A Montreal-area NDP MP has apologized for not paying more than $58,000 in provincial taxes, saying he intends to pay back every cent he owes.
Tyrone Benskin said in a statement Friday that in order for a society to be prosperous and fair every citizen must do their part, and he admitted he hasn't always done his. "I apologize," he said.
"Fortunately, I am working on sorting out my situation with the Canada Revenue Agency. I intend to pay back every last cent of the money I owe, as soon as possible," Benskin said. "I regret that I was unable to do it before now."
Benskin owes $58,097 to Quebec's revenue agency for unpaid taxes between 2007 and 2011.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair stripped Benskin of his deputy critic role after learning about his unpaid taxes.
"Mr. Benskin has apologized and will be correcting the situation himself, and in the meantime I've removed him from the shadow cabinet, he is no longer responsible for official languages until he has cleared up his entire situation, as he must," Mulcair told reporters in Trois-Rivières, Que., on Friday.
Mulcair named Matthew Dubé (Chambly–Borduas) to replace Benskin as deputy critic for official languages.
The announcement followed a report that the province had contacted the House of Commons to seize part of Benskin's salary to repay the tax arrears. The base salary for MPs is $160,000.
Life of an artist 'isn't always easy'
Benskin was elected in 2011 as part of the NDP's sweep of Quebec. Before entering politics he was an actor, and according to his biography, Benskin has been part of more than 200 film, television and stage productions.
The MP for the Montreal riding of Jeanne–Le Ber said his career in the arts has meant difficult periods of financial instability.
"The life of an artist isn't always easy. I have had lean periods. I have lived in precarious conditions, not knowing what the future had in store for me, sometimes without a contract for several weeks, or even months. I have had to juggle bills," he said.
"My situation has prevented me from fulfilling all of my tax obligations and I am truly sorry. I recognize that it is my responsibility and I will fulfil it directly and personally."
Another NDP MP also paying taxes back
Benskin had moved a private member's bill that sought to revamp the federal income tax system in order to "level the playing field" for artists. It would have allowed them to average their income over a period of years in order to avoid "punitively high" taxation in years when they do well. It also would have exempted a portion of income derived from royalties from taxation.
The bill failed to pass a vote in November.
Another NDP MP, Hoang Mai, is also in the process of paying money back that is owed to Quebec's revenue agency.
"I was self-employed before I became a member of Parliament and I still owed some taxes. I made arrangements with the Quebec government to meet my obligations and pay my taxes, as every citizen should. I declared this entire matter to the ethics commissioner," Mai said in a statement.
The MP for Brossard–La Prairie worked as a lawyer in private practice and is the former treasurer of the NDP's Quebec chapter. When he was elected in 2011 he was named revenue critic but in January 2013, Mulcair moved him to the role of deputy justice critic. Mai did not say in his statement how much money he owes to the government.
National Revenue Minister Gail Shea took to Twitter to give her view: "Can't comment on specific cases. Based on media reports, NDP should start with own caucus before giving lessons on respecting tax rules..."