In an unprecedented blitz, Alberta is targeting bad drivers who refuse to pay their traffic tickets by asking Ottawa to withhold their income-tax refunds and GST rebates.
Tired of watching close to 600,000 overdue traffic fines gather dust across the province, the Alberta government announced Thursday that it has asked the Canada Revenue Agency to help it recover $104-million in uncollected tickets.
One offender, perhaps the province's worst driver, has 57 outstanding tickets.
"We believe that driver attitude has to change," said Martin Dupuis, a spokesman with Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation. "It's a great way to reinforce the personal responsibility of motorists."
The CRA says it is a first in Canada. The debt-free province says the program is more about traffic safety than filling its ballooning coffers.
Alberta Justice Minister Ron Stevens pointed out that traffic fines are meant to deter drivers from breaking the rules of the road in order to protect the lives of others.
None of the tickets captured by the scheme are for parking. All are for so-called moving violations.
"It's a traffic-safety initiative; a deterrent to bad driving habits, to lousy driving habits," added Bart Johnson, a spokesman with Alberta Justice, who said he has had a ticket or two in his driving career, and promptly paid them.
Alberta is turning to the CRA for help based on the success it has seen in other programs, he added.
The agency has stepped in to collect delinquent child-support payments, student loans and Criminal Code fines. It has also issued Alberta's so-called Ralphbucks energy rebates.
Negligent drivers in Edmonton are already the guinea pigs of the pilot project, which has been quietly under way as bugs were worked out. It was announced only Thursday.
The program will roll out across the province within the next year.
The CRA will be contacted only after traffic offenders have had four warnings to clear their fines.
Once a ticket is overdue, vehicle registration and driver's licence renewal are refused until the fine is paid. But some drivers don't own vehicles and licences are renewed only every five years. So the province has also garnished wages.
About 80 per cent of overdue fines are paid within a year, according to the province.
But now, those behind on fines will be mailed a letter requesting payment. If the fine is not paid within 30 days, the debtor's name is sent to the CRA. That's when tax refunds and rebates will be intercepted.
Ottawa will send another letter warning that this has occurred.
Provincial governments across the country treat this issue differently. But what is clear is that, depending on where you are, leaving your tickets unpaid could be an expensive proposition.
In Ontario, where municipalities collect the money, failure to pay could result in the suspension of a driver's licence, adding the cost of its replacement to accrued fines.
Manitoba has a similar law, allowing the registrar to refuse to renew the licence and vehicle registration for a scofflaw driver. And in Saskatchewan, municipalities can register a legal claim against a vehicle, meaning ownership cannot be transferred until fines are paid.