches in various secondary levels from grades 7 to 11 in Nemaska, was pleased with the ruling. He was one of the teachers who filed his 2005 and 2006 tax returns under protest. The ruling means that he will be taxed on $3000 less per year, putting $ 1200 more into his pocket.

“I’m happy with the ruling, but there is still a lot of work ahead as far as all the paper work retroactively,” said Kropveld, who has been working in Nemaska for seven years.

He hoped that there was no bad blood between he and his colleagues and the CSB.

“The issue should have never been looked at by the CSB as anything except for a proposal by the union to make fairer taxation to the teachers which in turn would make it easier for them to attract and keep teachers. It’s a good situation for everyone.”

D’Astous said that non-native and Inuit teachers in the north were overpaying Ottawa to the tune of $ I million a year.

He said he now has three steps in front of him. The first is to make sure the KSB and the CSB change their ways of calculating income tax for non-natives and Inuit. The second is to explain to everyone presently teaching at the boards how they can get their money back.

The third and hardest step will be to find others who are no longer working in the north to help them claim their money back.

Under Revenue Canada’s laws, they can only reimburse taxpayers to 10 years previous, even if some teachers were overpaying for much longer.

“They might even decide that they don’t want to go that far back, that’s why I sent out a news release to put pressure on them,” said D’Astous.

He also added that a reduction in money taken out of teachers’ pockets would encourage more teachers to come up north. The average experience of the teachers in Nunavik is 1.2 years. Most teachers are discouraged when they have to pay similar taxes up north as they do down south.

“We won’t have quality in education if 50 per cent of our school staff changes. That’s why we’re fighting on the taxable side,” said D’Astous, adding that the $6,000 to $11,000 isolation pay teachers get to move up north is also taxable.

D’Astous emphasized that the ruling affects every Inuit and non-native up north in every industry, which could total more than 5,000 workers.

“The next fight is to file a complaint to Quebec Human Rights for my fellow Cree members so they can buy back Quebec Pension Plan benefits. They just started paying into it this year, so they’ll have less money than their non-native colleagues. They were discriminated against for many years. It’s a relief, one fight is over, but that’s the next fight.”