With winter's worst (hopefully) behind us, tax season is here, and there are many changes that families will want to be aware of.
Tax time is never fun, but it's even worse when you miss out on credits or deductions you may have qualified for. Complicating matters this year are several taxation changes due to a Liberal overhaul of several Harper-era measures.
"I've seen more changes this year than in the past three years," says Lisa Gittens, a tax expert at H&R Block.
Here are eight things families will want to be aware of when filling out their 2016 return.
1. Last chance on certain tax credits
The government is phasing out a handful of tax credits and focusing on larger benefits. The children's arts and fitness tax credits will be halved for the 2016 tax year, and cut completely next year, meaning families will no longer be able to defray costs for things like swimming lessons, ballet and tutoring. For post-secondary students, the education and textbook credits are being eliminated in 2017, although education amounts carried forward from previous years will still be claimable.
2. No more income splitting
Also gone is the Family Tax Cut, which lets the higher-earning spouse transfer up to $50,000 of income to the lower-earner. During the 2015 election, the Liberals promised to cut it, calling it a "tax break for the wealthy."
With the benefit gone, Gittens recommends a spousal RRSP, which allows the higher-earner to contribute to the lower-earning spouse's RRSP and claim the tax benefit. "You may have an RRSP set up, but you haven't thought about setting it up for your spouse. This is an ideal time to use that strategy," she says.
3. Changes to child benefits
The Canada Child Benefit was a signature feature of the 2016 budget, replacing the old Universal Child Care Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Benefit. It's non-taxable, so you don't have to claim it. However, in order to continue to receive the benefit, both parents must file a return, even if one doesn't generate any income, says Gittens.
Also keep in mind that the benefit started in July, so you still have to claim the taxable UCC for the first six months of the year.
4. New tax rates
New tax rates mean you may or may not be pleasantly surprised by the size of your tax bill this year. If you're in the meaty middle that earns between $45,000 and $90,000, your rate will come down to 20.5 percent from 22 percent.
"Most Canadians will be receiving more money at the end of the day than they were under the old system," says Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning at CIBC Wealth Strategies Group.
However, high-income earners will be paying more due to a new 33 percent bracket for people earnings more than $200,000.
5. Child care expenses
Childcare costs are usually the biggest deduction available for families, says Golombek. But what many people don't realize is that it goes beyond simply daycare. If you have a nanny, you can claim that expense, but also babysitting, if it's during the day, and summer or day camp.
6. Disability tax credit and family caregiver amount
If you have family members with a disability there are certain credits that may be available to you. The Disability Tax Credit is available to people with disabilities to reduce their taxes. For children under age 18, a parent or caregiver may be able to claim the unused amount.
If you're a caregiver to a family member with physical or mental impairments, you may also be able to claim an additional $2,121, according to the Canada Revenue Agency.
7. Selling your principal residence
Selling your home has typically not been something you've had to report on your taxes, because usually Canadians don't get taxed for capital gains on their principle residence. But starting with the 2016 tax year, individuals who sold their principal residence during the year must report the sale. The government is ostensibly doing this to crack down on people who try to pass off income-generating homes as their principal residence.
8. eFile early, get your refund early
Tax deadline is April 30, but if you want to get ahead of the game, file early, before the government is inundated with last-minute returns. You can still file the old paper return, but Gittens says you'll be looking at a turnaround time of anywhere up to eight weeks, versus 10-14 days for a return filed early and electronically.
We spoke to stylist Talia Brown about how to shake up your wardrobe when you feel like you’ve got nothing to wear.
It happens to everyone. You open your closet and sigh to yourself. You have nothing to wear. Even with a wardrobe full of great pieces, we all feel style fatigue sometimes. In favour of putting our best (and most stylish) foot forward, we spoke to stylist and personal shopper Talia Brown for some tips on breaking out of a style rut.
How do you know you’re in a style rut?
Most of us can tell when we’re feeling sartorially uninspired. “You look in your closet and everything starts to look the same,” says Brown, “nothing excites you.” If you don’t feel good about the duds you’re putting on, it’s time to rethink your approach to getting dressed.
You need a quick fix to your style woes
Adding a couple new pieces might just be the quick fix you need to jump-start your wardrobe. Brown recommends adding a pop of colour, especially with accessories, which can go a long way to brightening up (figuratively and literally) a stale wardrobe. “It’s nice to have a few pieces that will catch the eye of others—it will make you feel like a million bucks.”
You wear the same thing day after day, and you’re bored
If you find that you wear the same thing all the time—despite plenty of choice—then it’s time to reevaluate your closet. “If there’s something in your closet that you’re not wearing, there’s probably a reason for it—it doesn’t make you feel good,” says Brown. Evaluate what you like and are comfortable in and try to find ways to update with new colours and textures, or by adding new accessories. “Picture what your favourite little black dress would look like in pink, navy or oxblood,” says Brown.
Tip from Talia: Turn all of your hangers the opposite way (pointing out) and every time you wear something, put it back in your closet with the hanger facing the right way (pointing in). Give yourself a timeline (a month, six months, a year) and if anything is still facing the wrong way, it’s time to think about letting it go.
You find that your outfits look sloppy or unpolished
“This usually happens when we’re trying to hide something about our bodies,” says Brown. Instead of focusing on the negative, think about what you love about your body. It might be as simple as adding a belt to enhance your waist, hemming a skirt to show off your gams or donning a statement necklace to draw attention to your face.
You want to find a new style
Before completely ditching your wardrobe, assess if there’s an important piece missing. Do you have the perfect black pants? Or a pair of jeans you can wear anywhere? What about a classic button down blouse? Figuring out what you’re missing and getting it can really breathe new life into your existing pieces. Having trouble? Find another set of eyes. Ask a partner or friend what they think you could add.
If you’re looking to try something new, Brown suggests heading to your local vintage store or finally splurging on that designer purchase you’ve been eyeing. If you really want to change your style, heading to a vintage shop will introduce you to silhouettes and patterns that aren’t currently in stores. “Sometimes it’s just taking that leap.”
Find a new mantra
Fashion is supposed to be fun—so make that notion your new mantra. “Play with colours and shapes and really find what it is that works for you and that makes you feel good,” says Brown. “Your body is your canvas, so express yourself.”
Keeping a healthy lifestyle is important, of course, but quick fixes and flashy diets that you hear of online aren't the way to go. These trend diets, advertised to work wonders, can actually bring more hassle and danger than benefits to your health.
With flashy food shots and pictures of fitness gurus posted on social media pretty much every second of the day, it’s no surprise so many of us are scrambling to keep up with appearances through strategic self-branding and unhealthy diets.
“People are willing to try and pay anything in the hopes of losing weight. There are many self-proclaimed ‘experts’ on the internet providing health advice that may not be safe or even science-based,” says Andrea D’Ambrosio, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians of Canada. “It’s crucial to be critical of information that we find on the internet to avoid being misled by false, unsubstantiated claims.”
D’Ambrosio says she reminds her clients that despite what personalities like Dr. Oz say, there’s no magical food or diet for weight loss.
Here are five popular diets to be wary of.
Juicing encourages dieters to juice their plant-based meals. It’s based on the idea that nutrients from foods such as fruits and vegetables can be absorbed quicker, and fresh juice gives our systems a rest from digesting fibre. While some claim this helps in weight loss and the removal of toxins, the truth is that the amount of sugar from the fruit you eat to maintain a feeling of fullness can equal more calories, which contributes to weight gain.
“Diets that remove entire food groups run the high risk of leading to nutritional deficiencies unless you make up the lost nutrients in other foods or supplements,” D’Ambrosio says.
2. Low-carb diet.
A low-carb diet requires the restriction of foods high in carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and certain fruits and vegetables. Although dieters don’t need to cut high-carb foods from their meals entirely, the suggested limit being advocated on social media, is 60 to 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. That’s less than three plain bagels.
3. No fat diet.
A fat-free diet sounds tempting, but is it really? When we think of fat, we often think of the bad kind that’s found in junk food, but we can also find it in nuts and seeds, fish and fruits like avocado. According to a publication by the Harvard Medical School, unsaturated fats (the good kind!) supply the body with energy and can even help prevent heart disease.
A positive note, D’Ambrosio says, is that these types of diets encourage people to eat less processed foods, which is healthier and helps weight management.
4. 5:2 diet.
For those familiar with diets, fasting is no stranger. The 5:2 diet is one of many regimens floating around the internet that has dieters eating normally (read: unrestrained) for five days and reducing food intake to 500 calories a day for the other two.
“Eating less than 500 to 600 calories a day on fasting days is very difficult for many people and challenging to sustain,” she says. “Many who attempt fasting or severe restriction also find a corresponding increase in cravings or binging after their day of restriction.”
5. Activated charcoal “diet”.
Touted by both health junkies and beauty enthusiasts on social media, charcoal can be consumed via tablets or used in cooking. Aficionados of activated charcoal claim it soaks up surface fat so that calories are not absorbed into the body, plus they say it removes unpleasant gases and toxins and reduces appetite.
The short-term effects may be tempting for those hoping to quickly shed a few pounds or to maintain a healthier lifestyle, but D’Ambrosio says there needs to be more research conducted for diets that boast impressive results. “If you want to lose weight fast, remember that you did not gain that quickly.” she says.
D’Ambrosio says working with a professional dietitian to ensure nutritional needs are met and healthy weight-loss strategies are implemented is a good plan for those who need a helping hand losing weight. “Forming a healthy relationship with food and a positive body image—regardless of weight—is also important during any weight-loss journey,” she says.
Tip from D’Ambrosio:
Food-tracking apps, such as eaTracker, give you a better idea of what (unhealthy) foods you’re eating and what swaps you can make to increase the nutrition and healthfulness of your diet.
Andrea D’Ambrosio is also the owner of Dietetic Directions a nutritional counselling and education company based in Kitchener, Waterloo.
Superpower: Raising awareness about mental health
A couple of years ago, 16-year-old Patrick Hickey had what he calls an "epiphany." He decided he needed to do something to help the people he loved and valued in his life who were quietly struggling with mental health issues. "There was no watershed moment," says Patrick, "just a realization that, although I hadn't talked down to these people or made their condition any worse, I'd never done anything to make it any better or easier." So, in November 2014, after a few months of planning, the teen organized a Mental Wellness Day for 600 students at Holy Heart High School in St. John's, N.L. The event, which included two dozen workshops, guest speakers and information booths, prompted an outpouring of appreciation. "One student who had been suffering from depression and had just listened to a guest speaker talk about it hugged me," says Patrick. "I remember him saying, ‘This is happening—it's really happening.' It was such an emotional day."
In April 2015, Patrick went further, cochairing Mental Health Matters: A Whisper to a Scream, a two-day provincial mental-wellness conference involving more than 30 high schools from Newfoundland and Labrador. "Over a weekend, willing and eager youth became accepting, supportive networks for each other," says Patrick. "It was overwhelming."
Now a student at Western University in London, Ont., Patrick is working on creating similar mental health initiatives, including a mental health conference in Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik, planned for 2016. "We need to keep the conversation going," he says. "Although a lot has been achieved, there's still so much to do for mental health—in my city, in my province and in the country."
Superpower: Helping people with Parkinson's disease through dance
Sarah Robichaud has always understood the joy of movement; it's been part of her life for 25 years as a dancer and 14 years as a personal trainer. But it wasn't until 2007 that she discovered dance can also be transformative. At that time, Sarah had begun working with a new client who had Parkinson's disease, a progressive nervous-system disorder that may include symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement and difficulty maintaining good posture. While researching ways to ease her client's symptoms, Sarah learned about Dance for PD, the internationally acclaimed dance classes in New York City for people with Parkinson's disease. Soon, she added dance to her client's more functional resistance training and stretching sessions. "He enjoyed the workouts more when he was dancing," she recalls. "His balance was better and his gait was better."
In 2008, Sarah started the charity Dancing With Parkinson's, which offers dance classes to help people with the disease develop core strength and balance, and increase their range of motion, all through simple movements and improvisation. "With Parkinson's, people lose their ability to initiate movements needed for basic daily tasks," says Sarah. "In class, it's about finding ways to activate those neural pathways with live music, imagery, choreography, camaraderie and motivation. All of these things, intertwined, help people move."
Dancing With Parkinson's classes are taught by Sarah and 12 teachers trained by her organization. Offered daily at seven Ontario locations, with five in Toronto and two in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, the classes have become so popular (additional classes were added due to long waiting lists) that, over the next five years, Sarah hopes to expand the program across Canada. "I never thought I would be so lucky to find such meaningful work," she says. "When someone tells you after a class, ‘I haven't seen my husband stand up and move for the past five years,' it's profound."
Superpower: Providing education and raising funds for HIV relief
Even while managing her own health crisis, Moréniké Oláòsebìkan was thinking about others. More than a decade ago, while she was undergoing treatment for tuberculosis in her native Nigeria, Moréniké noticed how patients living with HIV were stigmatized. "I was moved by their challenges, so in 2003, when I arrived in Canada to study, I knew I wanted to do something to support that community," says Moréniké, who now has her own fashion label and is a pharmacist and associate owner of a Shoppers Drug Mart in Edmonton. What she didn't have in funds, she had in drive and talent. "I could paint, design clothing and sew, so I took an idea to the African-Caribbean society where I was studying at the University of Alberta," she says. "We would invite all of our friends and everyone on campus, charge a little money and organize a fashion, arts and music exhibition." The result was the Ribbon Rouge gala, a night of fashion, food, music, dancing and fine art, with proceeds going to support HIV relief.
Ten years later, the Ribbon Rouge gala has raised almost $46,000 for three organizations: HIV Edmonton, The Stephen Lewis Foundation and UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. "The theme of the gala is conveyed through art, poetry, music and dance," says Moréniké, "and the speeches are directed toward social action and breaking down the barriers to care." She hopes to grow Ribbon Rouge into a charity that, through the arts, advocates and educates locally and globally to raise awareness and funds for a cure. The challenge, she explains, is that HIV is no longer a media headline, so many people don't think it's relevant anymore. Yet, according to Alberta Health's annual report, there were 255 newly diagnosed cases of HIV in that province in 2013—an increase for the third year running. "The ultimate goal is that we get to zero," says Moréniké. "It would be awesome to be able to say that there are no AIDS-related deaths in Edmonton anymore."
Superpower: Renovating buildings to help charities work more efficiently
It all started very simply, says Paul Latour. A friend with multiple sclerosis needed help fixing up her backyard so she could access and enjoy the overgrown garden she'd once loved so much. "I thought I could get 20 friends together, have a pizza party and help her out," says Paul. Seven weeks later, about 70 volunteers and 27 businesses had contributed time and supplies to perform a one-day reno that would have cost his friend $25,000. "Not a single person I approached said no; not a single company I asked for supplies said no," Paul recalls. It was then that the Victoria-based artist, writer and waiter realized he could tackle projects on a larger scale .
He soon founded HeroWork, first as a private business and then as a nonprofit, and finally as a charity that renovates buildings for other charities in need. HeroWork's first project was a widely lauded reno valued at $100,000 for the Casa Maria Emergency Housing Society, which provides shelter for families in crisis. Now, the organization has completed its fifth renovation in the Victoria area, and plans for three more are underway. To be selected for a renovation, a charity has to own its building and contribute 20 percent of the value of the renovation, which is largely used to purchase the supplies needed for renos that include everything from electrical and plumbing overhauls to roofing repairs to structural work to landscaping. By 2017, Paul plans to roll out HeroWork's community construction model to other towns on Vancouver Island, and in 10 years, across the country. "It's a franchise for social good."
Superpower: Mentoring aboriginal students
Many kids dream of being doctors or pharmacists or researchers. But by the time they're in Grade 12 and applying for postsecondary education, poor grades or their choice of courses throughout high school may make it impossible to get accepted into a health-sciences program. And although The University of British Columbia's outreach department encouraged Grade 12 aboriginal youth across the province to consider careers in medicine and health sciences, they were sometimes reaching students too late. That's why Sandra Jarvis-Selinger, associate dean academic in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences at UBC, and her team created Aboriginal eMentoring BC.
Since 2010, the program has reached out to aboriginal youth as early as elementary school. Students work through a fun, interactive online curriculum called Personal Quest and communicate with mentors on an online discussion board, with the goal of helping participants explore possible career paths. To date, 189 youth and 119 mentors (34 percent of whom are aboriginal) have been enrolled in the program. Based on this initiative's success, in 2016, the program will be expanded to include aboriginal and nonaboriginal youth in rural and remote areas of B.C. Sandra says this model could easily be applied to other areas such as engineering, education and humanities, and that it's robust enough to help youth on any postsecondary career path. For her, the most important takeaway is that aboriginal youth understand that, when they graduate from high school, they have choices and feel empowered to make those choices. The positive impact on these young people is already evident. "E-mentoring changed my life," says Rae-Anne LeBrun, 19, now enrolled in the child and youth care counselling program at Douglas College in Coquitlam, B.C. "I was actually homeless when I was in the program. I got to learn who I was as a person, and also to talk about how I felt with people who accepted me and didn't judge me. They wanted to help me along my journey."
Tamar Huggins Grant
Superpower: Increasing educational and economic opportunities for youth in underserved communities
Tamar Huggins Grant noticed that few people of colour were applying to her Driven Startup Program, the nonprofit social enterprise she'd founded in 2012 that aims to help under-represented entrepreneurs take their business to market through advancing training, mentorship and access to capital. It was then she realized she could create a greater impact by reaching out to tech providers of the future. "I wanted to teach youth that they are more than just consumers," says Tamar. "They can create the technology they consume every day." So, last year, she launched Tech Spark (techspark.ca), a program that's free for participants, thanks to funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation's Youth Opportunities Fund and support from Access Alliance, a multicultural community-services organization. Tech Spark teaches coding and other digital literacy skills such as web development, UX design, digital drawing and mobile gaming to youth aged 15 to 29; it's designed to help develop a new generation of innovators and creators. Through Tech Spark, Tamar focuses her efforts on inner-city communities like Toronto's Weston–Mount Dennis—identified as one of the poorest and most at-risk neighbourhoods in the city—where there are barriers, both economic and social, to learning. In addition to training (the 12-week program runs four to six times a year), Tech Spark provides transit tokens and hot meals, and youth mentors are available to help students with personal issues that may affect their studies. Even more crucial, each Tech Spark session ends with student-internship opportunities at established technology companies like Pixel Dreams, a digital design studio in Toronto. This year, Tamar plans to launch Tech Spark Digital, her own digital agency, where program interns will be hired to do design and development work for local businesses.
"We try our best to provide the students with what they need to be successful," says Tamar, who hopes to expand Tech Spark to other inner-city neighbourhoods in Toronto. "They leave with skills that employers are looking for." For Tamar, the ultimate reward is opening doors for not only Tech Spark students but also those students' siblings and their future children. "Our reach goes beyond the individuals who are part of our program. It means so much to be part of that."
For more on Canadians who are making a difference, check out Tysen Lefebvre's story.
This story was originally part of "Canadian Super Heroes" in the March 2016 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!