I call this meeting to order.
Good morning, and welcome to meeting number 27 of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The committee is meeting in public today and is being webcast.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(g), the committee is meeting today to study “Report 7, Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy”, of the 2021 reports 6 to 9 of the Auditor General of Canada.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021, and therefore members may be attending in person in the room or remotely by using the Zoom application.
I have just a few reminders for members.
All of us are participating virtually today. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of either “Floor”, “English” or “French”. Before speaking, click on the microphone icon to activate your own mike. When you are done speaking, please put your mike on mute to minimize any interference. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the use of headsets with a boom microphone is mandatory for everyone participating remotely.
Should any technical challenges arise, please advise me, the chair. Please note that we may need to suspend for a few minutes in order to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
Now I'd like to welcome our witnesses.
Joining us today from the Office of the Auditor General are Karen Hogan, Auditor General of Canada; Philippe Le Goff, principal; and Mathieu Lequain, director.
I'm sorry; I think my printer has put me in a rough spot.
Madam Clerk, can you please announce who our other guests are today?
Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our report on the Canada emergency wage subsidy, which was tabled in the House of Commons on March 25.
Joining me today are Philippe Le Goff, who is the principal responsible for the audit; and Mathieu Lequain, who led the audit team.
As part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government announced the Canada emergency wage subsidy in March 2020. The subsidy was meant to help maintain the employer-employee relationship during the pandemic and help position employers to resume normal operations when businesses can fully resume.
The Canada emergency wage subsidy program, one of the largest initiatives the government has ever undertaken, is expected to cost approximately $97.6 billion by the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year. This audit focused on whether the Department of Finance Canada provided analysis on the Canada emergency wage subsidy program and whether the Canada Revenue Agency limited abuse by establishing appropriate controls in its administration of the program.
Overall, we found that the Department of Finance Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency worked together within short time frames to support the development and implementation of the Canada emergency wage subsidy. The Department of Finance Canada performed a partial analysis of the initial design of the subsidy program, and it later provided a sound and complete analysis to inform adjustments to the subsidy made in July 2020. Although we were given access to all documents, we are unable to provide Parliament with details of these analyses because they were in secret and cabinet documents.
The design and rollout of the subsidy highlighted pre-existing weaknesses in the Canada Revenue Agency's systems, approaches and data. These weaknesses need to be addressed to strengthen Canada's tax system.
One of the weaknesses is related to the lack of up-to-date tax data. For example, we found that 28% of the subsidy applicants did not file a return for the goods and services tax or the harmonized sales tax for the 2019 calendar year. Given that GST and HST returns are important indicators of revenue, the lack of tax data means that the agency did not have all the relevant information for assessing the applications before issuing payments. This revenue information would have allowed the agency to validate the reasonableness of the revenue drop that was declared by applicants.
To prioritize issuing payments quickly, the Canada Revenue Agency chose to forgo certain controls that it could have used to validate the reasonableness of subsidy applications. For example, the agency decided that it would not ask for social insurance numbers of employees, although this information could have helped prevent the doubling up of applications for financial support.
The limitations of the agency’s information technology systems affected its ability to perform some pre-payment validations, as did the absence of complete and up-to-date tax information. As a result, the agency will have to perform more post-payment verification work, and we expect that the agency will have to rely mainly on costly comprehensive audits that will start in spring 2021. This post-payment work will be the subject of a future audit from my office.
We made three recommendations to the Canada Revenue Agency and one recommendation to the Department of Finance Canada. The agency and the department agreed with the recommendations.
Madam Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I am pleased to be here to discuss the Canada Revenue Agency's action plan in relation to Report 7 of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
With me today are the Assistant Commissioners of the agency, whom you have already introduced.
First I want to recognize the excellent work of the agency employees who had the daunting task of developing this wage subsidy and its calculator in record time in order to support millions of Canadian businesses and workers in the challenging context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their speed of execution was remarkable, and I offer them my sincere thanks. We are all truly proud of what they were able to achieve.
In report 7, the OAG made three recommendations addressed to the agency, and we accept them all: one, to strengthen its efforts toward tax compliance for GST/HST; two, to use automated validations with a unique identifier across programs; and three, to use business intelligence information as soon as it is available to conduct targeted audits.
With regard to the first recommendation, the agency will identify opportunities within the GST/HST delinquent filer program to improve filing compliance on the part of GST/HST registrants. The agency will review workload selection and prioritization criteria within this program to identify areas of improvement as applicable.
We will determine if program resources are allocated optimally and are sufficient to deliver on program expectations. The agency will also identify potential legislative changes that could support filing compliance.
Finally, the agency will identify additional ways to educate and support businesses regarding GST/HST registration and filing obligations in order to promote future compliance.
In the second recommendation, the OAG suggested that the agency should use automated validations with a unique identifier across programs in order to improve the integrity and validation efficiency of future emergency programs. In addition, the OAG also noted that the SIN, the unique identifier for individuals, comes with limitations, such as privacy issues and identity theft.
We acknowledge these observations and in collaboration with Employment and Social Development Canada, we are working in partnership with the Treasury Board Secretariat on its Sign-In Canada platform. Sign-In Canada will facilitate access to Government online services through a secure digital ID that is mapped to departmental programs. We expect the Sign-In Canada platform to be available in the next 24 to 36 months, at which time the agency will commence its onboarding activities.
At the same time, the agency also continues to enhance its authentication and credential management systems through multi-factor authentication. This solution is currently being rolled out to all users of the agency's portal services. Full roll-out is expected to be completed in June of 2021.
Lastly, regarding the third recommendation, the agency agrees that the timeliness of compliance actions is very important. To this end, the agency is continuously investing to improve its risk assessment systems and business intelligence to better focus its resources, in a timely manner, on the highest-risk cases of non-compliance at a national level.
Notably, the agency is working with the aid of risk assessment algorithms, which use data to help the agency quickly identify applications that warrant more careful examination. These algorithms are frequently updated and improved as the agency learns more about the common patterns in CEWS applications, and also to reflect changes to the CEWS legislation. Phase one is under way. Phase two, which will begin in September 2021, will maximize the results obtained in phase one, which will then inform and improve the risk assessment process for targeted audits as a whole.
As a result, in December 2021 the agency expects to produce its final report on this recommendation, which will include the best practices learned. These can be used as a basis for future targeted audits.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'd be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thanks to the committee for its invitation.
I am here today alongside my colleagues Andrew Marsland, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Tax Policy, and Maude Lavoie, Director General, Business Income Tax at Finance Canada.
As you know, the Department of Finance remains focused on supporting Canadians and Canadian businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. And that is why I welcome this report from the Auditor General.
The Canada emergency wage subsidy is one of the strongest pillars of government support that was established in the early days of the pandemic.
The wage subsidy program was initially designed to keep employees attached to their employer by subsidizing 75% of their payroll costs, up to a maximum of $847 per employee per week. It acts to protect jobs, encourages employers to rehire workers previously laid off as a result of the COVID crisis, and helps position Canadian businesses for a robust recovery. Through this initiative, well over five million Canadian employees have had their jobs supported, with over $74 billion paid out through the program as of April 11, 2021.
Through the budget that we delivered this week, we proposed that this subsidy continue until the end of September 2021, alongside the Canada emergency rent subsidy and the lockdown support. We also proposed to gradually decrease the subsidy rate, beginning in July, to ensure an orderly phase-out. However, of course that depends entirely on the state of the pandemic and the progress with respect to vaccinations.
In addition to the wage subsidy program, we also introduced a new program in the budget. We've called it the “Canada recovery hiring program”, and it's to help businesses hire more workers between June 6 and November 20, 2021, as we begin a turn from protecting jobs to creating jobs. It will offer companies on the wage subsidy, as they begin opening up, a new alternative: a program to assist them by offsetting a portion of the costs of bringing in new employees.
Ms. Hogan’s audit focused on whether Finance Canada provided analysis on the wage subsidy during its initial development. I am pleased to note the audit’s conclusion that the department worked within short timeframes to provide decision makers with information to assist them in developing the wage subsidy, and that it subsequently provided sound and complete analysis to inform adjustments to the program.
In the department’s work in designing the wage subsidy, it collaborated with the Canada Revenue Agency to assess how the program could be implemented quickly and develop the legislation related to the subsidy. The analysis was done rapidly. The imperative at that time was to get help to our workers and businesses quickly. And it was the right imperative.
Finance Canada also proposed subsequent adjustments to the subsidy that were informed by sound and complete analysis, as well as input from businesses and employers. For example, revisions to the program made the subsidy accessible to a broader range of employers by including those with a revenue decline of less than 30%, and providing a gradually decreasing base subsidy to all qualifying employers.
Although, Madam Chair, I was obviously not in the Department of Finance at the time, I do want to say that I think the agility that our department demonstrated in the design of this program, and in particular the department's willingness and effectiveness to constantly assess feedback from stakeholders and program recipients and to constantly find opportunities to make adjustments and to improve the reach and rigour of the program, are important and very much worth noting.
As I mentioned a moment ago, we also very much welcome the Auditor General's recommendation to publish an economic evaluation of the wage subsidy program. Doing that is indeed our plan, and we've committed to undertaking this evaluation and publishing our findings in the 2022 report on federal tax expenditures.
Before I wrap up, I do want to—and again, I say this as someone who wasn't there at the time—give full credit to the public servants both in the Department of Finance and in the Canada Revenue Agency for a really extraordinary effort to design this program and to deliver it rapidly at a time of real economic and social crisis for the country. I think that speaks well of their dedication as public servants to Canada.
I'll stop there. Thank you again for the invitation. My colleagues and I will be happy to try to answer your questions.
I deeply appreciate the interventions of my friend Maxime from the Bloc, which laid out all the information that was withheld and the secrecy in the way this analysis was made. I'll go back just to reiterate for the people who are tuning in.
You have stated in paragraph 7.8 that the Department of Finance performed a partial analysis of the initial design of the subsidy program, but then you said it later provided a sound and complete analysis to inform the adjustments to the subsidy. We heard Mr. Sabia talk about the rapid way in which they had to respond, yet you've laid out that you were unable to provide Parliament with details of these analyses because they were in secret, and cabinet documents must be kept in strict confidence.
The challenge that we have before us as a committee undertaking this audit is that we have to have, I think, reasonable access to information to know exactly what it is that is before us.
I'm going to frame just a little bit further that in paragraph 7.9 you stated through the Auditor General that there were prepayment controls that were implemented to ensure that payments were appropriate. You used an example that the agency did not have up-to-date earnings or tax data or sub-annual data or any kind of starting points throughout the year and that you did not have all the information you needed to validate the reasonableness of the applications before payments were issued.
I'm going to put this question through you, Madam Chair, to the Department of Finance, to Mr. Sabia, whom I missed in the last session of our audit on the CERB. I brought up some important questions in relation to the push-and-pull economics of what we were providing to people to stay home safely versus what the labour market demanded.
Did your department have discussions about mandating that any businesses receiving the wage subsidy would not be allowed to engage in stock buybacks, pay dividends or pay CEO wage bonuses?
I'm not asking you to reveal any kind of secret cabinet stuff. I just want to know if you had discussions about that in your analysis. You don't even have to give me the results. I just want to know, Mr. Sabia, whether you considered it.
It's unfortunate that we're getting a motion table-dropped when we could handle this in other ways. I would simply say that in terms of our committee's mandate, we aren't here to change the policy of the Privy Council. We're not here to rethink the way that government releases documents that are held within confidence. We don't go on these fishing expeditions when we are really supposed to be looking at the report from the Auditor General.
The Auditor General has reported on what we've seen through the first stages of the CEWS implementation. I had some questions I was hoping to get to about the next steps on CEWS and what was announced in the budget going to September 25, and whether that would be included in the February taxation report that we may be getting from finance.
The process of preliminary discussions in cabinet in terms of how we would approach a program that would balance rapid delivery against the upfront needs of most government programs, including things like the SIN that we've talked about this morning, and rolling those out in a way that could benefit the Canadians that we had to help as soon as we could, were all part of the audit, and those were the things that we would normally be discussing at the committee, versus the process for releasing confidential documents.
I think that Mr. Sabia was quite correct in pointing out that we are working within the existing policy of government. We're working within the existing systems of governance, and if those systems needed to be changed, that wouldn't be done in this committee. That would be done in other committees.
Our committee has traditionally been non-partisan and should be non-partisan. In fact, in our training we had discussions about making sure it should be hard to determine from which party questions were even coming from. In other governments, questions were traded among members so that they don't have partisan games going on within this committee.
This committee is overseeing the operation of government, not the policy directions or the political part of government. How departments function is determined by the rules and regulations that they are given through the political sphere.
This isn't the House of Commons. This isn't the floor of the House of Commons. This is a public accounts committee that works in conjunction with the Auditor General. It's very unfortunate that we're going through this type of a discussion today in the way that it's being done. We could have looked at this in ways other than dropping a motion and demanding a vote.
I think it's something that we need to discuss.
Sorry. Unfortunately, I pressed the wrong button. I don't know why there are two buttons to mute the microphone.
I was saying that if I were not to support this motion, it would be against my will. If I don't get an opportunity to examine it properly or to put forward amendments, then I'd be forced to vote against the motion. But that's not what I want to do.
I'd prefer to continue with our laudable habitual practice, which is to check our partisan interests at the door—a virtual door in this instance—when we come to a committee meeting. Under your stewardship, Madam Chair, I think that we have succeeded over the past six months to accomplish something that's rare on Parliament Hill. That's one of the reasons why I'd like to be able to think about the motion. Would we be able to pause for a few minutes, Madam Chair. I believe you mentioned at the beginning of the meeting that we would deal with routine proceedings towards the end of the meeting. I may be wrong, but that's what I had understood. I believe this is very important.
This motion appears to be the outcome of rather cursory consideration, with Mr. Berthold arguing that the Auditor General of Canada was officially prevented from receiving information about the development of the Canada emergency wage subsidy. If my colleague Mr. Berthold would like the Auditor General to appear before this committee to give evidence on the subject, that would be entirely reasonable, in my view. However, I don't think that it's desirable to presume anything about these facts without first having called the question. I don't think this really reflects my colleague's intent, but I'll give him the opportunity to tell us.
As we all know, the Financial Administration Act gives the Auditor General the authority to obtain any information required to conduct this kind of audit. If, however, Mr. Berthold has concerns about the effectiveness of the Canada emergency wage subsidy, I believe the appropriate place to raise the matter is not our committee, because what we're doing here is assessing program implementation, but rather the Standing Committee on Finance, which could debate the policies that govern matters like these. Unless I'm mistaken, neither Mr. Berthold nor his colleagues have raised any concerns of this kind since I've been sitting on this committee.
You know full well that this wage subsidy gave support to more than 5.3 million employees across this great country. We know that it cost approximately $71 billion. Now if people don't agree that the employment relationship should be maintained—by which I mean keeping employees on staff at companies across Canada—and would prefer to take on staff in a period of austerity, then they should come out and say so. However, allow me to repeat that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts is not necessarily the appropriate committee to address these issues, but rather the Standing Committee on Finance.
I trust that my colleague will be able to address these concerns soon. If so, I will listen attentively so that I can better understand his point of view.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, I had levied a few questions in my first initial round of prodding around this motion. I'll continue to raise those, but I think it might be appropriate to let Mr. Berthold answer some of the questions that have been raised. I would then love to have the chance to respond to Mr. Berthold.
For example, there are some elements that we might be able to support. To what Mr. Fergus had said, and for Canadians who are watching at home, if you look at my Hansard record from two days ago on Tuesday, you'll see I was quite sharp, frankly, with the officials. “Sharp” might not be the right word, but the questions I asked were not easy ones. I wanted to get to the facts and I was willing to do the tough questions. That's the type of work that this committee does. It's one of the only committees that has really tried to be non-partisan in spirit. It's tried to be factual, to get the facts and try to make a difference.
I would be interested in hearing from Mr. Berthold, because I worry that this type of motion is going to poison the well of what this committee has been about historically in this Parliament, and not just in this Parliament but in many Parliaments before it. I worry that it's going to tarnish a bit of the reputation of what the members before us have done.
We heard from those members earlier. We know that Mr. Berthold is greatly poetic in the House of Commons. He pushes the government. He pushes for accountability. That's all great, and he should do it in this committee, but we need to do it in a fashion that is amicable and compatible to the committee's desires and in the interest of what this committee represents. Mr. Fergus has already expressed that quite well.
If you'll permit me, Madam Chair, I would love to hear from Mr. Berthold. I would love to then be able to respond and perhaps propose some type of subamendment, once I can really get to the core of what he's getting at here.
Is that appropriate, Madam Chair?
Thank you, Madam Chair. I hadn't asked to speak, because I know there are others who have something to say, so I will try to answer quickly.
In his responses, Mr. Sabia clearly said on two occasions that he could not supply documents to the committee. The Auditor General was also very clear in her address, and said even if her office had access to all the documents, she could not give Parliament detailed information about these analyses because they are classified as cabinet confidences or secret documents. She spoke afterwards about some of the shortcomings identified in the structure of the wage subsidy.
I think that the role of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts includes being aware of what's going on. I'm totally surprised and absolutely dumbfounded by my colleagues' reaction. I sincerely thought this motion would be agreed to quickly and that all members of the committee would support it, given that it would enable the members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts to learn the truth about public accounts, rather than hear about it secondhand from the Auditor General, who has seen things that we've been unable to see. It's as simple as that. I just wanted to clarify things.
There's another point I'd like to clarify. While I would never attempt to have this committee depart from its tradition of submitting unanimous reports to the House of Commons, I would like to point out that motions don't have to be unanimous. In other words, we are not required to agree all the time. May I remind you that the committee has adopted a number of motions, but that it has also rejected others. Indeed, some motions put forward by colleagues like Maxime Blanchette-Joncas of the Bloc Québécois were negatived here in committee. So I don't see how our desire to collaborate and submit unanimous reports to the House affects our work.
I'll certainly admit to being surprised by the reaction of my Liberal colleagues to this motion, which merely requests documents from the Department of Finance and the Canada Revenue Agency. If they can't disclose these documents for one reason or another, they simply need to tell us and explain why we can't have access to them. Then at least no one will be able to say that the committee did not ask for access to the information it needs to conduct the same analysis as the one carried out by the Auditor General at this stage of the Canada emergency wage benefit program. It's as simple as that.
I find it amusing to hear my colleagues say they want to move quickly in order to have time to ask the witnesses lots of questions, and then take so much time to say so. We could have already put this motion to the vote and moved on to something else, including questioning the witnesses.
I hope I've answered my colleagues' questions. We could adopt this motion very quickly. After which, the Department of Finance and the Canada Revenue Agency could respond to the motion and then we, the committee members, could decide what to do with the answers we receive. For the time being, I think that it's legitimate, justified and very appropriate to continue…
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Look, I do appreciate my honourable colleague at least speaking somewhat to the particular motion in question. One of the questions I asked was about the resources for the government and the fact that right now we are in a third wave in this country. We know that there are challenges. Indeed, there's a rising case count right now in my own province of Nova Scotia, unlike what we've seen since the start of this pandemic.
Before I became a parliamentarian, Madam Chair, I was a lawyer at McInnes Cooper in Halifax. I also have a public administration degree from Dalhousie, a master of management and public administration. I say this because I actually know individuals who work in the public sector, whether it be provincially or federally, and when opposition members go on what is not really a narrow motion....
I'll take the committee members back to Mr. Berthold's motion:
The committee request that the Department of Finance and the Canada Revenue Agency provide the committee [with] all studies, data and analysis used for the implementation of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
We just talked about how this was one of the largest undertakings by the Government of Canada—the Auditor General's report says it—in the history of our country. Mr. Berthold's motion makes no mention of what exactly he needs from these particular reports and studies and analyses that he's trying to ask for. What exactly is he looking for?
It's very clear, at least from the testimony I've heard today, that the Government of Canada weighed the options between not putting out support as quickly as possible, thus risking large dislocation of employees from their employers and further impacting the economy and creating further economic turmoil, or we could go ahead and make some of these program choices, as the Auditor General has pointed out. Could there be issues? Absolutely. That's already been highlighted, but it was a better choice than the alternative.
There are lots of things we have to parse out. One is cabinet confidence and cabinet privilege. That is a legitimate convention we have in this country that we need to consider. There's no mention of that at all in this motion. There's no mention about protecting those documents. I have to assume that Mr. Berthold, as a senior and seasoned member of Parliament in this House, would know that. Perhaps that could be a friendly amendment that he would be open to as we start to discuss and debate this motion.
What exactly is it that he's trying to get to? I don't want to put the Auditor General in a difficult position, but she did not express that she was limited. In any other work that goes on, when there are elements that deal with confidence and recommendations to cabinet, those are documents that everyday parliamentarians are not necessarily able to see. Perhaps at some point, although it might not be today, we will have to ask the Auditor General to come back to this committee and testify to whether or not she was unduly limited, especially given that Mr. Fergus said in his testimony that there are powers under legislation for that information to be retrieved and found by the Auditor General.
This is so large and so vast. I'll go back to the point that I have some friends I went to school with who work in these public sector places. It takes weeks on end to go and get the information, scan it and create the books. We saw this with the health committee. We saw this with other committees. It is so large. It's not really focused on what the actual objective is. It's not clear to me from Mr. Berthold's testimony what exactly he needs.
I would be amenable to a motion that this committee could pass that tries to get that further information that this committee deems important, but not all studies—not everything, not this huge wide net, not this fishing expedition that we've seen in other committees that will poison the well of public accounts.
Other members want to speak, Madam Chair, so I will pass my time off to my colleagues, but this is the problem I have with these types of motions. I will listen to my other colleagues and take a look at the text of the motion. I think I'll probably be coming with some type of amendment, so I hope you'll watch for my hand before we even consider going to a vote. I think I'll have an amendment to propose.
Let me take it back, because I've been thinking about what's been going on at this committee for the last few minutes, and I'm going to use one word: disappointed.
This committee, public accounts, is a non-partisan committee. In my humble and personal view, we have many officers of Parliament, and I'm going to use that term “officers of Parliament” to describe the Auditor General and the work that the Auditor General does for this committee. I look at the Auditor General with a large and high level of respect for the work that this officer does, and for the employees who support the Auditor General.
I think about reports that are distributed to us by the Auditor General—and I read them very diligently and very judiciously—in terms of the work that is done, and then the follow-up work that is asked of the various departments, in this case the Canada Revenue Agency and the Department of Finance.
Today I look at Mr. Berthold's view, the honourable member's motion, with a great deal of skepticism that he is on a fishing expedition. At the same time, I view it almost as an attack on the officers of Parliament. I choose those words very, very carefully, but I have to say—
I will continue and then pass my time on to the honourable member from Scarborough.
I look at this request as very, very circumspect. I respect Mr. Berthold as a colleague and a friend on many levels. In terms of the path we are on in this committee, this is a non-partisan committee. There are other ways of asking. We can put forward a request for the Auditor General to appear to ensure her office was given the resources to undertake studies. I'm sure my colleagues will want to follow up on that.
I'm just very disappointed. I go back to Mr. Christopherson's wise words a few months ago about how this committee should operate. I think the idea that we should just request from cabinet all the time all documents that cabinet has discussed—just because we feel we need to and want to, for whatever purposes—is a path that makes me become very queasy. I question why we're going that way.
This is not in a political manner. There's no political-speak in what I'm saying; it's just honestly how we as parliamentarians conduct ourselves on this public accounts committee.
Mr. Berthold, I respect your desire to put forward this motion. I don't agree with it and I will say that respectfully, but also I have a large degree of respect for the AG and the work they have done. If the Auditor General wanted to put in their reports that they felt they were being constrained with regard to the documents they received or by anything to that extent, then I'm sure that would have appeared in the report.
There is a follow-up report that will come to the members of Parliament in terms of the economic evaluation of the program. It is a $100-billion program. I agree that it is a very large program. It is a very important program for employers and employees throughout this country, and I am fully cognizant of that. I am very disappointed that other members on this committee were not afforded the time today to ask a question of our witnesses—our guests—be it Mr. Sabia or the commissioner from the CRA. That's what they were here for: to answer those questions.
I think there were other avenues to pursue in terms of asking the Auditor General about the resources that her office was able to receive in conducting this study.
I will hand my time over to Ms. Yip, who I believe is next.
Thank you, Chair.
To my honourable colleague, Mr. Berthold, my words were not in any way an attack on you, but these are my feelings on the motion that was presented.
Let me first speak to the amendment that Mr. Fergus has moved, then perhaps I can address some of Mr. Lawrence's comments and go back to some of the concerns I have with Mr. Berthold's motion.
What I like about Mr. Fergus' amendment is that this committee works in lockstep with the Auditor General. We study the Auditor General's reports. We have her and her team come in and hold government to account. We have an integral relationship with that office, and that's important.
I didn't get the sense from the Auditor General that she was obstructed in any way in terms of her work in being able to provide a report. We have to also remember that the Department of Finance, as part of its recommendations or its agreement to the Auditor General's report, has agreed to do a complete and full analysis of this type of program. That's important.
When I look at Mr. Fergus' amendment, it's important we bring Ms. Hogan before this committee in order to ask her the questions about whether or not she was satisfied with the information she was able to receive. She works with government all the time as it relates to getting information that is cabinet sensitive and other information that is not.
As opposed to going on Mr. Berthold's motion, which is to create the net as wide and far as we can, get every document under the sun that relates to one of the largest programs in Canadian history, a $100 billion program, and take the time of our civil servants who are literally going to have to spend weeks on end finding this information as opposed to delivering for Canadians, let's instead ask the Auditor General to come and then ask her what information, if any, she felt she wasn't able to access that would be important for us as parliamentarians to use to scrutinize the government. That is something I can support.
It also gives us time in the interim to look at Mr. Berthold's motion and see if we can find a way to actually make it a bit more narrow, keeping in mind that the first job of government is to provide for its citizens. Again, we're in the middle of a pandemic. These individuals are going to have to literally spend time on time to get every document under the sun.
My question to Mr. Lawrence would be, what truth haven't you been able to find? Maybe we can get those specific questions on the record, because there have been occasions when we've asked for information and we were able to get it as a committee. We were able to be specific. You asked the question around the price on pollution; we were able to get that information. It was important. I stand with you on that.
On this idea that we're going to get all the documents, all the analysis around one of the largest programs in Canadian history, what's the paper trail on that? It's massive and unreasonable.
Frankly, with all due respect to Mr. Berthold, because perhaps it's not his intention, the text of the motion reads as simply an obstruction to government. I want him to understand the amount of work and pressure. Frankly, I don't want to say “wasted time”, because yes, we want to hold government to account and we want to get information, but when you cast your net as wide as the ocean, it is a lot of wasted time in terms of the stuff that has to go on. Let's narrow this in. What is the truth that you're not happy about? What is the truth, the information, that you need?
We've had the information in terms of what this has meant for Canadians, what this has meant for individual employees and businesses. What information don't you have that is so crucial? I would ask that not just to my Conservative colleagues but indeed all members.
I support this type of amendment. Let's bring Ms. Hogan in; let's ask her. We're not really in a good place to know what information was or wasn't available. Let's ask Ms. Hogan. Then we can get something a bit more narrow and table a motion unanimously in the spirit of how this committee is supposed to function to get the information that's needed.
Hopefully, you can sense my passion through this, because this is the kind of stuff.... Again, I'm very fortunate to sit on agriculture and on public accounts. I've had a very good experience in being able to work collaboratively. I understand that it's the job of Her Majesty’s official opposition to hold government to account. I understand, Mr. Lawrence, that you want to get the answers from government and have an obligation to your citizens to do so, but you have to be a bit more narrow about what exactly you feel government isn't providing.
Is it something from Mr. Sabia? Is it certain information? What do you want to actually have?
Let's make sure we have to work within the confines of what is cabinet privilege, which has been a historical tradition since Confederation.
Thanks again, Madam Chair.
I really take exception to this being called a filibuster when we get table-dropped a motion in the middle of testimony and while we're preparing questions for the next witnesses and really getting into the work of the committee in terms of the review of the CEWS program.
Now we have a motion that we haven't had any time to prepare for. I'm thinking we heard during the testimony that this information was already being promised to us in the form that was available to us, respecting the terms and conditions of the Privy Council, which are in place for all governments, regardless of what the politics of the day are. Now we're being accused of filibustering when we're really trying to get down to the bottom of why we are doing this when it's information that we're already going to be receiving.
The information that we have from the Auditor General is that she was able to see the rationale for the program and that the program was in alignment with the confidential discussions in the Privy Council. To have her come back to say to us, “Okay, I know that we have a situation to deal with here because some of the members are uncomfortable with cabinet confidence and uncomfortable with transparency....”
We do have those rules in place for other reasons, and those reasons are that any government needs to have a space to have open discussions that can range over a lot of different areas before agreement comes from cabinet to go forward into the public realm. We are within the operation of government; this isn't a conspiracy to hide information; it's the normal operation of government.
As I'm listening to the discussion, I'm hoping that this committee can get itself back on track, because we were working quite well together. The amendment that's been put forward is for us to get back to our terms of operation, having the Auditor General maybe answer any questions about confidentialities or why things are done in the way they're done and about how she interacts as a confidential overseer of the government of the day and then reports back to Parliament, because she's not part of the government of the day but an officer of Parliament.
All of that should give Canadians confidence that we are operating within the normal governance of the Government of Canada and that there is no monkey business going on. If we could get through the amendment and if we did have support to have the Auditor General come back.... We've done this before when there were some statements in the press that we wanted to discuss with her, and we did bring her back under the conditions of a motion that we passed. If we could have that as the next step.... We are working with her and we don't want to be going around her, because she is the buffer between us and government and makes us non-partisan. We're working with her; we're not working with the government of the day.
Therefore, first of all, we need to address her and then see what we can do going forward and whether we need to take it any further in terms of information availability. As has been mentioned, then we look at the next report, which won't be an interim report but an actual report on the CEWS program, and hopefully by September 25 we'll be through the pandemic and be able to take a rear-view mirror look at the wage subsidy program that we were talking about this morning.
With that, I'll turn it back over to you.
For those who have the privilege of seeing the screen, you'll know that I've been quietly listening to all the interventions. I've heard a range of opinions and expanded thoughts on this particular issue.
I'll note that the reason I intervened earlier on a point of order that called into question the delay of this vote was particularly the way in which I've experienced COVID technologies as a hard stop on the democratic processes of our committee. I've had the opportunity to sit through a couple of pretty significant filibusters, some with you and others without.
Look, at the end of the day, I think people heard in my interventions the frustrations about not having basic analysis presented to committee in order to have a generative discussion on the benefits and the failures of the programs, so much so that it's my opinion that this particular government is taking this notion of cabinet confidentiality.... It's not just on this committee. I'll share with you that on OGGO, I've had this protracted conversation for about a year and a half about how all information is presented to cabinet, and it automatically disappears into the ether. It is not about protecting the national interests or security secrets of the state. It has been an absolute black hole for transparency and accountability, so much so that even when I've done my own order papers and motions at other committees, what I receive back are pages and pages and pages of redacted information, information that I believe in a non-partisan way should be made available to parliamentarians and most definitely to Canadians.
I have to say that I'm bemused by the way my colleagues have invoked the name of my predecessor, David Christopherson, who I could assure you would be lighting his hair on fire if he was expected to vote and make a decision on a public accounts report, on an audit report, without having access to basic answers to his questions under this procedural guise of cabinet confidentiality.
Look, if every single piece of government information is to be deemed cabinet confidence, then we might as well just pack up and let bureaucrats make reports, show them directly to the general public, and kind of rubber-stamp whatever comes our way. There is a significant and material non-disclosure by this government during a process that has provided them with unique powers to spend and to create programs.
I acknowledge that we're probably not going to get to this vote by virtue of process, which is why I have no problems expressing myself in the fullness in which I'm expressing it, because again we're limited by these technologies.
In the good old days, I'm sure my predecessor, David Christopherson, would have advised me to get a good seat. I have one. Get maybe a good pillow for your back support on a good filibuster, because he can filibuster with the best of them, and we would have just dug in and been here maybe until 8:00 or 9:00 tonight. Alas, that's not going to happen. It's likely that we're going to pick up on this debate later.
I'll share with members of this public accounts committee that I have no intention of creating some kind of mythology around co-operation, absent of access to basic material information. I take seriously the responsibility of this committee to make informed decisions on what's being presented to us through staff that will require disclosure of material information. That's what I believe to be the mandate of this committee.
I'll share with you that it is very rare in political spaces, by the way, in this talk of non-partisan versus partisan, that you could get a New Democrat from Hamilton, a Bloc Québécois and a Conservative to all agree on something. I happen to think that this non-partisan space exists, because we're looking at the face value of what's before us in ways that have very different political applications to the work that we're all respectively trying to do in opposition.
Now, I say all that to say this: I would love to see a time when this government does become open by default. We have had Auditor General reports that have enumerated and listed in depth the ways in which this government has refused to provide the most basic information not just to their office but to the general public.
To the members and the parliamentary secretaries who are present here, the staffers, the whips who are online, if we want to get into this space of having this committee work in the way it is supposed to work, then let's operate in enough good faith that if I ask a basic question around analysis—“How did you come to this decision?”—I'm not just shuffled off by being told it's cabinet confidentiality and they won't even tell me if they made recommendations on this particular topic.
For the lawyers who are out there, although I'm not a lawyer, I would call this a material non-disclosure. I would like to see government become more forthcoming with the required information, and I'm looking with interest to my friends, who I'm sure will present for the next 25 minutes, maybe 26 minutes. It will be just until after we're about to be cut off and before we can get to this vote, and we'll likely pick it up again sometime next week.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I was standing because yesterday I was sitting for 14 hours until the emergency debate was over last night. I needed to stand up a little.
Thank you, MP Green, for your comments. I say that very sincerely, Matthew. We sometimes don't agree on all policy positions, but there was much that MP Green said about transparency and accountability in the way the government operates and how it should be accountable to what I call taxpayers, and these are the hard-working Canadian citizens, independent of political stripe.
I did want to go back to MP Berthold's amended motion. Not only do I have the privilege of representing here my residents of Vaughan—Woodbridge, but I also have the privilege of being appointed by the to be the parliamentary secretary to the . I see that the CRA commissioner and some of the vice-commissioners were here today to answer questions that we had. When I look at the documents that we received as parliamentarians and as members of the public accounts committee, I believe this is probably....
You know, there are important committees out there, but this is an important committee. This is the oversight of government programs and the oversight of government spending. I see the Canada Revenue Agency's detailed action plan that was put together in co-operation and conjunction with the Auditor General. The Auditor General went to CRA officials and obviously went over the CEWS program, and its implementation and execution were disclosed. The Auditor General highlighted certain strengths of the program in terms of the CRA's responsibilities and also had many recommendations for further improvement. The “unique identifier” was documented within a study. The CRA disclosed that they are working with ESDC and working on a unique identifier, a sort of sign-in portal, and about why the social insurance number was used or not used.
I was going to ask a question today about how important it is that, from the budget, we look at e-payroll, which is a small measure that is going to be transformational in having real-time data from businesses across the country sent to the CRA, so that a certain program like this could be launched very quickly if it needed to be, and also in providing very robust data to CRA and greater efficiency for our businesses.
When I see this motion put forward, I think to myself how co-operative the Canada Revenue Agency has been in providing the documents and the necessary information to the Auditor General and in responding to the Auditor General in laying out key interim milestones. I look at item 1.1 for October, and the dates, and it's even providing the responsible organization and point of contact. In this case, it was Marc Lemieux, and it's providing the phone number of the individual.
Then I go back to Mr. Berthold's original motion and I ask, “What are we getting at here in this motion?” in asking for all studies related to dit, dit, dit. I'm thinking to myself, “Wait a second; the Canada Revenue Agency and its wonderful folks, whom I've gotten to know, fully co-operated with the Auditor General on this program and the CEWS and the Canada emergency response benefit, all during a period when the Canada Revenue Agency is responsible for the implementation and execution of seven or eight programs to assist Canadians during this most extraordinary and unique period of time.”
I'm wondering a little why this motion, as Mr. Longfield so eloquently stated, was dropped on the table in that manner when many of us had more questions to ask. I'll completely agree that we have a right as members of Parliament to bring forward motions that we feel are necessary. I will never dispute that right, but it seems to me that there was something today....
I don't understand why, especially when I've read the report—I have it right in front of me—and I've read about the Auditor's General work. I've commented before on how much I actually enjoy reading these reports of the Auditor General's work, because they're about making government work better. It's about making government work better for Canadians. If we had issues, or any ideas that potentially the Auditor General did not receive the information and that in this case her office was unable to obtain what she may have thought she should have had, then there would have been no problem in having her come in front of committee or to put forward a motion to have her come to committee and to ask those questions. I think that would be very reasonable.
That's when I go back to MP Green's comments about being members of Parliament and no, everything cannot be cabinet secrecy and everything cannot be done without disclosure and transparency. At the same time, the mechanisms of government, of the Privy Council Office and of cabinet, require a certain element of that. We all know that, and we understand it currently as a government, and prior governments understood it as well.
I'm sure the chair, who has been a very wise and long-time member of Parliament, remembers that when her government was in power, cabinet secrecy existed. The Privy Council existed. The Auditor General's office did their work, and I think that's where I go back to.
I keep going back to the non-partisan nature of this committee, which I'm very much enjoying. I enjoy reading these public account books and going line by line through items on the financials and understanding how the Government of Canada works. These are the linkages. This is like the Encyclopedia Britannica that we had as kids instead of the Internet, if I can date myself.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, it's very important for me to point out that the Canada Revenue Agency has worked very well with the Auditor General. The commissioner has appeared several times now. The ACs—if I am getting their titles correctly—have also appeared several times, fully answered questions and identified strengths and also shortcomings in terms of how we can improve things for Canadians. I think that's very important, Chair.
At the same time, with regard to this amended motion, I hope we can continue debating it. I hope we can reach a resolution so that the committee can restart the business we are here to do, which is to review these reports.
We must also remember, colleagues, with these reports—and for some levity in life I am going to hold this up, because I like the colour purple—we have to provide feedback through a draft report. In those draft reports we can make recommendations and alterations to what's been recommended. We have done that in other reports. We have worked on a committee. Sometimes, as they say—if I can make this analogy—many people enjoy eating sausages, but maybe not many people enjoy making the sausages. I like to do both.
Sometimes when the draft report is given.... I see MP Longfield smiling, and he knows exactly what I'm talking about, because he and I have talked about that subject. When we get the draft report on the COVID-19 pandemic with regard to the Canada emergency wage subsidy, we committee members will be able to make recommendations or alterations to the recommendations in there, which the analysts do in the fantastic job they do. We as committee members should not forget about that element, because it is so important.
Again, I go back to MP Green's very wise words, because I agree with you, Matthew, if I can call you by your first name. The idea that MPs need to be able to do their jobs is a fundamental one. Our job is to represent our constituents, the hard-working people who get up every morning and go to work and do the right thing for their families. We need to be able to do the right things for them, so I fully agree with you there.
I see other hands up from what I am going to say are my distinguished colleagues, especially the one wearing the bow tie today, because it is bow-tie Thursday, and I will hand it to them because I know they'll want to speak.
Again, on the co-operation we've seen on the CRA side—despite their employees working from home, as many of us are doing—in running and implementing and executing seven programs now and working on the new incentive program that's coming into place to get Canadians back to work, I need to applaud and I need to point that out.
Let's read this action plan by the CRA in conjunction with their response to the Auditor General's recommendations, because this is what our committee is about. It's about tracking what's happening here, to make sure that it's fulfilled and that we can offer better services.
I go back, Chair—and I'll finish in 30 seconds—to what was in the budget on that measure, not to talk about the budget but to the measure for the e-payroll, because I think that's going to be transformational for many years to come in getting data moving between employers and the CRA.
I would have loved to ask the question, because that goes to the heart of one of the weaknesses pointed out or one of the improvements that the Auditor General could be pointing out in questions she had with regard to this report.
That's the work we need to be doing. Those are the questions we need to be asking. You can understand my disappointment from my original comments when I first read the original motion that was dropped on this committee today.
I'll pass it over to one of my colleagues, Madam Chair. Thank you for your patience. I know we're neighbours in the Valour Building, and hopefully one day soon we'll be able to walk past each other to the elevator bank or go off to Parliament and attend question period or House duty.
Thank you. I appreciate that explanation. I don't want to pretend to speak for the other members of this committee, but perhaps that could be helpful to understanding the jurisprudence as it relates to a parliamentary privilege versus a cabinet privilege.
I want to read a quote from the AG's report for my colleagues here. These would obviously be the words of our Auditor General, Ms. Hogan, through her staff, who would have prepared this:
Overall, we found that despite facing a historic pandemic, the Department of Finance Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency worked within short time frames to provide decision makers with information to assist them in developing the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and to implement the subsidy. Although the Department of Finance Canada performed a partial analysis of the initial design of the subsidy program, it later provided a sound and complete analysis to inform adjustments to the subsidy.
Those are the Auditor General's words.
Again, I go back to the Auditor General, and it didn't appear to me that she was handcuffed in terms of her ability to provide an analysis.
This is where I'll go to Mr. Green's comments. I will call it as I saw it. Some of the questions that were asked today I think left something to be desired in terms of how they were responded to. Mr. Green, I thought you asked a fair question around compensation and stock dividends and things of that nature. I thought there could have been an angle for our officials to talk about, and I think you left that door open in saying you didn't need to know the contents and you didn't need to know the recommendation but only whether there was some level of analysis done. You didn't get that answer. That resonates with me, and I hear where you're coming from on this issue.
Where I'm coming from, respectfully, is that the motion put forward by our honourable colleague Mr. Berthold is so wide in scope. It relates to all documents, all analysis. It's anything to do with implementation. That goes all the way back to March of last year.
This is one of the largest programs. Think of the number of documents that would be out there. Think about the time that our civil servants are going to have to do, poring over electronic resources. Look, I've heard it first-hand: This would be weeks and months on end.
Mr. Green, you just talked about how one in five businesses in your community of Hamilton Centre are not reapplying for a permit with the city. That's concerning, I agree, so why do we want our civil servants to instead be poring over such a wide and open-scoped motion, as opposed to trying to get the information that this committee actually needs? It's not clear to me. I haven't heard from Mr. Blanchette-Joncas, and to be fair, Mr. Green never really opined on whether or not he supports the idea of bringing the Auditor General back to get some relevance about the areas in which we can get that information.
Mr. Green, I know that you understand the idea of cabinet privilege. I know you expressed that you think this government has gone too far in using that. I'm willing to work with you as a committee member to look for areas where we can focus, instead of asking for all documents. I mean, there would be hundreds, thousands. I have no idea, but it's a large, large scope. I think it's an overreach by this committee, frankly.
Mr. Green, certainly on this committee and in this House you have recognized the important role that the public servants are playing to meet the needs of Canadians. To you and to other members of this committee, let's find a way that we can get the information that you're seeking. Mr. Lawrence, you talked about the time it would have taken to implement the number of SINs. What type of process would this have taken?
I don't want to speak to whether or not that should be cabinet privilege, but those are legitimate questions. Let's narrow down some of the questions that the committee members had today. Let's bring the Auditor General in, focus on the contents of her report, see where we weren't really satisfied as a committee with some of the answers we got, and then work backwards, in a collective and collaborative nature, to try to find a better-worded motion that can get us to the information we so desire and need, as Mr. Green and others have expressed very articulately. This is truly just a fishing expedition when we say we want every document.
Of course, I agree with Mr. Lawrence that it is the job of an opposition party to oppose. It's Her Majesty's loyal opposition, but it should not be Her Majesty's loyal obstruction of government. That's where we're coming from on this piece. It is an overreach. I ask members of this committee to approve this amendment so that we can hear from Ms. Hogan. It is important to hear from her.
I hear that not all the questions were answered to the extent that members wanted, so let's hear from the Auditor General. I'll be willing to sit there and listen to the Auditor General. Let's ask the same questions and come to a motion that is more narrow in scope, that is focused on getting the information you want for your constituents and for Canadians but is not going to be a fishing expedition that's going to tie up potentially hundreds of civil servants. I don't even know what the objective is and I haven't heard enough from my other colleagues about what questions they actually want to ask.
Mr. Green, I agree with you. You want to know whether CEO compensation and stock dividends were considered in terms of the wage subsidy. That's a fair point. We don't want to get into cabinet discussions and privileges, but it is a fair question to ask whether or not it was part of an analysis. You didn't get that answer. Let's get it, but let's not go on some expedition that is going to do nothing to benefit the interests of committee members, the interests of parliamentarians and indeed the interests of Canadians, to be fair in my comments.
I guess I'll leave it at that for now. I'd be interested in hearing from Mr. Blanchette-Joncas about whether or not he thinks it's reasonable. I know he has great respect for Ms. Hogan. He asked her many questions. He asked her a line of questioning today about this particular report. However, what does he think about bringing her back and letting her explain what areas of analysis she thinks could have been helpful so that we can get answers to those questions?
I will leave it there, Madam Chair. Thank you.
I think, as I consider where we've come today through all of these discussions, I wasn't surprised to see the question being raised by Mr. Green. In fact, when I was doing my prep work and reading the documents provided on the audit and saw the word “secret” used, I thought, “Okay, that's a flag. I know there will be questions on that.”
As I was mentioning earlier, in other governments people on this committee would actually write questions and trade them with each other. I could almost have written the question Mr. Green was going to ask on that because of his passion around open communications and open government and government open by default. It was not a surprise to see the question coming.
I think the Auditor General rightly said we should ask the Department of Finance why the decision was made to keep some of that information within cabinet confidence. That was asked as well, so I think we were asking the right questions.
My problem this afternoon is that when we got this motion, we were still in the middle of testimony. I would like to review the answers we got to see whether we enough information was promised to us such that we could then review and do the further work of the committee when it comes to the report stage or whether we need to bring in the Auditor General again and say, “You know, you choose your words carefully. The word 'secret' was used. That's a word that put some flags up for many of us who have read the report.” In fact, questions came back in the committee, which is the work of the committee.
If Mr. Green hadn't asked the question, I was asking the question in my head about “secret” and thinking we should talk about why things aren't divulged and what the process is for divulging. We've had a lot of conversation around the table about that this afternoon.
I was hoping to see some of the other members talk about whether we should bring in the Auditor General to get her to clarify some of the comments that were in the report, as well as to look at what information we are to get back from the Department of Finance that they were promising us. Again, I believe they promised us, but I would have to look at the blues to see that. However, I'm pretty sure we were going to get the information we were requesting, to the extent that we're able to under all of the laws that the public service is working under.
I think we were on the right track then. I think having the Auditor General come back and clarify would be our next step if we're not getting the information we need. We have more steps we can be taking. We have another report coming to us early next year, or in the middle of next year, that will talk about the more detailed analysis of CEWS. I was going to ask a question about GBA+ and whether that was part of the analysis the finance department was going to be following when they do the subsequent report on CEWS.
According to the data around who was getting it and who wasn't getting it, Imperial Oil and some large companies were getting it. Some of the start-ups in Guelph that I've talked to weren't getting it because they weren't qualifying under the terms of CEWS. On that part of the analysis of whether we reached all of the right people, the right Canadians, I would be very interested in the answers to those questions as well. I know businesses I've talked to are asking why the big companies got relief when they're saying, “I'm working off a line of credit from my mother-in-law's house. She's going to lose her house because of this. I can't qualify because I'm not meeting some of the requirements of the CEWS program.” These are very real questions we get every day, and I think we need to get back to the answers.
I just have a few rules to go over.
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Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the use of headsets with a boom microphone is mandatory for everyone participating remotely. As always, should any technical challenges arise, please advise the chair, and please note that we may then need to suspend for a few minutes, as we want to ensure all members are able to participate fully.
Our witnesses from last Thursday have been invited back and are standing by to answer our questions if and when debate on the motion is concluded and questioning can be resumed.
I will go over the list of guests who are waiting to join us. That way we won't have to do it if we are able to resume questioning.
Joining us today from the Office of the Auditor General are Karen Hogan, Auditor General of Canada; Philippe Le Goff, principal; and Andrew Hayes, deputy auditor general.
From the Canada Revenue Agency, we have Marc Lemieux, assistant commissioner, collections and verification branch; Ted Gallivan, assistant commissioner, compliance programs branch; and Frank Vermaeten, assistant commissioner for the assessment, benefit and service branch. Mr. Hamilton, commissioner of revenue and chief executive officer, will be joining us a bit later.
From the Department of Finance, we have Andrew Marsland, senior assistant deputy minister, tax policy branch, and Miodrag Jovanovic, associate assistant deputy minister. The deputy minister, Michael Sabia, sends his regrets. Due to a conflict in his schedule, he is not able to attend this morning.
There's just one more thing before we get started. At last Thursday's meeting, Mr. Blois asked the clerk if she could prepare a document outlining the principal issues of cabinet confidentiality and the powers of the committee to call for papers. She informed me that this issue has been raised before in the public accounts committee. On February 28, the committee received a briefing from the law clerk and the counsel to the Clerk of the Privy Council on this matter. If it is the wish of the committee, we could arrange to have a briefing on these issues with these individuals.
Are there any comments or questions about that?
Mr. Longfield's motion could consist simply of removing all the words in the initial motion after the word “That” and replacing them with the wording suggested by Mr. Longfield.
I'd like to hear my colleagues' opinion about the amendment, but I'd first like to briefly return to a number comments I heard last week.
I just want to say that when we have discussions on subjects like these, it's neither partisan nor non-partisan. I was unfortunately criticized for having put this motion forward in a partisan manner, when it's intent was really to further clarify things for committee members from all parties. I think that was the laudable goal.
Once again, unanimity on the committee is not essential for every one of our decisions. The committee takes pride in producing unanimous reports. I'd like to reiterate this because we can't always agree on everything that is said here.
It's therefore important to point out that my comments were intended simply to provide further clarification for the committee. I believe that the motion before us, and the amendments put forward by Mr. Longfield, will enable everyone to have the answers we need to move forward and come up with what I trust will be a unanimous report from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
I have a question for Mr. Longfield. Why should we have to wait until May 27 to obtain the documents?
In my initial motion, I had asked that we be able to obtain the documents very soon, so that we could move forward more quickly. I'd like Mr. Longfield to explain why he chose May 27 as the date for receiving all the documents.
Good morning, everyone, again.
Auditor General, thank you for the series of reports. I've been able to go over all of them with a fine-tooth comb. I read the Investing in Canada plan last night and reviewed the CEWS report again this morning.
I think one thing coming out of the pandemic that we and every organization will do for sure is review systems and processes. I think of a supply chain for a company bringing products into Canada, whether it's a grocery store or manufacturing of any extent. I also think of an organization much like the Canada Revenue Agency, ESDC or the Department of Finance and their ability to deliver services—in this case, benefits—to Canadians during a pandemic. There are seven-odd programs that CRA has had to deliver to Canadians with, obviously, help on the design and format from other departments, such as the Department of Finance, ESDC and so forth.
Auditor General, when I look at your recommendations, I see recommendation 7.58, “To improve the integrity and validation efficiency of any future emergency programs, the Canada Revenue Agency should use automated validations with a unique identifier that can be used in all programs.”
Then I go to 7.68, which says, “In our view, this situation demonstrates the need for the agency to have sub-annual data and up-to-date earnings and tax data when it administers income support programs with eligibility criteria based on sub-annual earnings.”
When I think of that in this report, I look to two things. One is what's happening with the unique identifier program and the work that's being done there. The other is what's in our budget on page 311, “E-payroll to Help Businesses”.
I'm a forward-looking person in terms of where and how we improve our process and the information that's available to organizations, be they finance, CRA or ESDC. How important is it that we continue improving our processes with the unique identifier system—a unique identifier number, if I can call it that—and the development of e-payroll?
First I'll turn to the Auditor General, then to the CRA, then to finance, please.