Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province weighs funeral fee

Has had talks with industry about adding service tariff

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Bardal Funeral Home's Kevin Sweryd says with a new fee to fund oversight of the industry, good businesses would end up paying for bad businesses.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Bardal Funeral Home's Kevin Sweryd says with a new fee to fund oversight of the industry, good businesses would end up paying for bad businesses. Photo Store

You might soon be able to add one more thing to the list of certainties in life in Manitoba -- death, taxes and a death tax.

The province has had preliminary discussions with the Manitoba Funeral Services Association about charging funeral homes a new service fee per customer. The money would be used to fund an inspector who would keep an eye on the industry and investigate wrongdoings.

Owen McKenzie, president of the MFSA, said there is no firm timetable but he's been told the province would like to see the fee implemented before the year is out. He said the pursuit of infractions would definitely require a budget.

"The province doesn't have the appetite to call it a death tax. We pay a lump sum for our licence as a funeral home and in addition, we'll likely end up paying a licence fee per death. It will be a small amount -- it could be considered an assessment -- that will be paid by us and, in turn, we'll transfer it to the family we're serving," he said.

'The province doesn't have the appetite to call it a death tax' -- Owen McKenzie, president of the Manitoba Funeral Services Association

McKenzie said the fee wouldn't likely be too onerous, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10 to $40 per family, which is small relative to the cost of a funeral, which can run into the many thousands of dollars.

Manitoba wouldn't be breaking any new ground here, either, as other jurisdictions, such as Saskatchewan, have had such fees for a "long time," he said.

A government spokesman said the Funeral Board of Manitoba, the division that oversees funeral directors, embalmers and funeral homes in the province, exists to protect those purchasing funeral services, often when they're vulnerable during their time of grief.

When the FBM takes over the administration of the Prearranged Funeral Services Act, it will need money to carry out audits and records inspections, he said.

"Charging fees to those professionals that the agency regulates ensures that the province does not have to subsidize these regulatory costs with taxpayer dollars," he said.

The FBM receives no government funding and operates on a full cost-recovery basis by charging licensing fees to funeral providers.

Kevin Sweryd, funeral director at Bardal Funeral Home, said the assessment would "essentially amount to a death tax."

"(The province) is going to frame it as something that protects families and that's fine, but if it's not optional, what else do you call it other than a tax or a tariff?" he said.

Sweryd said a number of funeral homes have been found providing less-than-stellar service in recent years, including overcharging customers, providing cheaper caskets than had originally been agreed to and being disrespectful to grieving families.

"If you're a funeral home that plays by the rules and would never have to be investigated, your families will have to pay.

"The good apples would be paying for the bad apples," he said.

 

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2013 A3

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Updated on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 6:48 AM CDT: replaces photo

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