Building trust through art and taxes
When Janet was little, she would watch her mom struggle to do her taxes at their dining room table and think to herself, “I am never going to do this in my life.”
“It’s so funny to me now,” laughs Janet. “Not only do I work for the CRA, I have worked as a liaison officer, helping owners of small businesses and self employed individuals understand their tax obligations. And believe me – their questions are way more complicated than anything my mother ever had to understand!”
With the CRA since 2012, Janet has worked in many different positions, including as an outreach officer to vulnerable populations, which helped prepare her for the work she did on the field as a liaison officer (LO). Her experience and passion in the field lead her to work as a senior compliance officer, at headquarters in Ottawa, which allowed her to take her past experiences and help support and train other LOs in the field.
When the pandemic hit, Janet and other LOs suddenly were faced with the complicated challenge of helping businesses who were trying to survive on a daily basis, while also trying to build trust in a virtual environment.
“Artists were definitely one of the hardest hit businesses since many of them would sell their products in person at different events that were all suddenly canceled,” says Janet. “It got to the point where the Canadian Artists' Representation Le Front Des Artistes Canadiens (CARFAC) reached out to us for help. I quickly saw the tough situations that many artists, especially Indigenous artists, found themselves in when the pandemic put all of their work on hold.”
When CARFAC reached out, Janet supported other LOs to give webinars to several self-employed artists which resulted in many one-on-one virtual visits with struggling self-employed artists.
“The webinars were a big deal because we got to speak with many artists across the country at once and they were coming to us through CARFAC so there was already that level of trust in place. One important thing I have learned over the years is that when you meet with people you need to make it personal – you can’t just call someone up and expect them to trust you, especially when you’re working for a tax agency,” she says. “Business people come in all forms. Some are well versed in government systems, they know the CRA and they know exactly what we’re here for. Others are used to selling their items to a very small community of people and they have a natural and long-standing distrust of anything related to government. Some live in rural areas or do business on the reserve they live on and haven’t had easy access to services like others do in bigger cities.
“These people need help from ‘us’ but when we reach out – they don’t always trust that we are actually trying to help,” she says. “I don’t ever follow a structured script. The one-on-one conversations that build the trust is the most rewarding part of being a liaison officer. You get to listen and then you get to help people who just love the work they do. I am grateful to be able to assist like that.”
When the pandemic hit and the new benefits started being introduced, Janet and the LO team at headquarters did a lot of research to make sure they could give artists the answers they needed.
“The benefits were new and unprecedented,” she explains, “Before, taxes were, in a sense, black and white. The new benefits, for many self-employed businesses, weren’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ situation. I was very nervous about giving out wrong information or even false hope so I did a lot of work to make sure that didn’t happen.
“Liaison officers basically had to become experts overnight – we were learning along with taxpayers, but we had to give them the answers,” she says. “We all adapted to this and helped each other along the way. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
This story is appearing as part of a series to promote the tax filing deadline for self-employed individuals (and their spouses) on June 15, 2022. Self-employed individuals continue to work hard to recover from the effects of the pandemic. The CRA has tools to help them meet their tax obligations, including services like the Liaison Officer (LO) service, which the CRA offers at no cost to owners of small businesses and self-employed individuals to help them understand their tax obligations.
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