I call the meeting to order.
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(5), the committee will deal with supplementary estimates (B) 2017-18, vote 1b under Canada Revenue Agency.
Appearing today is the Minister of National Revenue, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier.
As well, from the Canada Revenue Agency, we have Mr. Hamilton, commissioner; Ms. Janique Caron, acting assistant commissioner; Mr. Ted Gallivan, assistant commissioner at the international, large business, and investigations branch; and Mr. Frank Vermaeten, assistant commissioner at the assessment, benefit, and service branch.
I know that both the minister and the commissioner have remarks. Before we get to that, we have a request for a supplementary project budget for our pre-budget consultations. This is normal in the pre-budget consultation process. It will end up being about the same amount of money as we have spent in previous years. The request is before you. It's for an additional $29,900. Do we have a mover for that?
It is moved by Mr. Fergus.
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: As it states on the sheet, that is for the witnesses who have come forward.
I have just one other thing before I get to your point of order, Tom.
I want to recognize 43 students from École nationale d'administration publique, who are here with Mr. Rémy Trudel, a professor and former member of the Quebec National Assembly. They are here to see how things operate.
Thank you all.
There was a call for a point of order. The floor is yours, Mr. Kmiec.
Mr. Chair, I don't want to take up much time, because we rarely get ministers before the committee.
At the end of one of the meetings leading up to this one, you said you were giving notice to officials that we have a problem with data. I am just following up on that. You stated that right now, as chair, you expected the chief commissioner of the CRA to be here, and I think we've met that. You also expected the chief commissioner to bring with him data that would show, as best as CRA can, what the applications, exceptions, and rejections are, as compared to two or three years back. You also said that you expected the time frames on applications, and the turnarounds on those applications over the past five-year period on the disability tax credit as it relates to diabetes.
I am just following up on that, Mr. Chair, just making sure the witnesses know that you expect that information. There was no debate, so I take that as a notice of the committee to the witnesses.
Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the committee's study of supplementary estimates (B).
I am joined by Commissioner Bob Hamilton, who will speak to you more about this and other topics following my remarks.
I’d also like to introduce three senior officials from the Canada Revenue Agency: Janique Caron, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Finance and Administration Branch; Ted Gallivan, Assistant Commissioner, International, Large Business and Investigations Branch; and Frank Vermaeten, Assistant Commissioner, Assessment, Benefit and Service Branch.
I would like to start by providing members with an overview of some recent achievements following the second year of my mandate as Minister of National Revenue.
First, the Government is steadfast in its efforts to crack down on tax evasion and combat tax avoidance. We will increasingly identify aggressive tax planning schemes that are not in the spirit of the Income Tax Act.
The Government has invested nearly $1 billion in Budgets 2016 and 2017 to address this complex problem that is taking resources away from the services that improve the standard of living of all Canadians.
The Agency’s auditors now have access to more and better refined information, which helps them to focus on the individuals and corporations that actively seek to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Second, we have strengthened our partnerships and cooperation with international governments. The results speak for themselves: The Agency is currently conducting more than 990 audits related to offshore financial structures. It is investigating more than 42 corporations and individuals with offshore accounts. The Agency has also imposed $44 million in penalties on promoters and tax preparers.
Third, regarding our work to improve support for indigenous peoples and people living in remote communities, the Agency is working hard to keep the government's promise. It is increasing its outreach efforts to make these individuals aware of the benefits available to them, and reducing the challenges associated with filing their tax returns.
This past October, in Yellowknife, I announced the Agency’s Northern Consultations Action Plan. This plan outlines actions over the next two years to improve the Agency’s services for northern residents.
My main objective is to improve the client experience for Canadians who access tax services. Canadians communicate with us in good faith. They are important clients, not just taxpayers. They deserve to receive quality services in a timely manner. In order to improve the customer experience, here are some of the latest service improvements from the Agency.
The Agency has introduced enhanced electronic processes for filing tax returns, such as information auto-fill. This secure service allows Canadians to automatically fill in parts of their income tax and benefit returns with information that the CRA has available at the time of filing the return.
Last year, more than 86% of Canadians filed their taxes electronically, almost 750,000 more than the year before.
In 2017, the Agency has taken steps to improve and modernize its call centre services. We have hired more agents and we have increased self-serve options, leaving more time for agents to provide the answers to more complex questions.
The Agency is also in the process of upgrading its call queue technology, and enhancing its training programs to ensure our clients receive the quality service they deserve.
While I am proud of these accomplishments, I fully recognize that there is still work to be done. This week's Auditor General's report was clear, and I accepted all of his recommendations regarding our call centres.
In our first Budget, our government invested $50 million over four years to improve the range of services we provide to the public. Starting this year, our clients will begin seeing the results of these investments.
Rest assured, we are listening to Canadians.
We know we must explain the Agency’s actions as clearly as possible so that its intentions are not misinterpreted.
We are seeking advice from Canadians to ensure that the Government’s programs and services are tailored to fit those who need them. We encourage Canadians to enter into a dialogue with the Agency to share their concerns.
Today, I also announced that we have re-instated the Disability Advisory Committee. This committee will be made up of 12 members with different backgrounds; they will work with the Agency in order to come up with recommendations so that it can administer disability benefits in a more fair, more transparent and more accessible manner.
Outreach and consultation are key, and the Agency will continue to work with Canadians to ensure their views are incorporated into the decisions it makes.
Mr. Chair, I will now yield the floor to Commissioner Hamilton, who will speak to the Supplementary Estimates (B) and other matters of interest to the committee.
I thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.
Thank you for the invitation to present the agency's 2017-18 supplementary estimates (B) and for the opportunity to address questions, as you say, that could come from a number of different sources, but as foreshadowed would include the eligibility requirements for the disability tax credit.
Through the supplementary estimates, the agency is seeking an increase of $44.9 million in its voted authorities for the following items.
First, the Agency is requesting $43.9 million to implement and administer various measures to continue its efforts to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax planning as announced in Budget 2017.
This includes new funding for GST measures aimed at preventing tax evasion and improving tax compliance to increase the number of audits of high-risk businesses. It also includes hiring additional auditors to review electronic funds transfers and to increase the number of large business and income audit teams to eight this fiscal year and up to 16 next fiscal year, targeting additional high-risk taxpayers, including multinationals. It includes as well the expansion of our business intelligence activities.
The $43.9 million we are requesting represents the first of five years under the proposed 2017 budget funding to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax planning.
The second item for which the Agency is seeking incremental funding is $1 million related to the Government advertising campaign on the new Canada Caregiver Credit.
The objectives of this campaign are to generate awareness of the new credit and to increase the number of eligible Canadians who claim it on their income tax returns. The campaign will also promote content on the Canada.ca website, which provides information about taxes and benefits.
Following the approval of these supplementary estimates, the agency's revised 2017-18 authorities will total $4.4 billion.
In summary, the resources sought through these estimates will allow the agency to continue to deliver on its mission to administer tax, benefits, and related programs, and to ensure compliance on behalf of governments across Canada.
Mr. Chair, I do thank the Committee for the opportunity to provide information about the administration of the Disability Tax Credit.
I'm very open to responding to questions that follow.
The disability tax credit, or DTC, is a non-refundable tax credit that provides tax relief for people living with disabilities or the family members who support them. The CRA remains committed to ensuring that all Canadians receive all the credits and tax benefits to which they are entitled, including the disability tax credit. The CRA is also responsible for ensuring that this non-refundable tax credit is administered fairly and in accordance with the Income Tax Act. Canadians expect the agency to do its due diligence to ensure that the individuals who receive benefits and credits, including the DTC, meet the requirements set out in the act.
Last year some 770,000 Canadians claimed the credit. The corresponding tax relief provided by the DTC as a result was more than $1.3 billion in 2016-17.
I'm happy to provide information year by year in writing after this meeting. Suffice it to say that we've seen the value and number of credits go up year over year.
As the minister mentioned in her opening remarks, the agency is reinstating the disability advisory committee to ensure that the views of a broad range of stakeholders are considered in the agency's decision-making process. Their perspectives will inform the CRA about how to present information in the DTC application so that it is clear to all applicants.
The CRA has a long history of consulting with Canadians and stakeholders on administering taxes and benefits in general and the DTC in particular. We use the feedback from these consultations to improve the way we administer the program and communicate any changes to Canadians through our outreach efforts.
For example, the agency’s web pages on the DTC feature easy-to-understand videos that outline various scenarios for individuals to determine whether they qualify for the DTC.
Through solid communications, both by listening and explaining, we continue to strive to improve the administration of our tax and benefits system in a manner that is fair and consistent with the relevant legislation. This is part of our broader objective to ensure that Canadians have trust and confidence in the administration of our programs and services.
At this time I would be pleased to answer any questions the committee members may have.
Thank you for your question. I would also like to thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I know that you are a dedicated advocate for Canadians living with diabetes as well as for your constituents in Brampton South. My English isn't so good, so please accept my apologies, as I will continue in French.
First, I would like to point out that we have met with people from Diabetes Canada, Diabetes Quebec, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to find out their concerns and to understand their points of view. After those meetings, I came to the conclusion that the agency clearly needs a mechanism to gather advice on these matters.
That is why, today, I announced the return of the Disability Advisory Committee. A committee of that kind had been established in 2004, but it was abolished by the Conservatives as soon as they came to power in 2006. These are the same Conservatives who now claim to be rushing to the defence of the most vulnerable.
The advisory committee will work collaboratively with the agency and will bring together major stakeholders in the field to make sure that all measures targeting persons with disabilities, including the Disability Tax Credit, are administered fairly under the provisions of the Income Tax Act.
The committee will advise the CRA on the specific needs and expectations of persons living with disabilities, will review and provide feedback on the CRA's administrative practices, in order to provide greater transparency and greater access to credits, and will make recommendations on how the agency can enhance the quality of the services we provide to persons with disabilities.
I understand completely that living with a disability can have consequences for those involved, their families and their surroundings. That is why I am committed to ensuring that the agency will administer measures for those with disabilities in a fair, transparent and accessible manner.
In the last two financial years, the number of those accepted has increased by 20%. We have worked to simplify the forms. We are working with specialized nurse practitioners who are able to fill in the forms for people living in areas where access to a doctor is more difficult. The agency has also hired nurses for the programs for persons with disabilities.
I invite the commissioner to complete my answer.
The government is determined to renew the nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples, and to ensure that they receive the benefits and the credits to which they are entitled.
I have met with a number of indigenous communities to discuss problems with access to the agency's services, and I will continue to do so. I come from a remote area myself. So I know full well what it means to be a long way from Ottawa. As the proverb says, “out of sight, out of mind”.
The Canada Revenue Agency has published its communication materials in a number of indigenous languages. We are working in partnership with Service Canada. The agency has visited 698 indigenous communities across the country in order to provide them with information about the benefits.
Although the agency has made a lot of progress, there is still work to be done and we are going to do it in collaboration with indigenous communities and with our partners in the regions.
As I mentioned, I am aware of the Auditor General's report and I accept all the recommendations it contains.
Right from our first budget, we decided to invest $50 million over four years, specifically to work on hiring staff in the call centres.
I can also tell you that, unlike your government, which, when Kerry-Lynne Findlay was the minister, made cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency, we have made investments in it, such as setting up a new telephone platform in order to better meet the needs of the customers who call the Canada Revenue Agency. The telephone system is 20 years old and it is out of date.
The cuts that you made also affected employee training and support. So we are working on training, because it is important to continue to provide training and support, so that Canadians can receive the best information possible.
We must also respond to the standards and needs of Canadians, not establish standards that meet only the needs of the Canada Revenue Agency.
Yes, I will respond to that.
We were aware before the Auditor General's report of some of the issues with the phone system. We were running on an old technology and already had in place plans to get a new technology that would be delivered next year and would allow us to provide the same kind of service you'd be used to with more up-to-date technology. That's point one.
The other point, which is one the Auditor General raised, is how we report on our service. What we had done in the past was say that if you get through into our lines, we will answer your call within two minutes 80% percent of the time. That means if you get through.
The way we were able to deliver on that commitment was that we couldn't let everybody through the line, so some people would get busy signals. They would have to call back. That was what we could do with the technology we had.
Yes, we agree that there are a number of people who get busy signals and have to call back. We're now trying to invest a bit more money, until we get the new technology, to improve that service to ensure a good balance between how long you have to wait on the line and how quickly you can get through.
The issues raised by the Auditor General weren't new, and we agreed with his recommendations. We have an action plan to deliver those. It's beginning right now, but it will really kick in next year when we get the new platform for the telephone calls.
Before I go to Mr. Sorbara, Mr. Kmiec mentioned earlier that what was said at one of the meetings here was that we needed data.
My question is really to you, Commissioner, and I'll background this discussion this way.
All of us who were on this committee at every stop heard from people with type 1 diabetes or the parents of people with type 1 diabetes everywhere we went. They said that effective in May, from their point of view, there were changes to the approvals. There were more rejections. Yesterday some of us saw an application that said “denied” across it, and a section was circled.
From our point of view, it gets to the point of who to believe. We're hearing from CRA that there have been no changes. I'll tell you, though, that the public out there is saying there are. I can give you an example of a mother of two children, both with type 1. One has been rejected, and the other has been accepted.
Do you have any data you can provide us along the lines of the minutes we sent to you that shows turnaround times and acceptance and rejection of applications over the last couple of years? Has there been a change, or more rejections than were seen in the past? If so, why?
I'd like to give you two parts to that answer. The first part is globally, with the disability tax credit overall, and the second part would relate to diabetes life-sustaining therapies. I'm also happy to provide this in writing to you. I won't go on at length on either of them.
On the first, globally, I gave you a couple of statistics, but we can track the disability credit claims acceptance rates over the last number of years, and they have generally been growing. I gave you figures of 765,000 taxpayers utilizing the DTC last year, which was an 8% increase over the year before. That amounted to about $1.3 billion in credits. I can give you those numbers, although they aren't specific to the point you just raised. I just want to tell you that we track those numbers overall, and we have good statistics on that.
Now, the disability tax credit is provided to people not so much based on the affliction they have, but on how it affects their everyday life. That's the way the legislation reads, and that's the way we administer it.
We don't collect data systematically on diabetes versus another type of disability that someone might have, so I can't give you statistics based on that narrow disaggregated number, and certainly not for the recent months.
The minister has asked us to look at how we collect data and how we could do better. At the moment, we are manually pulling some files, but this is a complicated process. We run a lot of things automatically, but we are looking to go in and manually pull files. We're in the middle of that, or not even in the middle. We're at the beginning stages of that, and we hope to complete it somewhere around the end of the year. We'll have a better estimate of what has been happening on that narrow range.
A question going forward for us is whether we should be doing that across the broader range of disabilities. We'll have to weigh that, but we have been asked, not only by you but by the minister, to see if we can do a better job collecting this data. I can't give you statistics on diabetes in particular, and not since May. I can tell you overall, as we look at the credit, that it has been increasing in use and in dollar amounts. It is projected to increase in the future, but those are projections.
We will be able to come back to you, and certainly we will look to bring that data forward to the disability committee so that we can talk about it and have a better understanding of what's going on.
As the minister said, we are always looking for ways to improve how we administer. We talk to medical practitioners. We try to communicate as effectively as we can with people about what the rules are, so we'll look forward to the data informing the committee's discussions and then moving forward from there.
I will add just a couple of brief comments on the tax gap.
We have done three studies, as the has said, including one on the GST and one on personal income tax. We did the personal income tax study earlier this year, in June, and we estimated that the gap was about $8.7 billion. We did a similar one for the GST. Our hope is to do a similar one in the future on the corporate side.
We are taking action. Indeed, in June we invited experts from around the world to come here to have a seminar on the tax gap, because this is not easy for people to calculate. All jurisdictions will tell you that. It's a complex calculation and a bunch of assumptions, but we feel that we can contribute by trying, while recognizing that there may be methodological issues. However, we'll be open about that, and we'll construct something.
The next step in our process here, as the minister indicated, is to do an international tax gap estimate in the coming year, in 2018, and that is even more complicated. I can tell you that right now no other country does that. We'll see how it goes. We are going to try it.
Sweden tried it a few years ago. They don't do one currently, because the methodology is even more difficult, but we are going to try to do it. We'll do the best we can, make whatever assumptions we have, and do that. Then we'll complete the domestic side.
We are making progress here, but we're doing it in a way that recognizes that it is not a simple calculation. We have to be careful with how we treat the numbers and that we put all the proper caveats on them.
Under the Income Tax Act, persons suffering with diabetes are entitled to receive the disability tax credit if their doctor verifies that they require 14 hours a week or more of life-sustaining therapy. Throughout the entire tenure of the previous Conservative government and up until a year and a half into the mandate of this particular minister, all diabetics whose doctor certified that they met that requirement received the tax credit. It saved them about $1,500 a year in taxes.
Then, strangely, in May, language like this started to appear, and I want to know if this minister approves of this language and whether she stands beside it. I quote: “An adult who independently manages insulin therapy on a regular basis does not generally meet the 14-hour-per-week requirement unless there are exceptional circumstances.”
This language has been used to deny the disability tax credit to literally thousands of suffering Canadians. These are just some of them. These are people who had been accepted for years.
Does the agree with the language in these rejection letters? Does she believe that those who administer their own insulin are unlikely to qualify for the tax credit, yes or no?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Mr. Hamilton. It's along the same lines as Mr. Poilievre's question.
Mr. Hamilton, you indicated that there were 765,000 applicants last year. This is an 8% increase over the previous year year and represents a total of about $1.3 billion worth of disability tax credit value.
For at least a month now, there's been a public controversy over what Canadians who usually avail themselves of this tax credit have been concerned about since they heard about it in the month of May. You've assured us before this committee that the legislation hasn't changed and you've assured us that no regulations have changed, but something has changed.
Given your deputy minister type of role as the commissioner, can you give us an educated guess as to what has changed in terms of the procedures?
What I can tell you, based on what I know right now.... I think I indicated earlier that we are going back and looking at some of the specific files to try to get the data to make an assessment of what's there. Not everybody who applies is eligible, so there is a process of deciding on eligibility. We would need to look at the particular cases in both this year and previous years to form a judgment on whether the right things are happening, whether the provision is being administered in accordance with the act.
The one thing I should say, which I wanted to add on to the previous answer and is relevant, is that if someone feels that we've made an incorrect decision, that we haven't accounted for all the information or we haven't considered it properly, you can always appeal to us, in addition to the normal appeals process that I mentioned earlier. We have a separate entity that takes appeals. You can just send us back new information and come back to us.
We make sure that people are aware of that, and I would say it here today. If somebody feels that we have incorrectly judged the material that's in front of us or didn't take it into account, or if we didn't have some information, they can always come back to us. Then, if that fails, they can appeal, but at the moment I would say that there are a variety of reasons that someone might not be eligible. I just really can't comment on specific cases.
I will offer up two things that might be contributing. One is more gradual, and it has to do with technology changes. This might mean that disabilities now have less impact on day-to-day lives. Diabetes could be an example. That's a general trend. There are new technologies becoming available that make it easier, and since the disability tax credit is based on how much a disability is affecting your day-to-day life, that's one possibility. I'll put that in.
The second thing is that we are always, as the minister said, trying to work with the medical community and the disability community to make sure that we're making the forms simpler and that we're getting the information we need. We have communications with doctors, for example, where we're asking them to tell us why this person is eligible for the credit. They've asked us to make the letter a little simpler for them, because sometimes they have a difficult time forming a basis for that judgment, so we changed those.
Could something like that have changed it? That'll be something we'll have to look at, but I want to take a look at the actual numbers. At the end of the day, the question for us is whether it's being administered fairly and in accordance with the act. That will be how we—
Thank you all for being here today.
Actually, my question was exactly leading up to where the minister left off and to Mr. Albas's point. Had the Conservatives not cut the advisory committee and we had begun to get wind of concerns or interpretation changes, it could have been exactly that advisory committee that could have looked at this, could have looked at the technologies, and could have advised the CRA before it became an issue and got to this level, to the point where now the CRA is manually going through, what, 7,500 personal cases? The advisory committee could have been looking at, for the last number of years, since the Conservatives cut it, the effect of new technologies on how it implements that 14-hour criterion, or maybe made recommendations to change legislation, keeping in mind the new changes in technology.
My question is, how much did the Conservatives save by getting rid of the advisory committee that could have helped prevent this in the first place?
Could the commissioner get back to us with that information?
Before I let you go, on the internal look you're having at disabilities, which includes diabetes, I would certainly hope that it includes professionals in the field who deal with type 1 diabetes patients. Some of the ones we talked to would tell us that their son or daughter has an insulin pump, and there is the new technology, but still, the effort they have to go through in terms of diet and everything else really does get them up to the 14 hours. I can tell you, based on what we've heard, that some decisions need to be made on this particular application process pretty urgently.
With that, we will suspend.... I guess we don't have to suspend; the other witnesses are at the table.
Thank you, Madam Minister and Commissioner Hamilton, for answering our questions and for your presentations.
We will go to another round of questions with the officials from CRA. We'll keep Mr. Vermaeten, Ms. Caron, and Mr. Gallivan here. I don't think they have any more opening statements.
Mr. Fergus, I believe you're starting the second round.
We're now going down a path. I understand that you're going to be taking a look at this more closely, but what is sort of new now is that perhaps there's a different way of evaluating what procedures people follow to provide themselves with insulin injections to save their lives.
Is this common, standard practice amongst Canadians? If it is standard practice, how has that been shared with CRA? How does CRA then interpret that or make that a part of its policies in the evaluation of whether or not someone qualifies for the DTC?
What I'm really trying to say is that if this has been a change, this evaluation or this assessment by CRA, based on the professional advice they've received, is this professional advice widely shared with Canadians? Is this current and common practice among Canadians?
It would appear to me that there are a lot of people who aren't aware of these changes, or they are using the old methods, and the doctors are certifying that they are still taking 14 hours or more a week to provide the necessary medical treatment.
Yes. I agree that, in cases of international tax avoidance, criminal sanctions are necessary.
In terms of the Panama Papers, we can publicly confirm 123 audits under civil law. Furthermore, a number of our criminal investigations are being finalized. There are fewer than 10. We don't want to disclose the exact number, to avoid jeopardizing the investigations under way. Given the stage we are at, the public can expect a search to be made public in the coming months.
Internationally, however, no country is prepared to lay charges or convict anyone. Like other countries in the world, we started working on the Panama Papers well before they were covered in the media. That said, it takes time for a prison sentence to be announced.
Many of our criminal investigations are coming to fruition. The next stage will be the public confirmation of searches, which may take place in the coming months.
I will be very brief, out of respect for the witnesses.
I think everyone knows that the Auditor General has tabled a damning report on the Canada Revenue Agency. We do not have enough time in today's meeting to get to the bottom of things. I have tried to do it in a few short minutes, but this report deserves further study. The information it contains is extremely worrisome. More than half of the calls are blocked because there is no line available, and 30% of those who manage to talk to an agent would get the wrong information.
Our committee must look at this issue; it's part of its mandate. The minister will have to explain this specific issue for longer than the few minutes she has taken to do so today.
I hope I have my colleagues' support. I have not set a number of meetings or dates. We can determine when it works for us. I just want to make sure that our committee will be able to get to the bottom of this. Do I have my colleagues' support?
I will not dwell on the issue any longer. We can come back to the witnesses as soon as my motion is put to a vote.
While I appreciate Mr. Dusseault's motion, the minister was just here and spoke to the Auditor General's report. Mr. Dusseault had the opportunity and asked her and the commissioner questions specifically in regard to the Auditor General's report.
I know that many times when ministers appear before us, it never feels like we have enough time as individual members, but she did actually stay longer than was scheduled and made notice in advance to the committee that she was happy to talk about any of the issues, not just supplementary estimates. I feel we had the opportunity for questions and to have this conversation, and the minister remained here as long as everybody needed to have their turn and stick to the schedule.
I don't think there's an issue in the sense of the minister's being able to talk about this issue. She's spoken about it in the House and she spoke about it again here today. She spoke about it in her opening comments and was not waiting to just react to a question. I think she provided a lot of information to this committee and made herself very available to talk about any of the issues that the committee wanted to, which sometimes is more than we get in terms of the structure of the committee and sticking to the motion at hand.
I'm not opposed to the idea of the minister coming here and speaking about the Auditor General's report, but she just did. In fairness to the best interests of this committee's time, I feel that we had that opportunity, and the member did get to ask those specific questions as well.
I thank my colleague for ceding his turn.
Not everybody got a turn. I didn't get a chance to ask questions of the minister. The minister specifically came in here to speak about the supplementary estimates and, through her joyous willingness, to answer extra questions. She knew, since she had been put on notice by the chair, that there were going to be questions asked about more than just the supps, and that's why she was doing that.
I think that Mr. Dusseault's motion is perfectly reasonable. One of the fundamental things we do is review how government operates and what it does. It's more than reasonable to have the minister return here to spend a full hour or more to speak specifically to the issue with the call centres and how the service levels are awful.
The most interaction a person will have in Canada is in trying to pay his or her taxes. If most attempts to contact the CRA wind up without the connection even being made and then a third of the answers are incorrect, I think that's worthy of this committee's attention and a more extensive discussion, whereas today we had the supps, the DTC, and perhaps seven minutes on the call centres.
In some weeks this committee has met every single day except for Fridays, even during travel. I don't mind doing more work. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to have the specific people involved in administering the call centres explain to us what is going on, the technology, and the direction that was given. There's a lot more detail to discover in an interaction at the committee than there is through question period, because we can go into the details and we can have a back-and-forth.
Mr. Chair, I think this is a good motion proposed by my colleague from the New Democrats, and we should seriously consider it.
Thank you all for being here.
Mr. Chair, I just want to make something clear. My frustration with some of the conversation around the disability tax credit should not be misunderstood. The chair, Mr. Fergus, and many of my colleagues have stated concerns that something has changed in terms of the administration or the communication, or that there is something going on. Even the commissioner acknowledged that they have to get to the bottom of where these concerns are coming from.
My frustration comes from the fact that prior to being a federal member, I spent a large part of my career fighting for persons with disabilities, and it really bothers me when I see the opposition fighting and using people with disabilities as a political pawn when they knew that making cuts to the CRA, cutting the disability advisory committee, cutting training.... What did they think would happen, Mr. Chair? Did they think service levels would be improved by making substantial cuts to the CRA and cutting nurses who could help the CRA administer some of these things? My frustration is from the fact that substantial cuts happened over the past decade, and now we're living with the ramifications.
Cuts were made so that technology couldn't be increased, and now we have to go through files manually to figure out where the problems are coming from. In this day and age, in this government, the CRA has to manually pull files to figure out the data. Perhaps, had the Conservatives made some investments and kept up with the times, we could have managed this in a way that made sure that the most vulnerable persons with disabilities, who fundamentally need this money and these resources, wouldn't have to be waiting for cases to be manually pulled so we could get to the appropriate solution.
With that preamble, Mr. Chair, I'll get to my questions in terms of technologies.
This is what we tend to be hearing about where there might be some level of difference. I say “difference” because we don't even have an answer for what's going on, although we know there was no policy change.
There seems to be some difference coming from this idea that technology has made the administration of type 1 diabetes in particular easier to manage, or that the therapy does not require those 14 hours. I guess my critical question is this: who in the CRA, or what level of the agency, determines at what point the technology correlates to a reduction in hours needed? You haven't had the disability advisory committee from 2006 until today. You didn't have them to consult with. The Conservatives also fired nurses who would advise at the CRA, so at what level did the discussion around technology...? Who made that decision? Who would make a decision like that, if that's ultimately the rationale?
It's not just with diabetes; it could be for anything in administering the disability tax credit.
The preamble to that last question just simply can't go without some reply.
Mr. Chair, and to our witnesses, a decision was made—seemingly, one would guess, at the ministerial level—to change how the disability tax credit is applied. We have a letter signed in the minister's own hand that states she believes that most type 1 diabetics do not meet the criteria. That's a policy decision. That has nothing to do with how many tax collectors the CRA employs. It doesn't have to do with cuts. It doesn't have to do with the number of employees when a minister makes a decision. It doesn't have to do with committees.
I would also note, and remind you for the record, that transfers to the CRA steadily increased throughout the last Parliament. I'm not sure what these cuts are to which Ms. O'Connell refers. The number of personnel employed by the CRA, I understand, peaked in about 2004 at 51,000 employees. It was cut during the final Parliament of the last Liberal government by 11,000 people.
None of this really matters. What matters is getting to a resolution over an issue that happened this past May, which is when, according to reports we've heard at this committee, the approval rate for type 1 diabetics appears to have gone from an 80% approval to an 80% rejection. The questions that have been asked around here are trying to get to the reason, because it simply appears that there was a change in language in the letters and questionnaires that go to medical personnel that asserts that most type 1 diabetics don't, in fact, qualify.
I cede the floor to you, Mr. Vermaeten. It would seem to be that simple—that this change in language in the form is what has resulted in this change from 80% approval to 80% rejection. We await the data, as specific as possible, to demonstrate where the approvals went and where they are now.
Maybe I can say two things.
First of all, yes, we are looking at this and doing a comparison of the last several years and post-May 2017, which you referred to. We are looking over time to see what's happened to acceptance rates, so certainly we'll look at that. It's going to take a little while because it is a manual process, and we don't store data by the underlying disease but about the impairment. That's what we look at.
The second thing I'll say is this is not a letter that indicates a policy change by the Minister of National Revenue. What's stated here is that there has been an evolution with respect to the therapy for diabetes. With devices like insulin pumps, it now takes less time to manage diabetes.
I absolutely stand behind this.
I will ask my question in French.
Mr. Vermaeten, we have talked at length about the changes that have been happening for a few months or weeks. We have often talked about technological advances. Technology comes with good things and creates businesses, but it sometimes causes job and service losses, such as the one that seems to to be included in the letter.
Specialized nurse practitioners have been hired to work on that, and the form has been simplified. The requests have been reviewed and updated, and, as a result, letters were sent out, indicating that the 14-hour treatment requirement per week was not going to be met.
We will have to leave it at that. We do have to vote on supplementary estimates.
Mr. Vermaeten, there may be a big debate between different parties and different members on how we got here, but I think you can see from every member, including me, that there's a huge concern over the type 1 diabetes approval and disapproval. I want to outline to you that sometimes there's lobbying by an organization, but I can tell you on my own part that it isn't just Diabetes Canada that we hear from; it's individuals on the ground in all our ridings. I'd just ask you as assistant commissioner to keep that in mind in your deliberations, and we hope the advisory committee will help in that regard.
Our thanks to all three of you for your appearance and for answering questions.
Committee members, we need to vote on supplementary estimates (B). You have them before for you.
Vote 1b—Operating expenditures..........$44,941,394
(Vote 1b agreed to)
The Chair: Shall I report the supplementary estimates (B), 2017-18, under Canada Revenue Agency, to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: On division.
The Chair: Thank you. We will do that.
The meeting is adjourned.