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.
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