Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 11:24
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning.
Thank you for the opportunity to present the Canada Revenue Agency's 2019-20 main estimates to the committee, and to answer any questions you may have on the associated funding.
My understanding is that you have a copy of my full remarks. In the interest of time, I will just hit some of the highlights as I go through.
As you are aware, the CRA is responsible for the administration of federal and certain provincial and territorial programs, as well as the delivery of a number of benefit payment programs. Last year the agency collected approximately $526 billion of tax revenue on behalf of federal, provincial and territorial governments, and distributed over $33 billion of benefit payments to millions of Canadians. The CRA also offers help and information to those who need it, and is working hard to reach Canadians who might not be receiving the tax credits or benefits to which they are entitled.
In order to fulfill its mandate in 2019-20, the CRA is seeking a total of $4.5 billion through these main estimates. Of this amount, $3.5 billion requires approval by Parliament, whereas the remaining $1 billion represents the forecast statutory authorities that are already approved under separate legislation. The statutory items include the children's special allowance payments, employee benefit costs and, pursuant to section 60 of the CRA Act, the spending of revenues received for activities administered on behalf of the provinces and other government departments.
These 2019-20 main estimates represent a net increase of $297.7 million when compared with 2018-19 main estimates. Of this change, $236.8 million is associated with previous funding announcements, with the balance of $60.9 million related to proposed budget 2019 measures. The largest component of this change is an increase of $110 million for measures to crack down and combat tax evasion and tax avoidance, at $61 million; enhance tax collections, at $22 million; and improve client services, at $27 million. This represents the amount of incremental funding received in 2019-20 as a result of measures announced in budgets 2016, 2017 and 2018.
To give you a sense of the kind of programs supported by this funding, allow me to touch on some specific initiatives.
Increased reporting requirements for trusts, which will seek information on beneficial ownership, will help authorities to effectively counter aggressive tax avoidance, tax evasion, money laundering and other criminal activities.
We are addressing commitments to service excellence in three key areas. The first is improving telephone services, including reducing wait times for callers and improving the accuracy of responses provided by call centre agents. The second is enhancing the community volunteer income tax program, where community organizations host tax preparation clinics and arrange for volunteers to prepare, free of charge, income tax and benefit returns for individuals with modest or low income. The third is strengthening digital services by updating and modernizing the agency's information technology infrastructure to deliver a more user-friendly experience, allowing Canadians to easily find the tax and benefit information they need.
Other items contributing to the year-over-year change include adjustments for collective bargaining increases of $64.8 million and the implementation of the federal fuel charge of $56.4 million.
The CRA's 2019-20 main estimates also reflect about $60 million in proposed incremental resources for the announcements made by the Minister of Finance in the March 2019 budget. The largest component, at nearly half, is a proposed increase of $29.3 million to improve general tax compliance. These funds will be used to hire auditors, build technical expertise and improve the agency's compliance IT infrastructure.
A further $9.5 million is proposed to take action to enhance tax compliance specifically in the real estate sector. The proposed funding will be used to create four new dedicated residential and commercial real estate audit teams in high-risk regions, notably in British Columbia and Ontario, to ensure that tax provisions regarding real estate are being followed.
Other examples of items relating to budget 2019 include about $9 million proposed to stabilize Phoenix-related activities by the CRA in our role as administrator of the tax system;
$8.5 million proposed to support the agency's ongoing service improvement efforts;
and $3.5 million proposed to improve access to the Canada workers benefit throughout the year.
In closing, the resources being requested through these estimates will allow the CRA to continue to deliver on its mandate to Canadians by making it easier for the vast majority of taxpayers who want to pay their taxes, and more difficult for the small minority who do not, and by ensuring that Canadians have ready access to the information they need about taxes or benefits.
Mr. Chair, at this time my colleagues and I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have. Thank you.
View Peter Fragiskatos Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much.
I also want to ask, if I may, as a last question here, about improving telephone services. You mentioned that in your opening statement. In particular, you talked about lowering wait times. How is the CRA doing that? Can you also be specific in your answer on what the current average wait times are, as well as goals for the future to improve that average?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 12:17
Mr. Chair, I have just a couple points on that, because you'll recall that a few years ago the Auditor General did a study on our call centres and found us not to be providing the level of service that he was expecting and, frankly, that we would have liked. Since then, I would say, a couple of things have caused us to improve.
One is that we've put in more resources and we've increased training for our call centre agents to make sure we improve accuracy.
However, one of the big changes we've had is that we now have a new telephone platform. New technology has come in and has allowed us to do things differently from the way we did them before. For example, it used to be that if you called us, we didn't have the ability to tell you how long the wait was going to be, so we had a rule within the CRA that we were going to try to address your call within two minutes 80% of the time, and if we didn't feel as though we could do that, you got a busy signal and called back. Now what we're able to do with this new technology, which is obviously more modern, is to tell people up front, “Your expected wait time is five minutes” or 10 minutes or whatever it is, and then people can make a choice: “I'd like to hang on” or “No, I'll call back later.” Up front, people get that choice, and the rare, rare exception will get a busy signal. You'll always get that choice, and if you decide you don't want to wait, then you'll call back. We also have beefed up our self-service efforts, so people can, if they have a fairly simple question, actually deal with it without talking to an agent.
View Peter Fragiskatos Profile
Lib. (ON)
Do you have an average wait time, Mr. Hamilton, at the present time? Can CRA cite an average wait time for callers or not?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2019-06-11 12:19
Wait times go up and down. As you can imagine, if you take the pulse at the end of April, when people are frantically calling, it will be longer. We're just in the process of figuring out with this new technology what an appropriate service standard is for us. For example, we'll want to make sure that within the average wait time we will serve most of the people within x minutes. We're trying to figure out what that is. We've had wait times of about 10 to 15 minutes on average over the period of the filing season. Again, we're still examining the data to see how much that varied and whether there's anything we can do to even it out. Obviously the pressure will come down as the year goes on, but we're just taking all of the new things we've done with the new technology to come up with what would be an appropriate service standard.
Craig L. Dalton
View Craig L. Dalton Profile
Craig L. Dalton
2019-06-10 15:36
Mr. Chair, committee members, thank you for inviting me here today and for providing me with the opportunity to share the results of our 2019 Office of the Veterans Ombudsman Report Card.
As mentioned, I'm joined here today by the deputy ombudsman, Sharon Squire.
Excuse me if I go back a bit to first principles, as this is my first time to appear before you. As you're aware, the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman has really a two-part mandate, and the first and most important part of that mandate is to respond to individual veteran's complaints, or complaints raised by spouses or survivors. The second part of our mandate is to recognize and identify issues that may be affecting more than one veteran, therefore representing perhaps a systemic issue. Under our mandate, we have the opportunity to investigate those issues and, where appropriate, make recommendations to VAC to improve programs and services. That's really where the report card comes in and that's why we're here today.
This is the third year that our office has released the report card. It was first released in 2017. The report card is a tool for us that allows us to capture, track and report publicly on recommendations that our office has made to Veterans Affairs Canada to improve programs and services.
The report card allows us to do a couple of things as we report publicly. The first is to acknowledge progress that's been made, and in fact to celebrate where changes have been made to programs and services to the benefit of veterans and their families. More importantly, from our office, it allows us an opportunity, on a regular basis, to shine a light on areas that we think still need some attention, and that's what the report card this year does.
I'd just like to share a few highlights with you, if I may.
Three areas where we've seen progress this year, progress that we believe will be well received by veterans, are as follows. The first is that veterans will now be able to retroactively claim reimbursement for treatment costs to the date of application as opposed to the date of decision for disability award and now pain and suffering compensation applications, which we believe is a significant improvement. The second is that, at the age of 65, all veterans who have a diminished earning capability assessment will now receive 70% of their income replacement benefit, which is very important in terms of financial security post-65. The third is that it's good to see movement on issuing of veterans' service cards, which the veterans community has been calling for, for quite some time.
We do like to acknowledge and recognize these improvements that have been made.
As I said, it's also an opportunity for us to shine a light on areas that still need some attention. As of the point of reporting this year, there are still 13 OVO recommendations that have yet to be addressed. The majority of those recommendations relate to the two areas that we hear about most commonly in complaints from veterans. They are in the areas of health care supports and service delivery.
In releasing the report card and sharing it with the minister, I took the opportunity to highlight three of those recommendations that we think would warrant attention as a matter of priority. They are as follows.
The first is expanding access to caregiver benefits, which is something we hear and continue to hear about on a regular basis from veterans groups and veterans advocates.
The second is covering mental health treatment for family members in their own right. Having had the opportunity in my first few months to meet with a number of veterans, and spouses in some cases, and to hear about some of the circumstances and challenges that family members, and in particular children, face when dealing with having a parent who was injured or is severely ill as a result of service, makes me wonder whether or not we're doing all we can do to support children and families. We think that's an important area.
The last is to provide fair and adequate access to long-term care and, to a lesser extent, the veterans independence program.
Those are three areas that we believe are important and I highlighted those to the minister. We will continue to follow government's actions in response to our recommendations and will continue to report publicly to you, the committee, and to Canadians on progress as needed.
As I mentioned earlier, I'd also like to take this opportunity to share my priorities with you, after having spent six months on the ground now and having had the opportunity to speak to a number of veterans, a number of veterans groups and advocates. We've taken some time to identify the priority areas that we think need to be addressed next. Again, these aren't ideas that we came up with sitting and talking amongst ourselves. This is what we hear from veterans who phone our office and from veterans groups and advocates. I'd like to share those priorities with you briefly.
The first priority, from my perspective, goes back to the key component in our mandate, and that's providing direct support to veterans and their families when they believe they've been treated unfairly. We're still a fairly young office, and our front-line staff have done very good work to this point in time. However, based on what we've heard from veterans and what we hear through our client satisfaction surveys, we have some work to do to make sure that we deliver an even better service and that we clarify what our mandate is, what we do and what we don't do, so that veterans who need our help will actually come to us. This is a significant priority for me and our number one priority.
Additional priorities include health care supports. As I mentioned earlier, this is the area that we receive complaints about the most. I'm led to believe that this area has not been looked at in quite some time, so we want to help move things forward in this regard by taking a broad look at VAC health care supports to identify areas we think might need some attention.
Third would be transition. I think we're all well aware of the importance of the transition process and ensuring that veterans and their families are well set up for post-service life. This is an area that continues to, thankfully, gain a lot of attention. We're particularly interested in looking at the area of vocational rehabilitation and the programs and services that help veterans find purpose in post-service life.
As we do this work—and we've also heard this through engagement over the last number of months—there are a few groups that we believe need to be considered a little more closely and a little more deliberately. They include women veterans. I've had the chance to speak to a number of women veterans and women's advocates. It's clear that a number of the programs and services they have access to were not designed specifically with women service members in mind or women veterans in mind. This is an area that we think is going to require significant focus going forward.
Second are veterans of the reserves. We've received a number of complaints, again related to specific programs. In looking into those complaints, it's become clear that, while the program is well intended, well designed and works well for regular force veterans, that's not always the case for reservist veterans. We think there's enough of an issue there to broaden that scope a bit and make sure the programs and services that are being provided adequately take into account the unique nature of reserve component service.
The last priority—and I mentioned this earlier—is families. Just in the brief amount of time I've been here speaking with veterans and families, we believe that this is another area we need to look at a little more closely to make sure we understand what the impacts on families, particularly children, are and that we have programs and services that adequately take this into account.
The last piece I would mention is just a bit of ongoing work that we initiated a number of months ago in terms of conducting a financial analysis of the pension for life. That work is more than just a financial analysis. We're going to monitor the implementation, and we are monitoring the implementation with a view to producing a report sometime late this year or perhaps even early 2020, after we've had time to watch it be implemented and get a sense of what the impact is on the ground.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share an overview of the report card and also speak to some of our priorities going forward.
I'd be happy to take any questions, if there are any.
View Doug Eyolfson Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for coming. There are so many things to go through, and I understand it's a very complicated thing to wade through all this. Thank you for all your work on this.
Among the things that have been done when we talk about service delivery.... As you know, we reopened nine of the veterans service centres and then opened an additional one. Have you had any feedback on the ability of veterans to receive their services since those have been reopened?
Craig L. Dalton
View Craig L. Dalton Profile
Craig L. Dalton
2019-06-10 15:53
I have not, in the time I've been here, but I'll just check.
View Karen Ludwig Profile
Lib. (NB)
You mentioned, Mr. Dalton, about the long wait times being an issue, but when you spoke with people, maybe it was not that great of an issue. If they had regular updates on their cases—regular feedback—would that offer some...? Would regular feedback on where the case is in the system be of value?
The second part of my question is this: Has the reinstatement of a number of front-line service workers made a difference in terms of the level of satisfaction?
Craig L. Dalton
View Craig L. Dalton Profile
Craig L. Dalton
2019-06-10 16:13
I should clarify my remarks and say that it's not that veterans tell us it's not an issue. It clearly is and it's the number one complaint we receive, but in talking to some veterans who were frustrated, what they have expressed is that, rather than be given an average adjudication time or processing time for whatever disability they are applying under, they would like a more personalized, meaningful number.
If they can't be given that, given that the average is 28 weeks, they don't find it overly helpful. It just adds to the frustration.
As I mentioned earlier, I certainly haven't been privy to any feedback on the impact of those additional people being hired or those additional sites or locations being opened. I don't know if the office has received that or not.
Sharon Squire
View Sharon Squire Profile
Sharon Squire
2019-06-10 16:14
No, other than that they now have different mechanisms for support—there's guided support, self-support and the traditional case manager, and I know they are trying different streams to help people—we haven't heard many comments either way.
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 8:51
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to appear before your committee. I'll begin with a few brief remarks and I'll be happy to take any questions you may have.
My name is Alex Benay. l'm the Chief Information Officer of Canada at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
I am responsible for providing strategic direction and for the implementation of policies relating to service, information management, information technology, security, privacy and access to information across the federal government.
The finding in the Auditor General's most recent report identified opportunities where Treasury Board policy direction can be strengthened to better support improvements to call centres. The Auditor General made several recommendations that will help the Government of Canada fulfill its commitment to improve service delivery to Canadians.
Over the past few years, TBS has developed various policy instruments to help departments take a more client-centric approach to the design and delivery of services, including the development and publication of service standards. While we've made progress, we agree that there is still much work to be done.
l'm glad to say that we have already begun this work. Currently, the Treasury Board Secretariat is reviewing existing policy instruments, with the goal of identifying opportunities to strengthen policies to better support improved services through all service delivery channels, including call centres.
For example, we recently introduced a set of digital standards that will help guide departments and agencies in designing better services for Canadians. One of its key principles is to design and develop services with users in mind and to work with them to understand their needs and the problems we want to solve. While they may be called digital standards, they are, in fact, applicable to all the service delivery channels whether they are offered online, in person or by telephone.
In spring 2018, the government approved targeted amendments to the policy on the management of information technology and the policy on the management of information, setting the foundation for the long-term development of a comprehensive policy on service and digital for the Government of Canada.
This proposed policy will build on the client-centric principles of the current Policy on Service, and provide direction for the design and development of seamless, integrated services that meet the needs and expectations of the Canadian public.
We're also working on enhancing our existing guidance and tools to support the development and publication of clear and consistent client-centric service standards. Both the proposed new policy and its supporting directive and guidance will incorporate changes to ensure that government services have comprehensive and transparent client-centric standards, related targets and performance information for all service delivery channels in use, including call centres.
The Treasury Board Secretariat will continue to work with federal departments and agencies to ensure service standards for call centres are more consistent, meaningful and transparent to Canadians.
In closing, I look forward to your committee's report and recommendations on this important issue.
Thank you for your time, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
That's good. I'll just weave in my message and keep saying how wonderful you are, because you understand how bad it is that the government's not giving the Auditor General enough money to do his job. That's why I'm so pleased to see.... No, I won't do that.
I thank you, Chair.
Secretary, what troubled me, on page 16, 1.62 stood out. “We found that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat developed a government-wide service strategy in 2017: the Government of Canada Clients First Service Strategy.” That sounds great. “The strategy prioritized providing services online but did not include call centres or mention the government-wide modernization of call centres, despite the fact that they continue to be an important way for clients to get information.”
That number is 25%, a quarter of all Canadians use that. How on earth did you get to the point where you were planning contact for services for Canadians, and never gave a thought to the phone? Twenty-five per cent of Canadians.... Given the fact that Michael Ferguson's mantra was, again, “Do service well”, don't measure how well you move paper or a message from one desk to another. Measure the outcome for citizens and how they are, or are not, receiving the services they're entitled to.
How could something this obvious—a quarter of all Canadians—be overlooked in this grand strategy?
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:09
When the service strategy was issued in 2017, it was supposed to be channel agnostic. Since then we looked at the recommendations from the Auditor General and will integrate phones into the next series and issues of our June release for the digital policy and all the policy instruments that will come with it, and we will become very specific on various service channels.
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:10
The thinking at the time was that an agnostic service strategy was a better approach.
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:10
Not necessarily targeting one particular service channel. It could be mail. It could be in person. It could be digital. The thinking at the time was that an agnostic approach was good. At this point we've seen all the recommendations from the OAG and we'll move to make every service channel clear.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
People are paid good money to be planners. The whole idea is that they're supposed to think these things through. I understand if it was a small percentage, but a quarter of all Canadians? That's really disheartening. It's further disheartening that you don't seem to be able to acknowledge when anything is wrong. All you want to do is talk about how wonderful things are. I've told deputies before, don't come in here and be defensive. Do what the Auditor General did and approach the criticism that way. If it's wrong, say so, admit it, acknowledge you failed, and then say what you're going to do about it.
Don't spin. That's our job.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Clayton Achen
View Clayton Achen Profile
Clayton Achen
2019-05-14 11:05
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much for allowing my voice to be heard in this committee. I am truly honoured and humbled to be here with you all today.
My name is Clayton Achen. I'm a founding partner at Achen Henderson CPAs in Calgary. Given my practice area, my primary interest with respect to Bill C-97 is tax—specifically the taxation of private companies and small businesses and their owners. I'm primarily interested in what's missing from Bill C-97.
My firm's day-to-day work as a chartered professional accounting firm is to work directly with middle-class small business families. This has given us better perspective than most to see how hard it is for entrepreneurs to earn a living. We also see how easy it has become for our government to take those hard-earned dollars away, sometimes under the guise of fairness, which is a clever word that does nothing to consider the risks and ultimate hardships that an entrepreneur endures.
I'll spend a few minutes talking about some of their more recent challenges, including economic challenges, increases to tax, increased compliance burdens and uncertainty, and challenges in dealing with the CRA and navigating our tax system. I'll then make some brief comments on Canada's desperate need for a modern tax system and close with my thoughts on a few business-related items that are contained in Bill C-97.
It cannot be understated how complicated our tax system has become in the last 50 years, which was the last time that a comprehensive review was undertaken. Our last three budgets have heaped more and more layers of complication and burdens of compliance onto Canadian small businesses. While I am grateful that the attack on private corporations and their shareholders appears to have subsided in 2019, I am disappointed that the bill contains nearly nothing to help them.
What we've seen, particularly in my home province of Alberta, is that entrepreneurs have faced tremendous adversity in the last five years and particularly in the last three and a half.
In Alberta, some small businesses have managed to survive a long and sustained economic downturn with very little help from our governments. A lot have simply closed their doors and are out of work.
For all Canadian small businesses, the cost of compliance has increased dramatically as a result of changes to the inter-corporate dividend rules, tax on split income, the specified corporate income and association rules, changes to family trust reporting and new penalties for saving too much in your business regardless of the reason.
Many wealthier clients have increased their risk tolerance with regard to tax planning strategies and reduced their tolerance for economic risks. Many wealthier clients are shifting their wealth out of Canada.
Most of this is a direct side effect of the offensive and ill-conceived attempt at tax reform for private corporations and their shareholders that was announced on July 18, 2017. Moreover, all companies, including small businesses, are now shouldering significant CPP increases for the next seven years.
According to research conducted by the CFIB, Canadian small businesses are now being asked to shoulder nearly half of the federal carbon tax take, which increases the cost of everything—and I mean everything—while receiving disproportionately small rebates.
In many cases, small businesses have tried to pass these costs on to consumers in order to remain viable. In many cases, they simply can't. This results in corporate inequity, meaning smaller companies are simply unable to compete with larger corporations and multinationals who are better positioned or better equipped to shoulder these additional tax and compliance burdens.
I share these insights with you today not to complain, but rather to highlight that there have been real, rapid and sustained challenges for middle-class small businesses owners across Canada and Bill C-97 offers very little in the way of assistance or stimulus.
The next issue is the CRA's service levels. I can confirm the substance of the 2017 Auditor General's report, which says it is very difficult to reach the CRA by phone and even more difficult to get a complete and correct answer. We still deal with this daily. At Achen Henderson, we have been forced to add this to our service levels and have elected to do so at no additional cost to our clients.
While I'm thankful for my newfound love of chamber music and encouraged that the government recognizes the problem, we must ask ourselves if the measures in Bill C-97 are the correct approach. While advances have been made by the CRA to be more accessible and user-friendly online, it confuses us that the CRA requires five times the staff per capita to administer our tax system than the IRS does, with more hiring announced in the 2019 federal budget.
Based on our extensive experience in dealing with the CRA and helping many organizations who have experienced similar challenges, we've come to believe that the CRA's issues are cultural in nature. Defective cultures always result in operational bottlenecks. These bottlenecks are magnified by a tax system that is far too complicated for the average CRA agent or taxpayer to navigate, which is further magnified by a lack of or inadequate professional training, in our opinion.
Next, instead of taking steps toward modernizing our tax system to make it more transparent, competitive and easy to comply with and administer, Bill C-97 is a continuation by our government of using taxation to pick winners with tax breaks in various economic areas and industries. Furthermore, C-97 does nearly nothing to address tax competitiveness with the United States. Instead, the bill stretches the fabric of our tax act even further, mending holes where the fabric breaks with more patches, resulting in legislation that is impossible to comply with and administer.
lt's not all bad. There are some welcome patches in the bill, such as the improvements to the RDSP rules and the specified corporate income rules, but I can't help but wonder how many more holes will need to be patched until we consider modernizing our tax system.
The patch to the SR and ED program is a step in the right direction. lt undoubtedly makes the program more accessible to certain CCPCs. For them, this should help to tip the balance between compliance costs versus benefits and increased support. Unfortunately, these changes do not address the administration issues in the SR and ED program, and they only impact a very small portion of private companies in Canada.
While the accelerated investment incentive will be helpful to some private companies—namely those who are doing well and/or those who are able to expand or upgrade—the full expensing of M and P equipment, clean energy equipment and electric vehicles seems like boutique benefits that will only help certain private companies. We are disappointed that the accelerated CCA measures are temporary in nature.
ln closing, entrepreneurs have endured a lot these last few years. Many continue to struggle with uncertainty and excessive tax complexity, and have received very little from their government in return. While C-97 doesn't ask them to shoulder much more, it doesn't offer much in the way of assistance or stimulus.
We've seen improvements in the CRA's online offerings, but we have experienced very little improvement in hold times or service levels, and we question if Bill C-97's approach to resolving these problems is the correct one. Bill C-97 is a missed opportunity to initiate a comprehensive review of our tax system with the goals of modernization and simplification at its core.
Lastly, the accelerated CCA measures in C-97 are targeted at specific industries and temporary in nature, and we think they miss the mark on tax competitiveness with the United States.
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today. I'd be happy to take your questions.
View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you. Unfortunately, I hear those types of examples all too often. Those are the types of things that we obviously need to be looking at to try to address with regulatory compliance.
Mr. Achen, regarding the CRA, you raised an issue that is also one I hear so frequently. You mentioned, and I actually hadn't heard this statistic before, that we have five times the number of agents per capita in the CRA than does the IRS. I've heard that expressed in different ways before, about the thousands and thousands of agents that we have at CRA, yet when you make a phone call, you can never get any one of them on the phone. People always wonder how the heck it is possible, with all those people there, that you can't even get someone on the phone. Then they say, if you ever do get someone on the phone, you might talk to four different agents and get six or eight different opinions, so that's obviously a source of frustration.
I wonder if you might speak to the opportunity that's lost for our businesses, particularly our small businesses, when they're dealing with these types of compliance burdens with the CRA. Obviously the complicated nature of the tax code and the fact that even the CRA agents can't really give you a proper interpretation of it, what do those effects mean for our small businesses in terms of lost opportunity to be able to be competitive and to be able to grow their businesses, mentor employees and so on?
Clayton Achen
View Clayton Achen Profile
Clayton Achen
2019-05-14 11:52
In terms of one of the biggest challenges, of course, we live in a self-assessment system where you're expected to file your own taxes and the tax of your corporation. You're responsible for those. A common source, particularly for middle-class small business owners who can't afford a fancy accountant, is to turn to the CRA for answers, and unfortunately, we get the wrong answers a lot.
Coming back to the impact that has on them, that results in improper tax filing, probably, in some cases, diminished revenues to the government, and a very high level of frustration when the CRA figures out that they've filed something wrong, and particularly in the area of GST/HST we see this quite a lot.
In a lot of cases, for people who can't afford tax accountants, the real costs are a sense of frustration, followed by a sense of a lack of trust in the tax system, followed by CRA reassessments because they got something wrong when they tried their best to comply with it.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
I have a limited amount of time. Specifically, from an opportunity cost perspective, the government is investing—spending—$51 million worth of tax dollars and assuming oversight and, ostensibly, liability related to an arm's-length profession that exists to interpret difficulties in an existing government system.
I'm wondering if there was any opportunity cost analysis done to apply that $51 million to ease service delivery specifically related to this particular expenditure?
Lori MacDonald
View Lori MacDonald Profile
Lori MacDonald
2019-05-06 17:04
Essentially, we looked at where we wanted to focus our attention, which was on things like addressing gap areas and addressing how we could make the process easier for the clients. We actually did costing around that, but not in relation to what gap analysis there would be in terms of spending.
Bruce Burrows
View Bruce Burrows Profile
Bruce Burrows
2019-05-02 11:40
This change alone would be a huge improvement to the out-of-date system that currently exists in other pilotage areas.
However, one issue that was not included for reform is one that we on the industry side believe is critical in giving pilotage authorities the full control of their service delivery. Authorities do not have the ability to choose the hiring model that meets their needs, often locking them into costly contracts with monopoly pilot corporations, instead of being able to hire employee pilots or contract with individual pilots.
This lack of flexibility will hamper pilotage authorities from being able to choose the service delivery model that is right for them, and will result in higher charges for their customers, while at the same time not providing any service improvements. This is a major concern. It was a recommendation in the review, but it has not carried through into the act recommendations.
I know that there will be a 10-year review of the Pilotage Act, should this pass, and we will continue to seek this reform in future reviews.
We're cautiously optimistic as this point. While a great suite of reforms has been proposed per this division in the budget implementation act, passing the bill is half the battle in reforming Canada’s pilotage system. The heavy lifting to reform the system will take place in the transition of the regulatory reform and the supporting policies and programs from the pilotage authorities to Transport Canada.
The updated system must take the clear direction provided by this bill, and that provided by the Pilotage Act review report, and apply it based on the new purpose and principles contained in the act.
Once again, thank you for the invitation to appear, and we'd be happy, of course, to answer any questions later.
Gemma Mendez-Smith
View Gemma Mendez-Smith Profile
Gemma Mendez-Smith
2019-05-01 16:23
On our funding level, we are funded to do our research at $280,000 a year, with three staff, and we have two training programs that we do for persons with disabilities and Ontario works, which is for people who need skills to enter the labour market, at about $500,000.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much.
We talked about the fact that senior women don't have a great deal of access in terms of programming. One of the things that bothered me—I was a seniors critic and a veterans critic—was that government is using technology more and more. They're putting things online and the answer to someone who needs help is “Well, it's online”. To someone who is not literate in terms of that, that doesn't help.
We have all of these 1-800 numbers, and if you sit there for 45 minutes listening to the recording, it finally drops off and you have to start all over again. I think this lack of human contact is problematic. Is there a role for the federal government in terms of re-establishing that human face to programs, the things that people need, so that they can access them as they did in the past?
Lia Tsotsos
View Lia Tsotsos Profile
Lia Tsotsos
2019-04-30 9:22
I would say there is a need for that, not only to provide a level of human contact but also to take into consideration the fact that, in addition to not being technologically literate, people may not have those technology devices, the Internet or the ability to get to a place where there is Internet, like a library, for example.
I think the removal of some of those person-based services really does a disservice to a much wider group than one might think upon first reflection. We just think, “Oh, you don't know how to use to a computer”. Well, they may not have access to one, they may never have had access to one and they may not have the ongoing ability to then continue that technological engagement as they continue to age and as they continue to develop sensory or mobility challenges, for example.
Maybe now it's okay that they can get themselves to a library, but two years from now they could have had a hip fracture and no longer be able to. I would say that, yes, the bare minimum of services should be able to be conducted in an in-person forum, or somehow talking to a person and not solely online, because that would really just impact a much larger swath of people than I think we might realize.
Vanessa Herrick
View Vanessa Herrick Profile
Vanessa Herrick
2019-04-30 9:23
I think it requires a certain level of creativity. I was at a conference recently and I saw a really interesting presentation from a local CLSC in Quebec, and it was having difficulty with this. How do you reach these communities? How do you reach people who aren't online or who can't afford the Internet?
What they did—which I thought was really brilliant—was that they sent out messages with the Meals on Wheels people, and they had little notes saying, “Would you like us to call you with these services?”
This way it's not put on the senior to phone them. It's not onerous for them to find these people and find the information. Many of them are already benefiting from Meals on Wheels. These are people whom they know and are comfortable with. All they have to do is tick off a box, give it back to the person bringing them the meal, who is responsible for bringing it back to the CLSC, which follows up and says, “Okay, you expressed interest in these different services; what can we do for you?”
They had a really high level of success. It just takes some creativity and not always relying on the same ways we've done things.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
How widespread is that kind of approach? You talked about it in Quebec, but does anyone know if it's something that is utilized in the other provinces and territories?
Vanessa Herrick
View Vanessa Herrick Profile
Vanessa Herrick
2019-04-30 9:24
I haven't heard of it anywhere else, but I don't know. I can't speak to that for sure.
View Anne Minh-Thu Quach Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm going to share my speaking time with my colleague who has just arrived.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here.
My first questions will be for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Dupuis.
You spoke a lot about access to French-language services, especially in airports. How important is it to also have access to legal services in French? Although Quebec is a francophone province, after the arrival of 25,000 irregular migrants in 2017, there weren't enough French-language legal services and health care. There was a particular lack of francization and interpretation services. Even in Quebec we need such services.
What is the situation in your area?
Alain Dupuis
View Alain Dupuis Profile
Alain Dupuis
2019-04-10 16:13
The francophone lawyers' associations wish to offer more specialized services to francophone immigrants. That is a perfect example of gaps in the immigrants' integration journey. That is one of the sectors that needs to be developed.
View Karen Ludwig Profile
Lib. (NB)
Do you hear from any of the veterans that you're working with about the veterans centres themselves? Are they using the veterans centres?
Andrew Baldwin-Brown
View Andrew Baldwin-Brown Profile
Andrew Baldwin-Brown
2019-03-18 16:43
Usually not, but some do. I tend not to. Most of the patients that we deal with deal with Veterans Affairs remotely through My VAC Account. The younger generation, usually those under 40 are high users of My VAC Account.
Then again, it's individualized. Someone with severe PTSD and depression may not have the capability to click 82 times to get what they need. Most of them are call-ins or proactive outreaches from the case managers themselves.
David Manicom
View David Manicom Profile
David Manicom
2019-01-30 15:53
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is David Manicom and I am the Assistant Deputy Minister for Settlement and Integration at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
I am joined by Corinne Prince, the Director General for Settlement and Immigration Policy, and by Laura Di Paolo, the Director General for the Settlement network.
We hope that our testimony will be helpful to your study.
Immigrants from every corner of the world have made significant contributions to all spheres of Canadian life, and they continue to make influential contributions to science, business, and technology.
Through new perspectives and diverse insights, immigrants also help to drive our country's intellectual and artistic capital. Many of our immigrants also bring with them an entrepreneurial spirit, creating jobs and becoming important drivers of innovation and investment.
Immigration benefits Canada's economic and demographic growth, our innovation and prosperity and our efforts at nation building. With Canada's aging population and growing labour force needs, I think we can all agree, Mr. Chair, that immigration will be vital to the continued growth and success of our country's economy and society. This statement is also supported by research.
Statistics Canada reports that the lion's share of national employment gains, 66% of gains between 2016 and 2017, was directly accounted for by immigrants.
And the most recent labour force survey for December 2018 shows that immigrants' employment rates are broadly in line with the national average.
The unemployment rate for core working-age immigrants stood at 5.7% in 2018.
This is the lowest unemployment rate for this group since at least 2006. This bodes very well for the future of immigration in Canada and suggests that our settlement program is doing a good job of helping newcomers to integrate. This is key, because ensuring that immigration remains advantageous to Canada in the future means that all newcomers are integrated and supported so they may contribute to various aspects of Canadian life.
Settlement services are a key to newcomer success, and investing in that success will be key to our nation's future prosperity and inclusiveness.
By the end of fiscal year 2019-2020, this will represent a 32% increase in settlement funding since 2015-2016.
In 2018-2019, our department has funded over 500 organizations and provided services to approximately 460,000 clients. Of these clients, more than 100,000 accessed language training services, reflecting the critical importance of English and French language skills for successful settlement in Canada.
Looking ahead, the ongoing success of our settlement programming will continue to depend critically upon our partnerships, which go well beyond the Government of Canada. This year we developed a shared national vision on settlement and integration with our partners, including the provinces, territories and stakeholders. That shared vision is that the successful settlement and integration of newcomers benefits Canada by building a more inclusive, diverse and productive nation. This is achieved through a shared effort that helps all reach their economic and social potential.
As you know, improving the delivery of settlement services is one of the commitments identified in Minister Hussen's mandate letter and is a priority that our department is intently focused on.
Our goal is to offer services that will best meet immigrants' needs and produce the best settlement outcomes possible. Our outcomes-based programming will be informed by our research, analysis, evaluation findings and the results of our new pilot projects.
To assess the effectiveness of our services, the department conducted a formal evaluation of the program, completed in May 2017. This incorporated a wide range of perspectives, including program clients, stakeholders and program officials, and comprised the largest-scale survey of newcomers ever conducted to that point, with almost 15,000 respondents. Overall, the evaluation found that our program has been effective at meeting a growing demand for settlement services. A clear majority of clients—96%—reported positive outcomes, such as improving their language ability finding employment, participating in their communities, and so forth.
We also conducted separate evaluations of the pre-arrival services and immigration to francophone minority communities.
The evaluations made several recommendations to improve our settlement program. The department has developed an action plan that is addressing those gaps. This plan will guide future program improvements, and inform the next calls for proposals with service providers, which will launch next month.
To date, improvements to our settlement program have included streamlining our pre-arrival settlement services for newcomers who are still abroad.
A number of projects are also under way to experiment with and assess potential new service delivery improvement projects. This year we will devote $32 million toward a dedicated funding stream for service delivery improvements and innovations.
One of the first of such innovative pilots is employing newcomers in stable, good-paying hotel jobs. This pilot will connect as many as 1,300 unemployed or unemployed newcomers with jobs in the hotel industry while they strengthen their language skills in the workplace.
Our program evaluation shows that combining employment and language training is effective and ultimately improves settlement and integration.
As such, the department is exploring more of these types of projects that combine workplace experience with language training and other supports. The Atlantic immigration program pilot is another example of this type of innovation.
IRCC is also launching other innovative settlement programs to target more vulnerable populations, such as refugees and women. We launched a pilot project this past December to support visible minority newcomer women in gaining access to and advancing in the labour market. Through this project, we aim to support the employment of visible minority newcomer women by increasing existing services, establishing new partnerships and testing the effectiveness of different combinations of employment services.
In addition, we are looking at improving the services that we offer to French-speaking newcomers who settle in francophone and Acadian communities outside of Quebec.
As announced in Budget 2018, and included in the official languages action plan, the department will invest more than $40 million over the next five years on a francophone integration pathway.
We are also looking at improving our settlement services for refugees, which have been especially important for Syrian refugees. This spring, IRCC will issue a major report on the 52,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada. We have already compiled much data from various sources. Most notably, 57% of Syrian refugees reported that they were employed, a marked increase since our 2016 rapid evaluation findings and, I think we can say, exceeding our expectations. What a wonderful collective effort from Canadians and these newcomers.
Once our report is complete, we expect the overall findings to the positive. More importantly, this will also help guide future improvements to our settlement services for refugees.
The call for proposals process that we will launch next month also will place an increased focus on key areas, including the integration of vulnerable populations, such as youth, refugees and LGBTQ2+, a greater focus on mental health supports and further enhancing our services for francophone newcomers.
The department recognizes that we must continue to assess what is working and what must be improved, and to continuously adapt our settlement programs to the changing needs of newcomers.
Going forward, with true co-planning with the provinces and territories and close co-operation with our partners and stakeholders, we can create a clearer picture of what newcomers need and determine how to collectively meet those needs. Our aim is to maximize the social and economic contributions of all immigrants to Canada, regardless of how they arrive.
As one of our service providers said today at a meeting I was at, it's about building a better Canada one newcomer at a time. With that in mind, Mr. Chair, we look forward to the findings of the committee's study.
Thank you very much.
View Francesco Sorbara Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Minister, we are at nearly the end of the calendar year, which for taxpayers is the end of their fiscal year. What message would you like to send the taxpayers now that they will be filing their income taxes in a few months? I think we have done a number of things to simplify the system, to make it more efficient. Filers can file online. We've obviously reduced taxes for nine million Canadians. Perhaps you can comment on the resources that we put in place to allow filers to file by telephone, in some instances, and to simplify the system for all Canadians.
View Diane Lebouthillier Profile
Lib. (QC)
I thank my colleague for his question.
I'm determined to improve the agency's services to meet the needs of all Canadians. The purpose of everything the agency has put in place in the past three years is to make the client our central concern.
We've introduced a new service, File My Return, an automated telephone service accessible to more than 950,000 taxpayers who have straightforward tax situations. We've clarified and simplified the use of our My Account service and also launched the CRA BizApp application.
We've reinstated the Disability Advisory Committee.
We've launched two series of Serving You Better consultations with small and medium-sized enterprises to determine with them how the agency can further simplify the way it works with them.
We've improved the objection process.
In February 2019, we'll be opening service centres for northern communities in the territorial capitals. What people in the north are experiencing is important to us. Their situation is very different from that of people in the south
We've completed installation of the new call centre platform, and it will be functional very soon. Business information requests directed to call centres migrated in November, and the service line for benefit information requests migrated on December 3.
We've also appointed the chief service and data officer, who will ensure the clientele is treated equally in the Canada Revenue Agency's various areas of activity.
We have simplified the agency's letters and forms. Last year we mailed tax packages to Canadians who chose to file their returns on paper, and we will do the same thing this year.
As I mentioned, the agency is still working to put the client at the centre of its actions.
View Michael McLeod Profile
Lib. (NT)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the presenters today.
I have to first of all say how much I appreciate the improved relationship we've had in the north in the last couple of years and the improved communications. I think it's really starting to show in the number of complaints that I've been receiving over the years. The minister stated quite clearly that the process has to be fair and equitable across the country. I think there's a lot of work to be done, and a lot of work has been done. It's my understanding that CRA has recently appointed a chief service officer. How is this appointment going to help in improving fairness at the CRA?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2018-12-11 9:16
Yes, indeed, we did earlier this year appoint a chief service officer at the agency and it's a piece of a broader exercise we have to try to improve service at the CRA and to take an approach more centred on the Canadian taxpayer.
I think in the past we have found ourselves sometimes working in silos within the agency. One part is doing something that is not as connected as it should be to another part. We have to recognize that when we provide services to Canadians we're providing a range of services. It could be telephone calls, correspondence, the website, and we need to take an approach that looks at it from the taxpayers' perspective and that we're providing the services we need to. We did name a chief service officer in that regard, and her job is primarily to look at the way we provide service to Canadians, both digitally and by paper, but across the board, so that comprehensively we can say, yes, we're doing things that make sense for the taxpayer.
We're listening to the feedback that they get. We have different channels to get feedback, whether it's public opinion, research, complaints that come in. We make sure that we're listening to that, and then further make sure that we're taking that information and looking for ways to improve, whether it's how we respond to phone calls or the accessibility of our website. That is really what her job is going to be. If I think of it, it's integrating the activities of the agency so that we can better focus on how we can provide services to Canadians better.
View Michael McLeod Profile
Lib. (NT)
The previous government shut down the only office that existed in the north for CRA. I know when I first got elected, there were a number of complaints coming forward. I think it was a real challenge for many people to try to get the attention of the CRA through the process that was in place. I'm happy to see that there's been some progress in the communications and maybe we could talk about that. I really believe that services have to be equivalent right across this country, and that includes the north. There's been some progress.
Can you talk about some of these things? We've had issues with the northern residency deduction. We've had triggers that were calling for audits and some people have been audited over and over again, but things seems to be moving forward. Can you talk about what you're doing in the north?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2018-12-11 9:18
Yes, I'm happy to talk about that.
Again, I think as we look at the services that we are providing in Canada.... One of the steps we have taken in that regard is in the north, where we're doing, I'd say, three things to try to improve services there.
The first is to provide more access to CRA employees. Putting somebody in an office up there in the north, to answer questions, is something that we are doing. Hopefully, it will help provide better information to taxpayers. What this is all about, and what you'll see in all of our service activities, is trying to better explain to Canadians what is required, what their tax obligations are and how we can make it easier to comply.
We think that providing offices in the north will help in that regard, and we will make CRA people available in those offices. We will be looking to expand the community volunteer program, which goes out to try to help people fill in their taxes. That's one key element.
The second is looking at the northern residents deduction, to see if, as you say, we can uncover any systemic reasons we might be verifying the same people over and over again. We're looking at the algorithms we use that decide how we test and review certain cases. We're also trying to make sure that we better explain earlier on and have good conversations about what the obligations are under the northern residents deduction.
That's a second place where we're trying to do a better job of communicating, explaining and even looking at our process to see if we can simplify it.
A final area was looking at a regulatory change on the low-cost airfare, just to make sure that we didn't have a system in place that was too hard for people to comply with, where you had to pick the lowest airfare on a particular day to be eligible for it under the program. We're looking at ways to simplify that and advance a regulatory change to that effect.
Those are the pieces that we think will help and hopefully reduce some of complaints we get in the north. It's part of a continuing effort to improve our services.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
Thank you, both.
Before I go to Mr. Richards, I did have a question in this area of the chief service officer. At our constituency offices—and I assume most members' constituency offices are in the same situation—we'll get where we're the last stop, and we'll get calls from constituents in tears trying to deal with CRA.
There's no front office service anymore. It used to be fine when people went in and were able to sit down with somebody—in my case, in the Charlottetown office—to talk it through and see what they could do. Maybe their bank account's been frozen, and whether for right or for wrong, there is a feeling among many constituents when they're talking to a CRA representative on the phone, after they get through the queue—sometimes they have to wait a long time—that they're treated like a criminal.
There has to be a different attitude in that regard, because then we get the calls and we try to deal with it through our contacts.
I will say that for MPs, most of the time in the contact we have with CRA, they do their best to help us out, and through that, help the constituent. I just want to put that on the table, that there is a problem for constituents in what they feel the attitude of the CRA individual is toward them. They feel like they've been treated like a criminal. It may have been an innocent mistake on their side or it may not, but their bank account may have been frozen or whatever.
I'm just telling you, that is a problem we have to deal with, Commissioner Hamilton. Will the chief service officer help in that regard? Is there any thought of bringing back front-line services at CRA offices?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2018-12-11 9:23
Mr. Chair, I think very definitely that the chief service officer will help with the kind of perception you have talked about, which I don't like to hear about, frankly. I don't want people being treated like criminals on phone calls, as a starting point. The conversations may evolve down the road depending on how things go—people have to face the consequences of their actions—but we are very much about changing the culture at CRA, as I've said, to being a service provided to the taxpayer and the client.
What I would like to see us do and what we are doing, and where the chief service officer will help, is focusing more on the conversations about educating both sides of the conversation. For us it's making sure that we're explaining to Canadians what they need to do and why. Sometimes, because we deal with so many people, those can be shortcut conversations. They can be abrupt. We're trying to make sure that they are not, that they are fulsome explanations for people. That takes time and resources, but we need to do that to fulfill our service commitments.
We are also going to be paying attention to the feedback we get—because we hear some of the same things that you hear—and make sure that we listen to it, as I've said, but also to try to factor in what we can do about it, how we can correct those issues.
It's not to say that there will never ever be an issue at the CRA, but we need to make sure that we're correcting as many of them as possible, and that as many people as possible feel like they are being treated fairly and respectfully by the CRA. I would want that to be the case in every single interaction that we have.
When we talk about service culture, though, it isn't just the people picking up the phone and talking to you. That's obviously an important element of service, but we are also trying to embed a service culture within the audit and enforcement activities. Yes, we will ultimately need to make sure that the proper amount of taxes are paid, but we need to go about it in a way that tries to educate first. Let's make sure that there's an understanding and work through it, and that way maybe get some long-term compliance. If people understand the obligations and we understand their situation, hopefully we can get on a path of long-term compliance.
Having said that, if there are still issues, we will have to enforce the law and make sure that the proper taxes are paid, because that too is important, for the perception of fairness by other Canadians.
I'm very confident that the chief service officer is going to help us refocus our efforts to provide better service to Canadians. Some of the changes have started, but I look forward to even more changes down the road.
Roger Gauthier
View Roger Gauthier Profile
Roger Gauthier
2018-09-27 12:01
Part of it is political. Services were streamlined. Some offices were closed. Bilingual staff was not necessarily hired, even though Saskatchewan has a fairly large number of bilingual people, on both the francophone and anglophone side. At least 4% of Saskatchewan's population is bilingual. Of that, 1.4% are francophone and the rest participated in an immersion program. After taking an immersion program, people do not necessarily stay in Saskatchewan. Many of our francophones, who are qualified people, move away because they cannot advance in their career.
There are many factors that play a role, but the fact remains that the services are not there.
View Doug Eyolfson Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you for coming, Mr. Thibeau.
You were talking about issues of outreach and about our needing to get better services out to people in isolated areas in the north and, for the services that are available to them, getting the information to them. Have you any suggestions for us as to how we can do that?
Robert Thibeau
View Robert Thibeau Profile
Robert Thibeau
2018-05-22 11:28
Initially when I started four years ago talking about the rangers, it was great news to me that the army had finally taken over the ranger program. That's a very unique program, and it should have been under the army because the rangers are doing army work. That gave them the ability to become and to be classed as reserve soldiers, therefore providing them with Veterans Affairs services, etc.
One of the things for communications—I worked a bit in the north visiting communities and teaching up there—is that there was already a connection up there with the military. The military travels the north quite extensively.
We have a suicide prevention program between DND and VAC. I've brought this up before. Is there a possibility for the senior NCOs or the NCOs who visit these communities to have a sit-down with the veterans of that community and talk about the benefits that Veterans Affairs has? In other words, can we design a package that you can take up north into each community? That's a start, but for that outreach, some of the communities there may not be.... There may be veterans in other communities. The army probably looks after only those communities where they have those rangers who come in, and there may be other communities out there that don't have the access.
I really get troubled when I start thinking about the Internet. I talked to a young Mohawk out there. When he was up in the north, if you got Internet, you were working on slow time, very slow time. That's if you have it. Some communities in the first nations, I believe, may not have the ability to have it, because they're so far into the remote area. If they do have it, it may be in only one location and there's a priority of use.
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2018-05-08 12:53
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Gentlemen, thank you both very much for being here and for the good work you're doing in Saskatchewan. It's really appreciated. Your testimony here today will, I'm sure, lead to some recommendations that we can make to the government to ensure that indigenous veterans are getting better services and more recognition for the incredible military service that indigenous people have given to our country.
Mr. Highway, I'll start with you. You mentioned some of the new programs that are now in place for veterans that were not available when you left the forces back in the 1960s, or whenever it was you were in the service and then left.
You mentioned education and training benefit, help with resumé writing, career assistance, help for families, and the caregiver recognition benefit. All of this is important work. Is there any difference that you see with the delivery of those types of services for indigenous veterans in particular that we should be aware of? Do you think it's just as important to make sure that every person, whether they are an indigenous person living on reserve, off reserve, or Métis, is aware of those services? Do you think there's any difference in how the government should be delivering those services to indigenous people?
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2018-05-08 12:56
If the Department of Veterans Affairs consulted with your organization, for example, and others across the country to find out how they could improve that service delivery model to indigenous veterans, do you think that would be welcomed by your association?
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2018-05-08 12:56
What's your view of how that office is performing right now, as far as its service delivery to veterans in Saskatchewan?
Emile Highway
View Emile Highway Profile
Emile Highway
2018-05-08 12:56
I believe it is required. I think more aboriginal veterans should be made aware of the existence of that office in Saskatoon, so they can access what the office is doing to help them fill out application forms and answer any questions they might have. I think it's necessary that it be there.
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2018-05-08 12:57
It should proactively make sure they are getting the services and programs they are entitled to, rather than sitting back and waiting for indigenous veterans to come to them. Would you agree with that?
View Colin Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Colin Fraser Profile
2018-05-08 12:57
Chief Ross, is there a difference in how services are accessed by indigenous veterans living on reserve or off reserve? Is there a relationship between VAC with any bands, for example, in Saskatchewan, and how they deliver their services?
Steven Ross
View Steven Ross Profile
Steven Ross
2018-05-08 12:58
I don't think there's a difference. I think the problem for first nations veterans, wherever they might be, is knowing where to go. There's an office in Saskatoon, and that should be where they are going, but at the same time, the office doesn't know where the veterans are. That's one of the problems: communication and direction.
But there is no difference that I'm aware of.
Jessica McDonald
View Jessica McDonald Profile
Jessica McDonald
2018-04-17 11:57
For sure. I mean, as I say, there is a very active environment inside Canada Post looking at the strategic options: what our customers need, how our assets are currently being used, and where our investment in network expansion will be put, as well as what that means in terms of downtime in some of our plants and how we may be able to better utilize our entire system. Whether it is alternate day delivery, weekend delivery, or any of the other aspects, these are all always part of the strategic analysis inside Canada Post.
I do imagine that some of these elements, and maybe other ideas as well, will also come up in our discussions toward a new collective agreement, and I look forward to more creative discussion and more ideas about how we can use the system we have and support employees to be successful in continuing to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers.
View Brian Masse Profile
NDP (ON)
View Brian Masse Profile
2018-04-17 11:58
Thank you, Madam Chair. One of the things I want to address is Amazon.
With regard to postal delivery services, Canada Post has carved out a very good strategy by going to markets that might not have been affordable, such as smaller communities, but still doing so because of the principles of Canada Post and an operating philosophy for Canadians that's different from just the bottom line.
The interesting aspect you have is that Amazon is in competition for massive public subsidization, whether it be in the United States or Canada right now, and it is going to be one of your major competitors. Are there any thoughts in terms of what the business plan response is going to be from Canada Post if Amazon receives massive public subsidization?
Clearly, whether it's a facility located in Canada or the United States, there seems to be municipal, provincial or state, and maybe perhaps even, on the U.S. side, federal allocation of dollars to get their operations going for everything from road infrastructure to technology, as well as training dollars. Has there been any thought about that situation? Your competitor is going to receive quite a serious, significant contribution, most likely from the public purse.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Chairman Ellis and fellow members of Parliament, good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs today. I am always glad to meet with you because I know that we share the same goal, supporting the veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families.
Our shared mandate it to ensure that Canada lives up to its duty to provide the care, support, respect, and economic opportunities that veterans deserve for their services to the country.
Before continuing, I would also like thank the committee for its dedication to ensuring that we keep that promise.
When I first appeared before the committee this fall, I was a newly appointed minister, and a lot has changed since then, including December's announcement of the pension for life. It will become another integral part of the package we provide for the well-being of our veterans. The pension for life provides three new benefits.
The pain and suffering compensation recognizes and compensates veterans for the pain and suffering they experience as a result of service-related disability. Additional pain and suffering compensation will be provided for those with severe and permanent service-related impairments causing a barrier to re-establishment in life after service. Veterans will be able to choose to receive those as tax-free monthly payments for life or as a single, non-taxable lump sum, whichever is right for them and their family.
The second component of the pension for life is the income replacement benefit that will provide up to 90% of the veteran's salary at the time of their release from the Canadian Armed Forces. This is for veterans who face barriers to re-establishment caused by health problems resulting primarily from service.
These components will be combined with the wellness benefit included in the New Veterans Charter in order to provide better support to ill and injured veterans as they begin their life after military service.
These components will build on our government's investments in budget 2016 where we increased the amount of the disability award; and as of December, veterans received $650 million. You can see that increase reflected throughout Veterans Affairs vote 5 in the 2017-2018 main estimates and throughout this year's supplementary estimates for the department.
We also increased the earnings loss benefit, which veterans receive while in rehabilitation, to 90% of their pre-release salary. We re-opened the nine offices closed by the previous government and opened a new office in Surrey, as well as expanding outreach to veterans in northern Canada, and we hired more staff.
Going live in two weeks are our budget 2017 initiatives, including the education and training benefit; career transition services; veteran emergency fund; caregiver recognition benefit; the expansion of our successful military family resource centre pilot; the veteran and family well-being fund; the centre of excellence on PTSD and mental health; and the elimination of a time limit on the rehabilitation services and vocational assistance program. I look forward to reporting back throughout the year on the progress in each of these.
The key to these benefits and programs is how we deliver them. Since December, I've had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of veterans, their families, and serving CAF members at town hall meetings. I can tell you how we deliver services and, in many cases, how services are not being delivered comes up loudly, and it comes up often, and for good reason.
When I was here last, I spoke about this committee's reports, “Reaching Out: Improving Service Delivery to Canadian Veterans” and “Mental Health of Canadian Veterans: A Family Purpose”. Many of your recommendations corresponded with what Veterans Affairs own service delivery review identified as key areas of need.
I also said that the department has an action plan to address those recommendations. Among the 91 specific measures to improve veterans' experience, the department has already responded to nearly half of them and I am committed to continuing to implement them by the end of 2020-21.
To accomplish this, we've made a number of fundamental changes to the way that Veterans Affairs works. The most significant one is completely turning around the approach to delivering services. Previously, it was up to the veteran to apply for benefits and services. Our service delivery review report called this the “pull” model. The problem with it was that veterans often did not have enough information to be able to ask the questions that would enable them to apply for benefits. Again, this is something that has come up over and over again with the veterans that I meet.
Therefore, we've flipped that to a push model. Now, Veterans Affairs staff take the initiative to give veterans all the information they need about the services they're eligible for. Let me take a moment to tell you a little more about that.
This month, the department is wrapping up a six-month pilot called guided support. The program assigned a veteran service agent to be the main point of contact at the department for a veteran. The agent gets to know the veteran, their family situation, and their needs and then determines what programs, benefits, and services they're eligible for. The agent helps the veteran navigate through the department's application and delivery system, and coordinates services.
The reactions of participants in the pilot study have been very encouraging. Veterans and families liked the fact that they only had to communicate with one person at the department. They appreciated the support they received in learning about services and benefits and in filling out the right forms to apply for them.
Veterans service agents were also enthusiastic. They like being able to visit veterans at home, getting to know them better, and developing a plan that is tailored to their individual needs. We are about to implement this level of support for all veterans who do not need a case manager, but need more than just a phone call.
However, it's important to realize that the fundamental changes the department has made to the benefits and services, and to the way it delivers them, are having an impact right now on the lives of veterans and their families today.
It's not only through the pilot project that veterans are getting more and better information about the services and benefits they're entitled to; the whole department is adopting the push model. It has made significant progress in improving communications to veterans, families, advocates, and stakeholders, whether in person, by phone, over the Internet, or even by mail.
As a result of these efforts, the number of applications for disability benefits has increased 32% over the past two years. We will ensure that every veteran who comes forward receives what they're entitled to, whether that's 10 veterans or 10,000.
I am here today in regard to supplementary estimates (C). As you can see, Veterans Affairs Canada is seeking $45 million in increased operating expenditures and $132 million in grants and contributions.
Our programs are driven by demand, which is why the bulk of these supplementary estimates will pay for benefits and programs that go directly to veterans, their families, and caregivers. They also include increases to disability awards and allowances, a doubling of the critical injury benefit, money for educational assistance for children of deceased members or veterans, payments for housekeeping and grounds maintenance for veterans, and funding for treatment benefits and operational stress injury clinics.
Chairman Ellis and members of the standing committee, we share a common goal to ensure that Canada's veterans get the support and services they need. Veterans Affairs Canada is working hard to enhance the well-being of veterans and their families.
With further improvements planned for the coming fiscal year and the reinstatement of a pension for life option in 2019, we are making real strides. With the support of this committee, we can continue making progress.
Thank you very much.
View Doug Eyolfson Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for coming.
I don't know who can best answer this, but as you know, the Veterans Affairs offices have been opened across the country. Has that improved the ability to provide services to veterans? Has there been value added to this?
Michel Doiron
View Michel Doiron Profile
Michel Doiron
2018-03-20 12:31
Absolutely it has improved services. People can now go to a local office and get the services locally instead of having to travel. I was quite happy to open them, and we added one, and they're doing great.
View Emmanuella Lambropoulos Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you very much for your answer.
Lastly, what have we done to improve the service for veterans who find themselves in remote or rural areas? Has there been any improvement recently?
Michel Doiron
View Michel Doiron Profile
Michel Doiron
2018-03-20 12:40
Yes. We are now going to the three territories on a rotational basis. That has been, actually, quite successful. We weren't sure what the demand would be. The numbers don't sound like much, maybe 14 in Iqaluit who now have case management, but the reality is that there are 14 getting help now.
We're now exploring a second tier to this, doing northern Quebec and northern Labrador. As you look at the territories, they're also up there. How can we serve those communities?
We have to remember that we have Rangers who actually work up north and are entitled to some of our programming. It's a bit touchy, what they're entitled to and not entitled to, but they are entitled. On a monthly basis, I have a team that goes up to Whitehorse, Yellowknife, or Iqaluit—they alternate. It's actually been going quite well. We have a lot of people. We work with the Legion's service in Canada, and they publicize it. When we arrive the appointments are made, but we still take walk-ins. Actually, the numbers are higher than we anticipated. They're not off the charts, but they're higher than we anticipated.
View Gord Johns Profile
NDP (BC)
There was $42.8 million announced in the budget for service delivery. There are a couple of things. First, we know there are 29,000 vets—according to a report in November that came through the media—waiting for disability claims to be processed. That was an increase of 50% over eight months prior.
Can you identify where that $42.8 million is going? Will it be going to some of this outreach, and also to the backlog? Is that the right amount to get that backlog from 29,000 to zero, because I think we all agree that it needs to be at zero?
View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
This committee, over the years that I've been involved with it, has looked at issues of service delivery. A couple of comments that we've made have been dealing with the issue of being provided information from the moment you sign up and enlist. As you progress, that information is continually given to you as to what you can obtain if certain things should happen. As you progress, you continually learn that. Some of the recommendations that we've made in the past were to do with such information providing that service.
Do you see that as a value or do you see that as a hindrance?
Mark Fuchko
View Mark Fuchko Profile
Mark Fuchko
2018-02-08 12:03
I would say there's value in that, because when I originally got sworn in to the armed forces, there was a whole different benefits package that I was aware of. Then, in 2016, the new Veterans Charter came out and arbitrarily changed the terms of service without my consent.
The briefing I got on the new Veterans Charter was rather shallow on surface, saying there's a new Veterans Charter and it's supposed to be better. That was the extent of the brief I got on it. If there was a longer briefing on it, I can't recall one. I knew nothing about his charter. I saw individuals get injured in 2006 whose benefit package I thought was the same thing I would receive in 2008. Much to my shock and dismay, that was not fact, and I was unaware.
I guess the problem is, as a young gentleman, you're invincible, and you don't feel like you're going to get hurt. Benefit briefings aren't necessarily the most thrilling or gripping entertainment you can have in the army. Whether I received a brief that was really thorough or in depth, or I even paid attention to it, I don't recall. That's one of the issues we have. I think it may be a symptom of who's there and the way it's delivered.
View Cathay Wagantall Profile
CPC (SK)
So, there are some significant issues there for some folks, obviously, as they're transitioning.
I have a quick question, too, with regard to making things better for them so they don't come to the point where you're needing to help them.
We heard testimony earlier from the Veterans Transition Network. You're probably familiar with the services they provide.
How important do you think it would be to have those kinds of services actually be the priority as our members are looking at possibly facing the decision to no longer be part of their service at an earlier time?
Debbie Lowther
View Debbie Lowther Profile
Debbie Lowther
2018-02-08 12:31
I think it's imperative that those services be offered earlier. I 100% agree with what Oliver said: that he would like to see the Veterans Transition Network become a service provider to DND as well as VAC. I think that would be a wonderful thing.
I know that with our organization we also are trying to work our way through the DND door to educate them a little bit more on the services that we do provide. There are members who release and appear to be doing just fine. Then they kind of fall on hard times and need us. I think that it's important for DND to make its members aware of the resources that are available when they do release.
View Darrell Samson Profile
Lib. (NS)
Thank you both very much for your presentations.
Ms. Lowther, I really appreciate your coming here and also the work you do in Nova Scotia, my home province. I find it amazing when I hear stories about veterans and how you are able to help them. I sometimes wonder what we would do if you and your team were not there.
Your outreach is right across Canada. I only have four minutes and I have about four more questions. In 45 seconds, can you tell us how you provide the service right across Canada?
Debbie Lowther
View Debbie Lowther Profile
Debbie Lowther
2018-02-08 12:48
As you said, we did start in Nova Scotia. Through the power of social media, actually, we were able to expand our reach across the country and encourage like-minded, caring, Canadians to step up and volunteer.
We do things in two ways, proactively and reactively. Proactively, our volunteers actually go out into the streets and visit the shelters. You know that, as you've come out with us before. We actively go looking for veterans who may be in crisis. Reactively, we take referrals from Veterans Affairs case managers, from shelter staff, and from veterans themselves or family members. Our reach is wide. We have a large volunteer database, so we're able to assist veterans pretty much anywhere.
View Bernadette Jordan Profile
Lib. (NS)
I know you can only speak to Siksika, but the ability to offer services in remote and rural areas, because a lot of our reserves are in very remote areas, I'm wondering how we overcome those kinds of challenges. I'm looking for any kind of feedback so the federal government can play a role to make sure we are able to deliver services needed in areas outside a concentrated area.
Stephanie Weasel Child
View Stephanie Weasel Child Profile
Stephanie Weasel Child
2017-12-12 12:45
I think they would have to advocate and put more dollars into training to go to the high schools on reserve and pull out students who have an interest in working in the justice system and corrections and legal, and advocate for them to get some training. Put in the training dollars, because you can't just say this is necessary. I hope they get it. There has to be a concrete solution, a program offered within these remote communities where they can identify or take five students, bring them to Winnipeg or Saskatoon or Edmonton, train them, and then encourage them to go back to work on their reserve.
Lois Frank
View Lois Frank Profile
Lois Frank
2017-12-12 12:46
I think it's really important. The federal government can only do so much. It has to be the leaders in our community, and I'm hard on our tribal leaders. The federal government can make it mandatory, make it so chiefs and councils can focus on looking after their members and their children, and implement justice programs that work, rather than having something external.
View Paul Lefebvre Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Paul Lefebvre Profile
2017-11-30 16:06
Excellent.
I have one last question.
There is something we have heard from several witnesses over the passed two years, since I have been on this committee. That is the notion of services that are managed for and by the main parties concerned. I know you're asking the province to play a role in the management of day cares, but we wonder whether the community could also play a role. Often in small villages, these services are managed for and by the official language minority. In Ontario, for instance, there are services managed by francophones for francophones.
What role should the community play to ensure services are managed by and for the communities concerned?
View Jean-Yves Duclos Profile
Lib. (QC)
That is another very good question.
There are two things.
First, the community and the associations that represent the community groups are consulted before we agree, and before we sign the action plans. We conduct a broad consultation exercise in each of the provinces and territories to ensure that the organizations that represent minority francophone or anglophone communities are involved in the preparation of these action plans.
Second, in every case I can remember, a large part of the work is done through these community organizations, which are sometimes national in scale. That is the case in Ontario, since it is a vast province. Things are somewhat more concentrated, however, in Nova Scotia. So, we we work with the associations that represent francophone educational day care services in Ontario. Afterwards, most of the time francophone school boards do the work to ensure that early childhood services are well integrated into the educational services that follow early childhood. It depends on the circumstances, but that is often where the best work is done, that is to say when early childhood education services are integrated into the educational services that oversee them, and when this goes through existing structures. As we were saying earlier, this allows us to avoid situations where children in minority communities are sent to bilingual or immersion day cares. These services do not offer the quality we are seeking. It is preferable that things be done another way.
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
I will start, Madam Chair, as the returning regular here.
I'm pleased to be back here today, on the traditional Algonquin territory, to present the department's supplementary estimates (B) for the 2017-18 fiscal year. As you know, this is my first appearance before your committee, as the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, so I'm also looking forward to discussing my mandate letter with all of you. I'm also very pleased to be joined by my colleague, the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services, whom you will be hearing from shortly.
I am joined by Hélène Laurendeau, the deputy minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs; Joe Wild, the senior assistant deputy minister for treaties and aboriginal government; and chief financial officer Paul Thoppil.
In supplementary estimates (B), we are requesting a total of $445 million.
Supplementary estimates (B) represent a net increase of $445.1 million. It comprises mainly the $200 million payment for the Crees of Eeyou Istchee settlement payment; $91.8 million for comprehensive land claims, treaty-related and self-government agreements; $52.2 million for specific claims settlements; $23.7 million for urban programming for indigenous peoples; and $21.6 million for Métis rights and Métis relationships with the federal department. This brings the total investments for the department to approximately $11.3 billion for 2017-18 to address the needs of indigenous peoples and northerners.
I would be very happy to provide a more detailed breakdown of these expenditures during the question and answers, but in my opening remarks I would like to just highlight a couple of things.
Last summer we signed the historic agreement on Cree nation governance, a true nation-to-nation effort based on partnership and respect for the traditional way of life of the Crees. This agreement is an important step forward in expanding the existing governance regime of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. As I noted, these supplementary estimates include $200 million to make the final settlement to the Crees of Eeyou Istchee in accordance with the new relationship agreement. The payment is conditional on corresponding legislation being passed. We are currently working with the Cree nation on the draft legislation. We anticipate having legislation ready in the winter. We are requesting the money through supplementary estimates (B) so that we can move expeditiously when that legislation is passed.
I also want to thank the committee for looking at both specific and comprehensive claims policies through your ongoing study. I look forward to reviewing your recommendations, as the government is absolutely committed to significant reform in both areas. These supplementary estimates include a re-profiling of $52.2 million from 2016-17 to 2017-18 for specific claims settlements. As we have discussed at this committee before, this is part of the government's usual practice of maintaining an ongoing source of funds by rolling it over, year over year, so that the money is available as soon as a claim is resolved.
I want to make it clear that this is not a matter of lapsing money. It's a matter of prudent policy. It was always the intention of the government to maintain a claims envelope over a number of years to fund this process. Having the money earmarked for this specific purpose underscores the government's commitment to resolving these claims in a fair and respectful manner.
Our government has also heard the concerns that first nations have with the specific claims process. We share those concerns and are working in partnership to identify fair and practical measures to improve the process. We are currently engaged in ongoing discussions with first nations and first nation organizations to identify and implement measures to improve the specific claims process. A joint technical working group with the AFN has been working on specific claims process reform.
This work, and your recommendations, will inform our efforts to reform and improve how we resolve specific claims.
We are committed to increasing the number of modern treaties and new self-government agreements in a manner that reflects a recognition of rights approach for individual first nation communities. I look forward to receiving this committee's recommendations on how we can improve these processes as well. We are already engaging in discussions with indigenous groups through the recognition of indigenous rights and self-determination discussions. These are more flexible discussions about finding areas of jurisdiction that indigenous communities or groups can draw down to move them closer to self-determination.
These initiatives are at the core of my new mandate. We know that strong governance and self-determination are the greatest contributing factors to the social and economic health of a community.
That brings me to the second topic of today's meeting, which is my new mandate.
A little more than 20 years ago, RCAP recommended that Canada dramatically improve the delivery of services to indigenous people while accelerating a move to self-government and self-determination. We agree with RCAP that rights recognition must be an imperative. We know that relationships built on colonial structures have contributed to the unacceptable socio-economic gap. That is why the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of INAC and the creation of two new departments.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs will advance reconciliation objectives and will lead on northern programming and Arctic policy. We must continue to address the day-to-day realities in indigenous communities directly, but we must also build a path to systemic change. The creation of two new departments is about dissolving a patriarchal, colonial structure that was designed to support the Indian Act.
This will allow us to focus our efforts on building strong, respectful, collaborative relationships between the crown and indigenous peoples. It's about understanding that we have to work together in a new way. We now get to rebuild two new departments in a way where form follows function.
A key part of my mandate is to lead a consultation process to determine how to achieve this goal.
In building this new system, we want to hear from indigenous people, people whose communities and nations existed in this land since time immemorial. We are listening to what indigenous groups have to say about their own vision of reconciliation.
Jane's department, which you will hear from in a moment, is focused on closing the gaps in the socio-economic outcomes, but we have to go beyond the federal government delivering services to indigenous people.
We must work to ensure that those services can be delivered and controlled by indigenous communities themselves.
We are working to achieve the goal of services being delivered and controlled by indigenous communities and indigenous-led institutions. My job is to help build indigenous governments and indigenous institutions that will deliver those programs that were once delivered by INAC.
Self-determination—the right to make choices about your community, your government, and your future—is a fundamental right. We know that if we truly want to move forward in partnership and reconciliation we need to look differently at the way we build crown-indigenous relationships. Part of my job is to make sure there is a whole-of-government approach—a sustainable approach—to these relationships to ensure all government departments are doing their part on the path to reconciliation and achieving the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
I look forward to answering your questions.
View Jane Philpott Profile
Ind. (ON)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thanks to all of you for welcoming me here today with my honourable colleague, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. I very much look forward to discussing the supplementary estimates (B), as well as my mandate, with the members of this committee.
I also want to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I want to thank this committee for your excellent work on a number of issues, including, of course, your important work on the study of the suicide crisis in indigenous communities. I want to thank you also for your work on the matter of third party management systems. Most recently, I know that you are doing a study on wildfires and fire safety on reserve, and I very much look forward to hearing the results of that study.
I look forward to building a positive working relationship with the committee as we work together to chart a path forward and advance reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
I'm privileged to be here today as Canada's first Minister of Indigenous Services. As Minister Bennett has already explained to you, the former Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs has been replaced by two distinct departments that are part of our transformative work in relationships with indigenous peoples.
Transforming how we structure ourselves, how we're sharing information, and how we're working with our partners and clients is helping to advance the nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-crown, and government-to-government relationships. The creation of this new Department of Indigenous Services is an important step in forging that renewed relationship with indigenous peoples that is based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. You'll have heard those words before, to the point that they may sound to you like buzzwords. Each of them carries deep meaning, and they are very intentional, such that we repeat them on a number of occasions.
I have been given a mandate to overhaul the way that programs and services for indigenous peoples are designed, developed, and delivered, and to do that in partnership with indigenous peoples.
With indigenous partners, we will ensure that our significant investments will produce real and improved results. Together we must close the unacceptable socio-economic gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada.
Madam Chair, we made a commitment to Canadians to pursue reconciliation with a renewed sense of collaboration, so I will be engaging and working productively with indigenous leaders and communities to identify and realize the systemic reforms that we all acknowledge are long overdue.
Much more than a name change, establishing a department whose sole purpose is to improve the quality and delivery of services in partnership with indigenous peoples underscores a desire to implement transformative change.
As the Prime Minister has said, “No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with indigenous peoples.”
The entire reason for this change is to enable first nations, Inuit, and Métis people to build the capacity to make their own decisions and deliver their own programs and services to fully implement their right to self-determination. That includes everything from family services and community infrastructure to health and education programs.
Once that is achieved, it is our hope and plan that there will no longer be a need for a Department of Indigenous Services. That won't be accomplished overnight, of course. In the meantime, the department has an ongoing responsibility to ensure the high-quality programs and services that indigenous peoples need, including improved access to services for indigenous children through programs such as Jordan's principle.
I want to take a few moments to elaborate on that. As this committee knows, the principle is named after Jordan River Anderson who died at Norway House Hospital in 2005 at the age of five after a dispute between federal and provincial governments as to who was responsible to pay for his care. In 2007, some of you were in the House of Commons, and others know that the House of Commons passed a motion declaring that jurisdictional disputes should never interfere with first nations children getting care. That motion was passed in 2007, but it was not implemented. Up until 2015, there were zero cases in which children received care based on this principle. Last year, we broadened the definition of Jordan's principle. We reiterated our plan to fully implement it, and we set aside enough funds to do so.
To date, we have approved more than 24,000 cases under that principle. These are children who were previously denied care and are now receiving mental health supports, respite care, medical equipment, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and more. Jordan's principle is being implemented to ensure that no child who requires care will go without it. No one should be left behind, no matter who they are or where they live.
In that spirit, I am very pleased this morning as well to announce that, along with the parties to the cases before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, an agreement has been reached to amend two aspects of CHRT's orders. The amendments address the CHRT's May 2017 ruling that the Government of Canada was seeking to clarify in a judicial review application to the Federal Court. As a result, Canada is withdrawing the federal application.
Madam Chair, I want to be very clear that how and by whom programs and services for indigenous peoples are developed and delivered must and will change. We know we must do more and do better. There is still criticism that we are not doing enough and not doing it fast enough. Let me respond in this way. Turning around the effects of generations of historic injustice and systemic discrimination against Canada's indigenous peoples could never be done fast enough.
In my mandate letter, I was directed to “leverage the ingenuity and understanding of Indigenous Peoples as well as experts from the private sector, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments and international experts on service delivery.” Working closely with indigenous peoples and these other important partners, my departmental officials and I will promote innovative approaches to all programs and services that increase equality of opportunity for indigenous peoples.
We intend to move forward on several key fronts. I'd be happy to elaborate on any of them. Let me itemize a few. We are taking an approach to transform the way health care is delivered in first nation communities. We are working with first nations to develop and enable their own solutions to address critical issues that are directly impacting their communities. We're developing and implementing an improved response, along with our partners, to child welfare to make sure the best interests of the child always come first. This requires a holistic approach focused on prevention, family preservation, family well-being and reunification, and community wellness. We will be discussing this with our partners at an emergency meeting on indigenous child and family services in the new year.
Improving essential infrastructure for indigenous communities, including housing, is another of our priorities.
We're also supporting the implementation of a distinct indigenous framework as part of a national early learning and child care framework that takes into consideration the unique needs of first nations, Inuit, and Métis children.
We're undertaking a review of all current federal programs that support indigenous students pursuing a post-secondary education to ensure the programs meet the needs of individual students and lead to high graduation rates.
We're leveraging investments in indigenous youth and sport, and promoting culturally relevant sport to strengthen indigenous identity and cultural pride.
We are promoting economic development opportunities in indigenous communities that improve the standard of living and quality of life of local residents.
Through supplementary estimates (B) this year, we have funded the new urban programming for indigenous peoples initiative, which has been designed to assist first nations, Inuit, and Métis living in or transitioning to urban centres. I would be happy to discuss the programming in detail.
In every instance, we will adopt a rigorous results-and-delivery approach that translates into real and meaningful changes in the lives of indigenous peoples. We have an obligation to seize this opportunity for bold change.
Madam Chair, rest assured we will engage and cooperate with indigenous peoples to determine the best way forward before we take action in these priority areas.
As we implement this ambitious agenda together, I have little doubt that together we can make great progress resulting in a measurable difference in the lives of indigenous peoples. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much. Meegwetch. Nakurmiik.
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
2017-11-30 12:21
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Gary.
Welcome to both ministers. I congratulate both you and the government for dissolving that entrenched, paternalistic, colonial structure that I think everyone in this room recognizes was a challenge to deal with. I'm optimistic about the change in that approach.
No one will disagree with me that Inuit are indigenous people in this country. My question is for Minister Philpott.
When you talk about indigenous services, which specific services? There are some that specify first nations. For my benefit and knowing where to go, what specific services for Inuit and Nunavut will we deal with under the new and improved department?
View Jane Philpott Profile
Ind. (ON)
Thank you. It's an excellent question.
As I indicated earlier, we work very closely with Inuit leaders in our work here. In fact, the Prime Minister established something called a permanent bilateral mechanism. We signed it almost a year ago now, an agreement between the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the representative of the four Inuit land claim organizations and governments, and our government on an Inuit-crown partnership committee. That is one of the tables that really drives our work forward in terms of setting the priorities of what Inuit want us to work on most urgently.
As it relates to my department, I can give you a few examples of that. One that I'm really enjoying, because it's so important, is the work that we're doing around our commitment to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit Nunangat. This is something that's been a very, very long time coming. We've put together a task force within that committee. I've asked them, and Natan Obed has also commissioned this task force to come up with a very detailed plan as to how we're going to eliminate tuberculosis and what it's going to take. It's going to take things like housing. We have a really interesting approach to working with Inuit on a specific housing strategy for them. There is a whole range of services within our department.
I acknowledged in the past that Inuit have not necessarily known what their role is in terms of services. We are making sure that is clarified going forward.
View Seamus O'Regan Profile
Lib. (NL)
Mr. Chairman, fellow members of Parliament, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for the first time. I appreciate the good work that members do on behalf of Canadian veterans and their families. I want to thank you for the hard work that went into your most recent reports, “Reaching out: Improving Service Delivery to Canadian Veterans” and “Mental Health of Canadian Veterans: a Family Purpose”. The former already precipitated a great deal of change since it was tabled a year ago and the latter is very near to my heart as a long-term advocate for mental health awareness.
We have been taking action on your recommendations to ensure the programs that we deliver are efficient, valued, and meet the needs of our veterans. As I'm sure you're aware, our own internal report, “Delivering Service Excellence”, released earlier this year, complemented many of the recommendations that you made. We are committed to improving our current system. We have a plan in place to address the recommendations. We are hard at work implementing them. We are overhauling how we deliver services. While it will take five years to successfully complete the transition, 90% of the recommendations will be completed within three years. A few of the things that will take longer rely on other government departments or policy changes that are outside our authority.
Those changes are key improvements to the many systems, services, support measures, benefits and programs that veterans need to successfully transition to civilian life. I am proud to take office during this pivotal time in order to help implement them.
I talk many times about my own connection to the Canadian Armed Forces: the fact that I grew up at CFB Goose Bay, and that my brother Danny is a lieutenant commander in the Royal Canadian Navy. Actually, growing up at CFB Goose Bay—I don't know if I've ever told you, Mr. Chair—I was taught at a very early age that Trenton was nirvana. All the CAF forces at CFB Goose Bay couldn't wait to get back to Trenton. I said, “Someday I have to visit it.”
In discussions with my brother, he made me aware of some of the challenges even before I came into this role. It was quite fitting and an honour and a privilege to be named Minister of Veterans Affairs and the Associate Minister of National Defence, and to work alongside members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, veterans, and their families. This has given me the opportunity to take on these essential tasks of improving service delivery, closing the seam between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada, and ensuring financial security for the most seriously ill and injured veterans.
We are here today to talk about what my department is doing, how the supplementary estimates reflect our approach to veterans' well-being, our accomplishments, and the work that remains to be done. Specifically, Veterans Affairs will receive an additional $26.1 million in these supplementary estimates, a 0.6% increase to $4.7 billion.
Before I speak to where we increased our estimates for new programs, it's important to point out that 90% of that budget figure represents payments directly to veterans and their families. For many veterans, this means the pain and suffering disability award in recognition of her or his injury. More than that, though, it goes to the earnings loss benefit of 90% of their pre-release salary, paid out during vocational rehabilitation. It also goes to the vocational rehabilitation that works with the veteran through the injury, which might be a barrier to finding her or his new normal.
If that veteran cannot re-establish after rehabilitation, it provides through the extended earnings loss benefit of 90% of pre-release salary paid out until the age of 65. It also goes to the career impact allowance if the veteran has a severe and permanent impairment, and to the career impact allowance supplement if that impairment results in a diminished earning capacity.
When a veteran turns 65, it goes to the retirement income security benefit or the supplementary retirement benefit.
Ultimately, all veterans who come to one of our many area offices can now be assured that most of our funding is used to recognize their pain and suffering and to set up and maintain wellness programs that provide a safety net during their recovery.
Let me say this again because it's an important point. Ultimately, for any veteran who comes to the door of one of our many area offices today, they can rest assured that the majority of our funding is going towards recognizing their pain and suffering, and establishing and maintaining the well-being programs that provide a safety net while they are mending.
But we still have work to do. We are enhancing the financial security and wellness elements of the new Veterans Charter to help veterans and their families transition to civilian life and make choices about what they want to do next, whether it be work, education, or other activities.
These supplementary estimates (B) primarily include funding for several budget 2017 initiatives. This funding and our overall guiding focus is about improving the lives of Canadian veterans, whether it be through enhanced education and employment services, the new caregiver recognition benefit that will provide $1,000 a month tax-free to the informal caregiver, or other critical programs we introduced in budget 2017, which will be implemented on April 1, 2018.
Of course, some of the funding went to the Invictus Games Toronto 2017, where veterans and active military members alike embraced the power of sport as they pushed through barriers and proudly represented our country. While it was an incredible event for the millions of spectators, I know there are many veterans who need more support from us, and that's why we're here today.
We are on the right track to improving our support for veterans. For example, of the 67,000 individuals who received the disability award increase reflected in these estimates, which put approximately $700 million in the pockets of our veterans, around 37,000 received their amended payment immediately, as a result of our move towards a fully automated system.
Having already done so much in reinforcing the benefits that make up our wellness model and bolstering the successes of the new Veterans Charter, we will announce more details on our monthly pension option for veterans shortly. We know this is an eagerly awaited announcement. We are committed to giving veterans and their families the best options to ensure their financial security and getting them the best possible support in their post-military lives.
We are all here to serve Canada's veterans. At the end of the day, those who need our assistance now or in the future need to know that we are here to assist them, and that we will continue to expand and adapt to the needs of our growing and diverse veterans community, especially with the help of this committee.
Thank you for your time.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-30 8:48
Thank you.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our fall 2017 report on Canada Revenue Agency's call centres. Joining me at the table is Martin Dompierre, the principal who was responsible for the audit.
Every year, taxpayers have questions about their taxes. The agency's telephone call centres are an important way for members of the public to obtain tax information, especially for those who do not have Internet access, those who are uncomfortable using computers, and those who cannot find answers on the agency's website.
Our audit looked at whether the Canada Revenue Agency's call centres provided Canadians with timely access to accurate information. We focused on calls received on three of the call centre's telephone lines—one for individuals, one for businesses, and one about benefit payments. We also examined the agency's methods of assessing and reporting on its call centres' performance.
Overall, we found that the agency did not provide timely access to accurate information.
We found that the agency blocked 29 million calls, which was more than half the calls it received. The agency monitored how long callers waited to speak with an agent. When the average wait time approached two minutes, the agency either blocked calls, usually by giving them a busy signal, or directed them to the automated self-service system.
The agency told us that callers would prefer a busy signal or an automated message to waiting more than two minutes to speak with an agent. However, the agency had not surveyed callers to verify this assumption. As a result, callers had to make an average of three or four call attempts in a week, and even after several attempts, some callers still didn't reach an agent.
Through our tests, we found that the rate of agent errors was significantly higher than what the agency estimated. Call centre agents gave us inaccurate information almost 30% of the time. This is similar to the test results of other assessors and significantly higher than the error rate estimated by the Canada Revenue Agency.
We found that the agency’s quality control system didn't test the accuracy of agents’ responses effectively or independently, so the results of its tests were unreliable. For example, in most cases, agents knew that their calls were being monitored, which may have encouraged them to change their behaviours to improve their performance.
Finally, the agency reported that about 90% of callers were able to reach either the self-service system or call centre agent. However, we found that percentage didn't account for the calls it blocked, which were more than half its total call volume.
Only 36% of all calls made to the agency's call centres reached either an agent or a self-serve system and lasted a minute or more. Furthermore, by blocking calls or redirecting them to the self-service function, the agency was able to report that it achieved its two-minute service standard for agent wait times.
We are pleased to report that the Canada Revenue Agency has agreed with all of our recommendations and has committed to taking corrective action.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you.
View Chandra Arya Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Chandra Arya Profile
2017-11-30 9:28
In your response, you say that you're proud of the work that your employees carry out every day. Who are those managers who gave you the internal report stating that 90% of the callers were able to reach you? That is a totally inaccurate report. Are you still proud of those managers who are responsible for that?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:28
I'm actually very proud of the people who work at the CRA. I spent my first year visiting most if not all of the call centres. I've sat beside some of the people answering the phones, and I've sat in the rooms where they're trying to direct the calls through the system we have.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:28
I want to say that I am actually very proud of the people who work on our systems, and I think they're doing the best job they can with the technology they have. They've actually shown some innovation and a lot of integrity here.
We're going to give them the tools they want. On the reporting side, in the past we have focused our reporting on meeting the “80% within two minutes” objective. We are now broadening that out to, I think, provide a more comprehensive view of what's going on.
As I said earlier—
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:29
Right. We have focused on the 80% within two minutes. We are now going to provide more comprehensive reporting. In the departmental results report, we started to report on the more complete picture. Yes, there is that. If you get through, it's within two minutes, but we know that there are people who are not getting through. We want to report on that and we want to make progress on all of those fronts.
For example, that's one of the reasons why we experimented with increasing the wait time to see if we could change that, because it is a choice that has to be made in terms of how many people can come through and how quickly they can be served, until we get the new technology, which will allow us to provide wait times to people, and they can choose whether they'd like to wait.
View Chandra Arya Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Chandra Arya Profile
2017-11-30 9:30
Were the resources a constraint for you at any time in order to improve the technology and deliver better service to taxpayers?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:30
In that regard, I think, we always do the best we can with the resources we have. We don't have infinite resources, so we always have to make choices about what we do.
I'm telling you now that we are going to be investing in this technology, but I don't want to give you the sense that it's just technology. That will be a big help to us, but we are taking steps before then. We need to look at our systems. We need to look at our training. All of those things will be ongoing pressures.
The other thing I haven't mentioned, which is interesting to note, is that service is a more comprehensive vehicle than just call centres, and we have to think about the information that we provide in general in the service area. How's our website? Can people go there and get the information they want, to the point where they don't need to call as often?
We're looking at all of the aspects of how we provide information to Canadians, but today we're talking about the call centres. Technology will be a big change for us, but we also, as I said, are looking at our training and our systems and making sure that we're giving our people all the tools they need.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:32
I am not very surprised by the results.
We knew there were problems with access. We made the choice to have a wait time of less than two minutes, but that was necessary because clients were getting a busy signal. The result as to the veracity of the answers shows that there is certainly room for improvement, as well as the fact that our report is perhaps not as transparent as it should be.
There are things to be improved, but it is not a big surprise.
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Hamilton, your service failed to deliver 84% of the time. It failed 84% of the time.
You say you are not surprised, but what did you do not to be surprised? How can it be that you are not surprised that your service did not work 84% of the time?
That is unacceptable, sir.
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:33
I will not comment on that 84%.
Overall, we have to improve the training for agents and make sure that the answers provided to taxpayers are accurate.
Also, we have to continually improve the agency's services.
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Okay, we can all improve in life, we get that.
Yet with an 84% failure rate, you do not need to improve; you need to shake things up or else we have to start over from scratch. Come on, it is not a question of improving. You need a change in course and a kick in the backside to get things working properly.
Mr. Hamilton, if you wanted to hire someone and they got 16% on their test, would you hire them?
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Hamilton, do you realize that what you just said is an insult to the 84% of people who call and do not get the service to which they are entitled and which they pay for?
Bob Hamilton
View Bob Hamilton Profile
Bob Hamilton
2017-11-30 9:35
That is why we have an action plan to improve the situation.
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Hamilton, what I find very disappointing is the way you are talking about this as though it were a question of making a few improvements. We are talking about an 84% failure rate. What is needed here is not an improvement: you need to completely review the structure and, above all, the culture.
How have you been able to keep your job with an 84% failure rate?
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