Ryan Pineau started his new job this past Monday as P.E.I.'s provincial tax commissioner.
The tax commissioner is the person who advises the provincial government on tax policy — so whether you realize it or not, his advice to government could have a pretty significant effect on what's in every Islander's wallet.
"I've always thought tax was interesting," Pineau said.
CBC decided this was a good opportunity to find out exactly what a tax commissioner does, how Pineau plans to approach his job, and a little about the man himself. He answered questions this week in a phone interview on the second day of his new job.
1. He was a prominent PC
Pineau was the treasurer of P.E.I.'s Progressive Conservative Party since 2007, a position he has now given up. In that job he prepared financial statements, developed financial policies, prepared election budgets and obtained financing — some of the same things he will be doing for the PC government led by Dennis King.
But just because his Tory blue political stripes match that of the King government, Pineau said that doesn't mean he was handed the job — it's not an appointment. After previous tax commissioner Elizabeth Gaudet retired, Pineau applied for the post through P.E.I.'s Public Service Commission.
"I put my name in and went through the interview process with them," he said, adding he was "very pleased" to win the job.
He said he got involved in politics as part of the PC youth wing when we was a UPEI student "with an approach of wanting to better the Island ... wanting to have an impact on policy and development of the province. The good part about it and the relevant part I guess was getting to deal with a lot of government officials and MLAs over the years and in particular, now I have good relationships with some of the existing MLAs."
He said those relationships won't get in the way of ensuring good tax policy — he works independently under P.E.I.'s deputy minister of finance.
"It's a very collaborative role, and I don't think it'll matter who is in government at the time," he said. "I'm a consensus-builder by nature."
2. He came from the private sector
Where other senior civil servants often rise up through the bureaucratic ranks to take top positions like this, Pineau was an accountant in the private sector for 15 years after graduating from UPEI and getting his designation as a chartered accountant.
He was a partner in Charlottetown from 2012 to 2020 where he was an income tax specialist with expertise in estate planning and corporate reorganizations at accounting firm MacPherson Roche Smith. After a merger, it became Grant Thornton LLP, where Pineau advised private enterprise clients on P.E.I.
"I bring an external viewpoint ... I have a different frame of mind, maybe, at approaching issues," he said.
He said his biggest interest is "having a fair and equitable process for taxpayers," as it pertains to tax legislation. This includes having a fair appeal process if taxpayers have issues with taxes and fees, and making sure they feel heard.
3. He advises cabinet ministers, premier
Pineau has a four-year-old daughter and said he tells her "Daddy helps the government raise the money it needs to help people."
One of Pineau's jobs is to advise the provincial cabinet on tax matters. For instance, he'd research and help them weigh the pros and cons of a proposed change in property taxes — like the deferral in paying property taxes that's happening right now — or sin taxes such as those on tobacco or liquor. He must have his finger on the pulse of not only past but current and future consumer behaviour — that's how governments set budget targets.
For instance, he noted more people stayed home and cooked during the pandemic, since most restaurants were closed. The province's coffers will take a hit, since restaurant or takeout food is taxed and groceries are not.
"Those shifting habits of consumers have a big impact, so what we have to do is then try to model that out in terms of the financial impact so that it can be input into the overall government budget," Pineau said, adding that during the current pandemic "there will be a lot of moving parts in terms of some of these taxes."
We're hoping to rebrand it the Department of Fun-ance. — Ryan Pineau
The other major thing he does is administer existing tax legislation.
There are two main divisions he oversees: one is property taxes along with the land registry, and the other is taxes, revenues and fees. He will advise on setting property tax rates, as well as the 10 other taxes and fees from gas to tobacco to the deposits on beverage containers.
"There's a wide range of fees and taxes that are part of everyone's day-to-day life but they don't probably think of who's in the background administering those," he said. He stresses that he doesn't set the direction or come up with a vision — that's government's job, and he interprets and administers government's legislation.
4. Championed LGBTQ cause
In 2019, Pineau stepped forward and offered to raise money for an extra flagpole for the Town of Alberton to fly the rainbow LGBTQ flag, after the town refused to fly it.
Council had voted unanimously against flying the rainbow flag to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17. One of the arguments was the town only had three flagpoles, and they were to fly the municipal, provincial and Canadian flags.
Pineau grew up in West Prince and said he was disappointed in council's decision.
"Regardless of whether there's room to take down a flag or not, you're making one subset of the population feel pretty negative. And I just don't think we're in a day and age where we need to do that," he said at the time.
The town ultimately refused his donation of $1,286. He instead gave it to PEERS Alliance to help fund a drop-in program for LGBTQ youth in West Prince.
5. He likes to be silly
Working from home this spring during the coronavirus pandemic, Pineau became P.E.I. famous by posting silly parody music videos on social media.
He started by trying to give his co-workers a laugh, reworking lyrics from popular songs from the past — ending up with such treasures as Working Out My Back Door, Pandemic Monday and Running Out of Purell (set to Highway to Hell).
His accounting firm liked the videos so much, the company posted them on a web page it set up about coping with working at home.
He said on his first day on the job as tax commissioner, many Finance staffers recognized him from Facebook. Some even expressed hope Pineau will create some fun videos in and about his new role.
"We're hoping to rebrand it the Department of Fun-ance," Pineau said with a chuckle. "Hopefully we can bring some smiles ... I don't intend to not be the funny guy anymore."
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