PORT HARDY—Mayor Bev Parnham is asking Port Hardy to lead the charge in bringing back the Northern Living Allowance to the Tri-port area in an effort to rebuild its dwindling population.
At a recent council meeting, Parnham directed staff to look into the feasibility of bringing back the allowance which could result in a tax break as a residency deduction and/or a deduction for travel benefits.
“I think it’s an incentive for people to live in rural communities,” said Parnham, outside council chambers.
“The federal government does have those kinds of incentives for their employees, such as the RCMP, who live in rural areas, which we are prescribed as.”
Parnham said the the Tri-port areas did enjoy the Northern Living Allowance tax benefit years ago, but the demarcation of eligible towns and communities was pushed north, effectively excluding the North Island from the tax benefit.
“So whether it was because we had a highway or what, we lost it I think in the 90s when they moved the boundaries,” she said.
To receive the allowance, people must live in one of two northern zones: Zone A — prescribed northern zones — or Zone B, prescribed intermediate zones.
According to Canada Revenue Agency documents, Zone A residents are eligible for a tax break of $8.25 per day, while those in Zone B are eligible to receive $4.25 per day.
There are additional amounts available.
“So, in order to encourage people to live up here I think the northern residents deduction, or one similar to that, would certainly help for us to maintain people and keep people in our communities,” said Parnham.
Right now the boundary line for the allowance, 57°30‘N latitude, is more than 700-km north of the North Island, as the crow flies.
Parnham wants to see that line lowered.
“Because we’re rural and the distances we have to travel for even things such as having a baby because of the services they’re slowly removing from us, we’re trying to make the case for a northern allowance,” she said.
Not to mention the extra costs North Islanders pay for gas, for food or anything else that requires transport.
“Our costs of living is higher here in communities in Mount Waddington (Regional District) than it is in, say, Comox, Nanaimo or Campbell River,” Parnham said.
The mayor even has District of Port Hardy staff checking to see if North Island costs are higher than what some of the northern residents receiving the allowance are paying.
“We’re looking into that (but) we’re asking for equity, we need some fairness here.”
Port Alice Mayor Jan Allen said she fully supports the push to bring back the allowance. “I’m all for it,” she said.
Allen said she believes a northern tax allowance would be a great lure to dangle for those considering a move.
“That would be a huge incentive for families to live on the North Island, I think.”
Port McNeill Mayor Gerry Furney added the allowance was a great benefit, one that was missed when it was taken from the North Island.
“That really hurt us when it was gone,” he said.
“Anytime you live in a place like the North island and have to drive hundreds of miles round trip for medical or even to get your kids to a hockey game, something like the northern allowance would definitely help.”