I welcome our guests and thank the committee members for being here.
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), I now call vote 1 under the Canada Revenue Agency, main estimates 2006-07, referred to the committee on Tuesday, April 25, 2006.
To our guests today, thank you for being here. I would invite you to introduce yourselves to the members of the committee.
Following that, Monsieur Dorais, I understand you're going to make a brief presentation.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Let me introduce my team. Brian McCauley is responsible for legislative and regulatory affairs. Jim Ralston is the chief financial officer for the Canada Revenue Agency. Barbara Slater handles most of our operation. All of the returns and the service to taxpayers associated with the returns are handled through Barbara.
First, I would like to thank you and your colleagues for this early opportunity to appear before this committee. The Main Estimates that are before you for consideration call for an appropriation of $3.2 billion for the Canada Revenue Agency. That is an increase of $189 million over last year.
Before I respond to questions, please allow me to briefly provide some context for the $3.2 billion we plan to spend on tax and benefit program administration for the coming year. In 2004-2005, the Agency collected over $300 billion in revenues. That's an average of over $1.2 billion for every working day of the year.
The $3.2 billion we're seeking is a large amount, but it represents slightly more than one penny for every dollar of revenue collected.
The agency also distributed close to $12.5 billion in benefit payments to millions of families and individuals on behalf of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments as well as first nations.
In the coming year, we are poised to administer many of the new measures announced in budget 2006, such as the proposed universal child care benefits and the reduction in the GST rate to 6%.
In 2004-05 the agency processed more than 24 million individual and trust tax returns and 1.5 million corporate tax returns. It provided joint program delivery for 141 client governments and agencies, answered approximately 22 million public inquiries over the phone, peaking at times, such as during the recent tax season, to more than 35 calls per second.
We recorded 24 million tax-related visits to the CRA website. We're also very proud of having trained over 15,000 volunteers, who completed more than 458,000 simple tax returns for low-income eligible taxpayers.
To accomplish all of this, the Canada Revenue Agency has approximately 44,000 full- and part-time employees across Canada; 81% of our workforce is located outside of headquarters.
As the Main Estimates indicate, it will cost slightly more to maintain Agency services to Canadians in the coming year. The main reasons the authorities are going up include: the impact of recent collective agreements; the cost of providing additional services to the Canada Boarder Services Agency, which are being fully recovered from them; increased costs associated with administering measures in the 2004 and 2005 federal budgets; and changes to the Children's Special Allowance Statutory Vote.
These increases are partially offset by savings, including a reduction in government-wide employee benefit plan rates, as well as by program savings resulting from the expenditure review exercise.
As I mentioned earlier, in 2004-05 the agency collected over $300 billion for Canadian governments. As of May 4 of this year, we had received about 21 million tax returns from individuals. That is up by more than 600,000 for the same time last year.
This year we were able to accommodate increases in workload within our budget, in part by realizing internal economies and reallocating the savings. We remain committed to serving Canadians within the budget provided while ensuring that our tax system generates the revenue needed to deliver the government programs that Canadians expect.
Mr. Chairman, my colleagues and I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
I'd be badly placed to offer any kind of criticism of the agency, since I not too long ago was the minister, and I think it was, at least in those days, very well run.
Certainly, to be serious, I do believe that. Having worked with the people at the end of table, I know they manage the operation with a high degree of professionalism, with which I was always proud to be associated while I was there. I do have three questions nevertheless.
Mr. Dorais mentioned the expenditure review process. I chaired the committee that oversaw this exercise. I recall the discussions that took place and the ensuing cuts stemming from the review process. My question concerns the measures that will eventually be implemented.
During the election campaign, the Conservatives announced cuts in the order of $22.6 billion over five years. Compared to the cuts made by the Liberal government, these cuts are going to be much deeper. The Agency had some problems dealing with the cuts made by our government. It should have an even more difficult time with the new government, since we've already identified the reductions that will be the easiest to make.
Looking forward to the next round of expenditure review, or cuts of a much greater severity, what will this imply for the services of the agency, the regional distribution of jobs in the agency, and things of that nature?
My two remaining questions have to do with the GST. I'll begin with the overall cost. I'd like it if Monsieur Dorais could confirm or deny reports that the government was out by $500 million to $700 million in its estimate of the cost of reducing by one percentage point. My understanding is that they didn't display great competence, in the sense that they were looking at the net numbers after the cost of the credit. When you look at it properly, the cost was out by $500 million to $700 million per year, which is a lot of money.
To Monsieur Dorais, can you tell us the true cost of the 1% reduction in GST and the degree to which that differed from the estimate that the Conservatives put forward during the election?
Finally, this is really a tax administration question. I know that the CRA is administration rather than policy. When you change the GST by one point or two or whatever, there are large costs imposed on businesses to change all of the systems to make this happen. Certainly there are costs imposed on the CRA itself to make this happen.
Are the businesses going to be ready in time for the announced date of the cut? Do you have any idea of the order of magnitude of the dollar costs that businesses will have to pay to make this change? And do you have any idea, or an approximation at least, of the dollar costs in terms of resources that the agency will have to pay to make this change?
I think the question about the private sector is more important, if more difficult. A change of this nature is not simple. How many person-hours of work, how many dollars of costs, are involved in making such a change? Will it be so onerous a risk that a number of businesses won't be ready on the prescribed date?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'll answer your first question concerning spending cuts.
As was mentioned earlier, the CRA has reduced costs. Next year, $110 million will be trimmed from our budget. I wouldn't qualify this exercise as easy. On the contrary, the task is a very difficult one for the CRA. As for speculating about the future, the government has not to date issued any directives regarding additional cuts.
As for the GST, I'm not familiar with the estimates the member refers to that are supposedly off by a number of millions, but I suppose we're referring to the Department of Finance estimates. Frankly, Mr. Chairman, the question would be better addressed to the Department of Finance for those estimates.
As for the cost imposed on the agency, I will ask my colleague Mr. McCauley to talk on this. The cost of business is very difficult to establish. The government has announced the first of July as the implementation date, which was far enough to allow the necessary time for business to adjust, and also not too long to have a negative impact due to the lag time between the announcement and the implementation. July 1, as the member knows, is a very important date for business. A number of changes are brought to systems at that date, so it makes life a little easier for business.
I'll ask Mr. McCauley to add on the specific costs to the agency.
Very briefly, Mr. Chair, our current estimates are about $10 million to implement the GST reduction over two years. That's on a reduction of approximately $10 billion, which is the $5 billion projection of the lower tax rate for Canadians, or it works out to about $1 to administer every $1,000 of tax reduction. Those numbers, of course, will disappear, because after the two years in which we have implemented the rate reduction we will fall back to our regular budget.
We don't have any estimates in terms of costs on the private sector. We are fairly confident, working with Finance and in fact, over the last few days, with the private sector and with industry associations, that we will be ready and they'll be ready. There are obviously some transitional rules we will be putting in place, and we'll be working with industry to make sure they're ready to make the changes. So far, what we've seen is that they see the ramp time to July 1 as being reasonable, not so long that it's going to have an effect on retail sales or the economy, but long enough for them to be ready.
That's our current assessment.
Mr. Chairman, I'll be brief, unlike my Liberal colleague. I merely have a question for Mr. Dorais.
In passing, I'd like to congratulate you on your staff's professionalism. Each time we need to contact the Agency about some problem a taxpayer is having, we receive top-notch service.
I'd like to verify something. About a year and a half ago, a journalist reported on an incident of fraud involving telephone solicitation businesses that were soliciting funds on behalf of charitable organizations. The reporter mentioned several cases in which inquiries were conducted. He even went so far as to put himself in the shoes of someone being solicited. The businesses in question would ask taxpayers if they would like either to make a cash donation or purchase some promotional items. In many cases, they would choose the promotional items, but would not receive a tax receipt, even though they had been led to believe by the solicitors that they were making a charitable donation.
In other cases, the solicitation operations amounted to out and out theft because only a minute portion of the funds collected were turned over to charitable organizations. Even the directors of these charitable organizations knew that there was a problem, but solicitation represented their only source of regular funding.
Since the CRA is authorized to inquire into similar incidents, would we be well advised to suggest that you take a close look at these types of operations? Basically, they are misrepresenting themselves to the taxpayers with false promises of tax receipts. Could you not investigate their operations, on behalf of all taxpayers? I can give you the background material supplied by the reporter from the Journal de Montréal.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
If you're referring to an incident that took place 18 months ago, then that was probably before I arrived at the CRA. I'm not very familiar with the case. But based on your description of the events, this is a clear case of fraud. In cases like this, our colleagues at the RCMP and the CRA conduct a hard-nosed investigation. Obviously, that's what we will do if you provide us with the details of this incident. One of our divisions is responsible for conducting investigations of this nature.
As far as charitable organizations are concerned, two concrete measures, albeit of a more general nature, have been taken. Each year, the CRA audits the operations of some 600 charitable organizations. In the process, we collect a significant amount of information about a great many agencies. Recently, we issued some notices warning taxpayers about various things, including the possibility of fraud. We issue the warnings on our website and we also send them to all of the country's weekly newspapers. Regardless, we'll proceed with an investigation once we've received the information from you.
Thank you very much for appearing before us today.
For the benefit of colleagues on the committee, I am subbing for Judy Wasylycia-Leis on the revenue piece because I'm the revenue critic for our caucus. But other than that, Judy will return to her rightful place.
If I can, through you, Chair, the Liberals started a process of cutting $110 million from the ministry as an expenditure reduction process. Can you tell me if that is still expected to continue under the Conservatives?
Right. So Liberal plan and Conservative plan, it's the same thing.
Moving forward, it's my understanding, and please correct me if I'm wrong, that from some moment in time forward, and you can tell me whether that's in effect now or sometime soon, it's actually going to be the policy of the government--and please correct me if I'm wrong, because I find this astounding, so I'm sure I'm wrong--that at Revenue Canada offices, Canadians will no longer be able to go in and use Canadian currency to pay for anything at all that they either owe the government, owe the ministry, or are purchasing. For any kind of cash transaction, the Ministry of Revenue, for the Government of Canada, will no longer allow or accept Canadian currency presented by Canadians to pay any kind of bill or debt with their own government. Please tell me I'm wrong.
Now, you said handling cash is very difficult. That's really strikes me as kind of funny, quite frankly, coming from the revenue ministry. I still find it hard to believe that you can't go into a revenue ministry outlet anywhere and pay with Canadian currency. It boggles the mind.
Let me move on, though, because one of the things I want to ask is this, Chair. On April 21, this committee was seized of this same issue, and at that time Ms. Wasylycia-Leis asked a question in two parts, when she had the floor, to government representatives—Mr. Dorais, I think. She said, “Could you tell us how many sites across the country are affected, what the 7% of revenues translates into in terms of dollars”--and this is my question--“and what kind of impact analysis you did?”
Mr. Dorais answered, “I don't have all the figures at my fingertips, but we'll undertake to provide you with the exact figure.”
Then Ms. Wasylycia-Leis went on before she relinquished the floor and said, “Mr. Chairperson, I would just like you to make sure that we request and get a full impact analysis of this decision, as well as a gender impact analysis.”
Chair, can you please advise whether that report was indeed tabled?
Okay. I'm sure it's there, because it was requested and it's just a matter of getting it to us.
Moving on, then, to the counter closings, this is for the public. Right now, as I understand it, the public can walk into any Revenue Canada government building and there will be a counter they can walk up to, there will be a person there, and they can immediately ask any questions they have, get any clarification, or get anything they need. It's my understanding that again sometime, either already or soon, that will no longer be allowed. Is that the case, through you, Chair?
That's absolutely the case, and in fact, if I may, Mr. Chair, this measure, depending on how one presents it, has a very different meaning. We see this measure as an improvement in the service to taxpayers.
In other words, at this point in time, the member is right, anybody can walk into any office and sit down for half an hour or more, waiting for an agent to be available. What will happen in the future is that anybody will be able to phone and get an exact appointment, and they will be assured they will not be waiting. Their special needs, if they have special needs, will be met, and the experts in their field of business or their requirement will be available for them to meet. The cost of maintaining an office open just in case someone walks in is just unbearable at this stage. So we'll organize differently.
This does not have a huge impact locally. If we have not provided the report, we will, but I think we did provide the report in the previous committee. But we did provide the impact analysis to the unions, and we will provide it to the committee again, if necessary. The impact will be, in the end, an improved level of service.
Also, we'll be using the outlets of Service Canada across the country for simple requests. So people will be able to walk into those offices and get answers to their simple requests, and get the appropriate expert when they have a complicated question.
Thank you, Mr. Dorais and officials. We appreciate the information you're giving us today.
As I think all of us are aware, today we are talking about the estimates based on the 2005 Liberal budget. Of course there has been a new budget tabled by the new government just last week, and we will have you again, I am sure, to talk about estimates based on that budget.
But as I was looking at the estimates based on the Liberal's 2005 budget, at the briefing note at page 5, a number jumped out at me that I'm hoping you can explain. It refers to the spending of revenues received through the conduct of operations pursuant to section 60 of the Canada Revenue Agency Act. You have that reference.
On the figures before us, what happened is that there was a more than fourfold increase for this category of expenditure between 2005-06 and 2006-07, and that was of course quite an increase. I wonder if you could let us know what that's all about.
This is a good question, Mr. Chairman. The member is very observant.
The agency has the ability to receive payments for service. This relates very specifically to the Canada Border Services Agency. As you know, they left the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency at that time. The first year after they left, the services were left on our estimates, and then in the second year we charged them for that, because we provide all the computer services for the border agency. So this is the cost of maintaining their computers, which is transferred from them to us. That's what appears in that line.
We're pretty proud, frankly, Mr. Chairman, of our record on this.
On general inquiries, the average in the year is an 83% response rate, which is above private sector standards, and for business inquiries it's 91%. Hopefully people don't have to wait. In the peak period, in the weeks that just preceded today, there are times during the day when the waiting time can be longer, obviously, because we're peaking sometimes at 35 calls per second, as I said. We cannot answer 35 calls per second, so during those peak times people could be waiting. But generally speaking, the standard wait is two minutes in our call centres.
It's a fairly significant question, and I would like an answer on this.
I think you actually start to make the system slightly less efficient, because your costs will essentially remain fixed. Now the costs aren't a huge number, but the costs will remain fixed and possibly even go up, because you're going to have to change from seven to six and then six to five.
Having said that, I would be interested to know what impact the credits will have by virtue of reducing your gross revenues by effectively one-seventh. At one level you're possibly turning a relatively efficient tax, which generates in the order of $30 billion, into a far less efficient tax.
I'd be interested in knowing what the answer is.
Thank you very much for appearing before our committee.
Like Mr. McCallum, I have some experience with Canada Revenue Agency, only much less brief than my esteemed colleague. However, the agency ran flawlessly during my period of time, as with Mr. McCallum.
I actually have three brief questions. One is on the issue of compliance costs for the GST. You kind of didn't answer the question, when it was asked previously by my colleague across the way, on the compliance costs for small business, or business in general, for the GST reduction of a point. Has the revenue agency done an analysis at all of the compliance costs that businesses in general would face? If you haven't, why not, because it seems to me to be a pretty salient point.
Have you given any thought to assistance that CCRA can provide to Canadian businesses to help them comply? In other words, if I have a small business and I have three cash registers that aren't electronic, can I call up and ask if there's some way you can assist me in that?
I've heard it estimated by my friends across the way, or a lobby group speaking for them, that compliance costs of reducing the GST would be in excess of $1 billion across Canada. I'm wondering if you have an opinion on that, whether there's any basis to that, or whether you believe this is just Liberal scaremongering.
My second question has to do with the amnesty program. I might make the point that this is an excellent program brought in by a far-thinking Conservative government in the past to allow Canadians who actually feel that they are offside with CCRA to step forward and make good on their past payments.
I'd like you to give us a little summary, if you could. I realize that a study was released just recently, and I'm wondering if you can refresh the committee's memory on what the response to the amnesty program has been. Secondly, have you given any thought to expanding that? It seems like a pretty cost-effective way of raking in a whole bunch of extra money.
My third quick question is, the Liberal tax cut from 16% to 15% for the lowest tax bracket in the 2005 budget was never passed by the House. What is the status of a tax cut that never gets legislative approval, and yet the Canadian population believes is de facto in place? Then we have a budget that comes along in 2006 and says we are in fact going to legislate that. It seems to me there is a bit of a grey area there, and I'm wondering if you can explain to us, and to Canadians in general, exactly what their status is in terms of that reduced level of tax.
It shows the member's experience with the agency or the department, if I'm not mistaken, at that time.
I will leave some time for my colleague, Mr. McCauley, to think about the compliance cost question, but let me briefly address the two others.
I think when the member mentioned the amnesty program he was referring to the voluntary disclosure program. That is a program that was put in place to encourage taxpayers, who somehow were in this irregular situation, to catch up and go back into the regular stream.
Voluntary disclosure is valid if we determine it is voluntary, complete, involves a penalty, and involves information that is at least one year old. That's to avoid people simply saying, “I'm not going to pay my tax, I'm going to do voluntary disclosure”. So it doesn't work that way. There are some strict criteria, but it allows people to come, and in some cases the penalty is waived, so people can bring their account with us to zero and become regular taxpayers on a yearly basis.
The program has worked well. I don't have the figures, but I think there have been around 6,000 voluntary disclosures. Most of them were done by tax preparers, on behalf of taxpayers, who helped them regularize their situations with the fisc, and that has paid off over time. There is at this point no intention to expand it any further.
On the issue of the budget, this is a simple and complicated issue at the same time. When the government introduces a budget.... I should say governments, because at the agency we face a lot more than one budget a year. We also face provincial budgets, because we also collect taxes on behalf of provinces. So we have about 13 different budgets per year that we have to adjust.
At the federal level, on the tabling of the ways and means motion that expresses the intent of government, usually the agency will take the measures to prepare to implement the budget. In normal situations, this is then carried by Parliament and voted on.
In the particular case the member raises, it was done in a minority government, and as the members know, it was not legislated. The agency has taken the decision, on the basis of ways and means, to reduce the marginal rate from 16% to 15%, on the understanding that the next government elected would confirm that decision or not. The government has confirmed the decision for one year and changed it in the last budget, so we are already taking measures, as a result of the tabling of the most recent budget, to make the correction for the next taxation year.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The member has asked a very important question. I've been concerned about this very subject since I started working at the CRA. I've begun to look into this matter and to initiate some changes.
Canadians invest substantially abroad. As a rule, the level of investment abroad is a positive indicator for a nation's economy. Moreover, it's wholly legitimate for different countries to put in place tax measures to encourage or attract investment. Here in Canada, as members well know, there are a number of tax measures in place to attract foreign investment to this country.
Where I have a problem is with aggressive tax planning. This issue is also of much concern to the CRA. Occasionally, aggressive tax planning involves the use of tax havens. There are not many of them left. As a result of pressures brought to bear by several OECD countries, the number of tax havens has declined.
A country is recognized as a tax haven when its banking laws are designed to preserve anonymity and when it refuses to share related information with other countries. Because of aggressive tax planning, occasionally funds are funnelled through some of these countries and that can pose a problem. The whole question of aggressive tax planning is a much broader issue.
Last year, we invested $30 million to hire 250 people and to set up 11 centres of excellence with a view to dealing with the problem of aggressive tax planning. This year, our $30 million investment will see a return of over $60 million in the form of direct additional revenues.
Over the next few years, we hope to be able to increase the revenues generated. Already in year one we are recovering twice what it cost to put these measures in place. However, it's hard to tackle the problem of tax havens other than by resorting to international agreements and by exerting pressure at the international level. That's why we've opted to focus our attention on aggressive tax planning measures.
I'd like to clarify something, Mr. Dorais. You stated that the number of tax havens is dwindling because countries have clamped down, loosened their bank secrecy policies and become more transparent. However, as recently as four years ago, Canada's ambassador to the OECD demanded that one of the worst offenders, Barbados, be taken off the list of delinquent countries. I think a word of caution is in order. The number is declining because countries like Canada - countries that may be pursuing different interests -- have decided to put pressure on other OECD countries to amend the list.
The fact remains, however, that Barbados is, of all countries with questionable practices, the one that sees the highest volume of direct investments from Canadians. We'll have an opportunity in the months ahead to revisit the subject.
Mr. Dorais, with respect to the service cuts expected by next April 30, some discussions have taken place with your Agency's unionized employees. Concerns have been expressed that direct services to the public will be affected, for example, services such as answering questions about GST refunds and so forth.
Are their concerns well founded? If so, where do you stand on this matter?
Thanks for coming. It's been very informative.
I have a couple of quick questions, then I have a little bit more of a detailed one.
How many Canadians' personal income taxes are e-filed these days or filed on line?
A voice: It's increasing.
Mr. Michael Savage: Yes, I'm interested in the trend. The reason I'm asking is whether it is better for us. Is there a saving of any kind to the department?
Mr. Savage wanted to go back to that question, which hadn't really been answered, but you have provided part of that. In fact, we don't have an answer, at least on that.
It is an issue that has come up; it is an issue of concern to us that a lot of small-business operators have been somewhat startled by what they have been led to believe are large compliance costs.
Again, who should we talk to, in your estimation, to try to nail down what the compliance costs are? Would there be any recommendation there?
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you all, again.
I neglected this the first time, but since this is my first public interaction with the agency as the critic for the New Democratic caucus, the first thing I want to say is that I and the caucus have great respect for the amount of work you do and the kind of work and the need for precision. When you compare our collection system to those around the world, many would give their right arm to have the problems we have. So I want to acknowledge that, and I look forward to working with you.
Having said that, going back to my role as the critic, I do want to take on this notion again that less is more, because I spent a lot of years in the Ontario legislature listening to that very argument and watching the quality of life and services and programs in Ontario fall further and further and further. We're cutting services here; there's no other way to describe it.
I do have to say I may need a bit of clarification. Did I understand, Mr. Dorais, that you suggested that maybe this wasn't being fully implemented? You said something about the cash policy, about no longer accepting cash, then you said something else about the rest of the service cuts. But I have to confess I didn't hear it all. Are the inquiry counters being closed down as originally planned, or are there any changes to that?
I don't want to be rude, but my time is tight.
The answer to my question is no, the change is going through as proposed. Herein lies my difficulty, because in my estimation and certainly in that of my constituents in downtown Hamilton, this is still a cut in service. They now have that opportunity. It's a right they have to go in and ask something and get an answer, and that's not going to be there in the future.
It's easy to say, well, go online. That's not so easy for an awful lot of people who aren't familiar.... There are still an awful lot of people living in poverty who don't have the technology in their homes that many people take for granted. For seniors, it's not necessarily their first choice to do something as important as their personal taxes, but I'm also thinking about new immigrants. Every government, every party, talks about the importance of assisting new immigrants to settle into our communities and to become integrated, and information is one of the most important things they need. So it seems to me that this is counterproductive to that. We ought to be making government services as user friendly as possible, particularly for people who don't understand the lingo, who maybe don't understand the technology, or who have various other disabilities.
It is not only that. While I have a moment, I want to get on the record that it is clear that in a system like this the more you can get things right at the front end, in terms of the input end, the less money it's going to cost the agency to process, to make changes or revisions. It seems to me that this is all counterproductive and is an exercise in meeting an artificially declared, bottom-line cut.
In your estimation or the agency's estimation, this may be the lesser of all evils. That doesn't make it any less evil in terms of it being a service cut. It is something that Canadians had, and the government is taking it away. I see this as a huge problem, particularly for the segments of our society that I've outlined.
I'll give you a chance to respond to that, sir.
Mr. Dorais, I also intend to put the next question to Department of Finance officials. However, right now I'd like to briefly review for our enlightenment your Agency's practices.
You will recall that when Mr. Desautels was the Auditor General, he uncovered within the space of a few days two contradictory advanced rulings. These rulings authorized the sole owner of two family trusts totalling in excess of $2 billion to transfer these two trusts to the United States and eventually, to another country. We've now lost track of these two trusts.
I won't review all of the details, but the fact remains that this situation came to light and was carefully scrutinized by the committee over a period of two months. Both the Deputy Minister of Revenue and the Finance Minister appeared before the committee. They both had had a hand in these advance rulings, the second of which, if memory serves me well, was made on December 24 at 10:40 p.m.
How could an ordinary taxpayer have possibly attended a meeting about an advanced ruling on Christmas Eve?
The committee discovered that companies working in the field of tax planning, Revenue Canada and the Finance Department would all share their expertise with one another. Tax planning firms would loan an expert for one or two years to Revenue Canada or to the Department of Finance. Among other things, these individuals would be involved in the making of advanced rulings.Therefore, they were aware of specific rulings that had been made. Consequently, as we saw with the two advanced rulings, these individuals could, when they returned to their firm, help their clients benefit from certain tax breaks. They found themselves in a privileged position compared to others. They were familiar with tax rulings and interpretations, since they had spent time working in both departments.
First, I'd like to know if these types of exchanges are still taking place. Second, I'd like to know what kind of safeguards are in place to ensure the confidentiality of the rulings made, whether they are made in advance or not. What steps do you take to ensure that these rulings do not become known to tax planning firms that could use the information to help certain privileged clients, at the expense of taxpayers?
For the information of committee members, on Wednesday we will have finance officials here at 3:30. I appreciate everyone being here on time today, and we'll try to keep it efficient on Wednesday as well.
Next Monday representatives from FINTRAC and from the International Trade Tribunal will be here. Tentatively, on Wednesday the Superintendent of Financial Institutions will be here as well. These are upcoming events.
We'll endeavour to get to you at the earliest opportunity the information that we were promised by the officials. There were some good questions asked there.
We have the report to adopt here, and we can be under way. It is the first report of the subcommittee on agenda and procedure of the Standing Committee on Finance, from our steering committee meeting the other day. Is there any discussion on that? Everybody has a copy?
Yes, Mr. Christopherson.
I'll make the case again.
I think my friend made the argument almost as if to say everybody's got the same, and it's fair all around, but it's not.
We have 29 members in the caucus. In the second round, as Mr. Turner showed today, oftentimes there's an important follow-up just for a matter of clarification. To be denied completely, not even a reduced amount, no opportunity to do any follow-up, when all the other caucuses.... It's not only the fact that I get to share it with other members--and that's fine, because you have bigger caucuses--but that the caucus as a whole doesn't get one single guaranteed opportunity for a follow-up. Even if it were three minutes--something--to ensure that the NDP, in terms of reflecting 29 seats in a minority, is part of the play in the second round.... I don't think that's an unreasonable request.
I wish to thank the members for their comments.
I would just observe that I noted on at least three occasions today where members of committee followed up on other members' questions. I think that's a good habit to get into.
That being said, your point has been well made and I've noted it. Certainly we'll endeavour to have fairness in the chair.
Any other questions on any other item on the agenda?
Mr. Pacetti, the former chairman.
I would prefer to invite the Minister of Finance to appear twice, three or even four times throughout the year. His appearances are always most enjoyable.
But seriously, Mr. Chairman, we should discuss this matter. The Finance Minister appears once a year before the Standing Committee on Finance, whereas in the case of provincial legislatures and Quebec's National Assembly, finance ministers put in appearances almost every week to answer questions about bills that have been tabled.
In Quebec, for example, I find it ludicrous that the Minister of Finance may be compelled to testify twice or even three times a week for several hours. However, we could agree on a solution that falls somewhere between the two extremes. Since all legislative decisions flow from the Minister of Finance, we should hear from him more often. Besides which, we enjoy his company!