A Digby County woman wants the federal government to be accountable for an error that resulted in her being overpaid thousands of dollars — money that the government is now demanding be returned.
Carol Pugh, who lives in Bear River, said Public Works and Government Services Canada wants her to pay back $8,000 that was mistakenly paid out to her after her husband died.
"As far as I'm concerned, the government makes the rules, breaks the rules, bends the rules and they do what they want," she told CBC News.
"Where are the answers to some of this accountability that our government talks about? Where is it?"
Pugh's husband, Milledge Pugh, died in May 1999. He had worked at Canada Post for almost 12 years, between 1971 and 1982.
After her husband's death, Pugh began receiving a monthly pension of approximately $250, based on her late husband's pension plan with Canada Post.
Pugh said in 2008, a friend suggested she might be entitled to additional funds from Public Works and Government Services Canada because her sons were attending community college and university.
'The government makes the rules, breaks the rules, bends the rules and they do what they want.'— Carol Pugh
She sent a letter to the superannuation sector of the department asking if her sons were entitled to compensation from her late husband's pension while they were in school, and enclosed her husband's death certificate and her sons' birth certificates.
"The lady that handled my case, she quickly responded within a few weeks and said yes," said Pugh.
"I would get back pay for the children while they were minors, from the time my husband died."
Family receives cheques
Pugh's back pay arrived as a lump sum in two cheques, totalling $8,000. One of her sons, Terrence, also received a lump sum of $2,000 and was also told he would qualify for the pension while he was in school — which equalled an additional $2,000.
In July 2011, the Pughs received a letter from Public Works and Government Services Canada saying they would have to pay all the money back because Terrence was born after Milledge Pugh had stopped working for Canada Post and was therefore not eligible for the pension.
"It had nothing to do with anything I had done wrong. I didn't demand the money, I didn't try to cheat to get the money, they gave it to me," said Carol Pugh.
"They made a mistake. I'm the victim here — me and my son. I feel we're the victims."
Pugh, who makes just above minimum wage working as a cook at a cafe, said she had spent the $8,000 in the three years it took the federal government to realize its mistake. Her son is working as a manual labourer at an inn to make ends meet.
Public Works and Government Services Canada is now taking roughly $23 a month from Pugh's Canada Post pension to fix the error.
Overpayments must be recovered, says Public Works
"I'm a widow, I have a meager income, I'm a seasonal worker. I just barely make ends meet. It's very difficult and I just don't know, I don't know how they expect my son and I to pay it back," Pugh said.
"Let's just put it this way — I imagine I'll be long dead and gone before it's recouped. I also received a letter stating that the remainder of what I owe will be taken out of the estate when I die."
A spokesman for Public Works and Government Services Canada told CBC News there are systems in place to ensure the accuracy of payments and that administrative errors resulting in overpayments are rare.
They also said overpayments must be recovered.
Pugh said she has written to the Minister of Public Works and the Prime Minister. She also has a petition signed by her friends and family but she doesn't know where to send it.
"I'd sure like to know about other people that maybe are in the same dilemma as me," she said.
"Maybe we could get together and maybe there's a way to reason with the government. I don't know."