A Moncton woman says she was "shocked" by a letter she received from the provincial government saying she owed $684 for a highway ticket in 1998, even though she says she wasn’t driving at the time.
The New Brunswick government is actively trying to recover some of its outstanding bills it is owed by citizens.
The Department of Social Development created a recovery unit and it is chasing down some of the estimated $14.5 million in overpayments.
But it isn’t the only provincial department creating a special recovery unit. The Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, Department of Justice and the Department of Public Safety’s motor vehicles branch are going after people who owe them money.
Linda McCaustlin said a letter arrived last winter on behalf of the province’s motor vehicles branch saying she owed $684.
"I was shocked when I got it. I didn't even know where to turn. And I don't know where I called first, it was just that I was in such a daze about it all," she said.
McCaustlin lives off her Canada Pension of about $15,000 a year.
The letter said the Canada Revenue Agency could take her income supplement and hand it to the provincial government until the bill was paid off.
McCaustlin had to ask for copies of the tickets issued in 1998.
She said she didn't have a driver’s licence at the time and she never drove her ex-husband's car. But someone did, who she says, forged her name, spelled it wrong and gave a false address.
'As difficult a situation as many of these are, in the case where somebody has received money that they shouldn’t have, they should pay it back.' — Kevin Lacey, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
McCaustlin, however, is the person who has now received the 14-year-old bill for the ticket.
Months of exchanged letters followed, an investigation by the RCMP, and then a paragraph by the officer who pulled the car over in 1998.
The officer said he recognized McCaustlin from her recent television appearances as a poverty activist. MaCaustlin points out, however, that she doesn’t look anything now like she did in 1998.
She said the ordeal caused her a lot of stress, plus months of paperwork that she had to exchange with the provincial government.
McCaustlin said she’s angry over the provincial government’s decision to target people like her for payments that stretch back many years.
"In the beginning Alward said they wouldn't go after ‘the most vulnerable people', they call them. They would never go after them for stuff like this, and here they are, hitting them," she said.
The provincial government’s recovery strategy is getting mixed reviews from one watchdog group.
Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said in an interview on Monday people can ask questions "around why the government waited so long" to ask for repayment.
But he said people should be required to return money, if they were overpaid.
"As difficult a situation as many of these are, in the case where somebody has received money that they shouldn’t have, they should pay it back," he said.