Skip to main content

The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A long-time Liberal backroom strategist failed to disclose her troubles with the Canada Revenue Agency before she became a special assistant to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, a lapse that wasn't picked up in the security clearance vetting process.

Heather Chiasson, a former senior Liberal Party official and key adviser to several Liberal leaders, was fined $11,000 in 2013 for failing to report income over three taxation years. Her appeal was dismissed by Justice Johanne D'Auray of the Tax Court of Canada in May, 2014.

Mr. Garneau told The Globe and Mail that he was unaware of Ms. Chiasson's income tax problems when he hired her in January to handle appointments and to run the Atlantic desk in his office.

"I am being very honest with you and tell you that I am learning something that I am not aware of, so I will have to look into it," he said on Wednesday.

Ms. Chiasson said in an interview that she never raised the issue during the federal government's security check or with Mr. Garneau because she felt the issue had been resolved.

"There were no taxes owed, but they [the CRA] said, you guys are really sloppy. We now can penalize you because you have done this three times," she said. "None of this was intentional. Was it sloppy on my part? Absolutely, and we felt a penalty of $11,000 was too high and we went to the Tax Court and said, this is not fair. That was not a pleasant experience and they said it might not be fair, but that's what the rules are."

However, in May of last year, Ms. Chiasson said the Canada Revenue Agency cancelled the $11,000 fine as a result of a budget change, which removed penalties for people who are sloppy in filing their income taxes. Ms. Chiasson applied for "taxpayer relief" after the budget changes and did not have to pay a fine.

"It was resolved. So there was nothing to raise. It was all resolved," Ms. Chiasson said in explaining why she never told Mr. Garneau or the Privy Council officials who did the security vetting.

NDP MP Murray Rankin questioned Ms. Chiasson's judgment in not informing Mr. Garneau, but he said it raises the more serious issue about how the government is screening political staffers.

"It shows a remarkable negligence on the part the government for doing a check that would include such things as this. It makes me very nervous about the extent to which they vet their employees," he said. "To not do it makes me ask questions about what else they are not checking in the vetting process."

Conservative MP Tony Clement said government security officials could have looked up Ms. Chaisson's name on the Internet, and the Tax Court judgment against her would have appeared.

"It makes me wonder about how many other cases we don't know about yet and whether they should restart the vetting process to make sure they haven't missed anyone else," Mr. Clement said.

The Canada Revenue Agency ruled in 2013 that Ms. Chaisson failed to report income for the taxation years 2007, 2009 and 2011. While working for the Federal Liberal Agency of Canada in 2007, she didn't report income of $5,011. In the fall of 2009, she went to work for then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and failed to report $9,832.

In reporting income for 2011, Ms. Chiasson omitted to report employment income of $67,599 from the government as an employee of the Liberal leader's parliamentary office. She also omitted to report a retiring allowance in the amount of $4,216.

Ms. Chiasson, whose husband, Edmond, is also a Liberal activist, was the Nova Scotia co-chair of Jean Chrétien's 1990 leadership campaign. A former nurse, she has worked in senior roles for the Liberal Party, including most recently as director of election readiness for the 2015 election.