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 Shaun Chen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much. I want to start off by thanking the Auditor General and his team for their outstanding work and this set of reports.
I want to echo the concerns that have been expressed by my colleagues around the table, particularly Mr. Christopherson. He pointed to the Auditor General's opening statement in which he expressed the overall message that audit after audit, year after year, we still see that departments are focused on their own activities, not on the citizens' perspectives.
We've talked around the table today about the concerns of citizens, the experiences of citizens, the service to citizens. I want to start off by taking a moment to first deconstruct this terminology, because I believe it's very important that we are clear on who we serve. That, to me, is Canadians, in the most general, broadest, and most inclusive sense, whether we are talking about the oral health of first nations and Inuit children, or Syrian refugees who have now been welcomed to their new home, or indigenous women offenders who are not provided with culturally appropriate programs, or women offenders in general who are subjected to correctional programs designed for men, not women. To me, we need to be clear that we are talking about all Canadians and to understand who they are and be able to provide the types of services and programming that very clearly meet the needs of all Canadians.
With that said, I want to focus on the audit with respect to the Phoenix pay system.
Exhibit 1.2 on page 7 of the Auditor General's report shows a graph of the number of public servants with outstanding pay requests in 46 departments and agencies. This graph shows very clearly that over the course of two years, under the Miramichi pay centre, there were 15,000 public servants with outstanding pay requests. That number goes up to 35,000 in January 2016, when Phoenix was first adopted, and then we see an exponential increase in the number of outstanding pay requests, going up to the latest number, in June 2017, of 150,000.
If I were to take this graph at face value, I would understand it to be what it is described as—46 departments and agencies, the public services under those departments. However, reading the report tells me something a bit different. It points out that these outstanding pay requests were not capturing the information from all 46 departments over those two years, because some of them were not on board with those systems.
I'd like to hear the Auditor General's comment on what this means. To me, at face value, it means a significant and very worrisome increase in the number of cases. However, reading the report tells me that this increase can be attributed to departments that perhaps were not on the Miramichi pay system or the Phoenix pay system at certain points in time.
I'd like to hear the Auditor General's comments.
Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2017-11-23 10:07
I'll start trying to give you an explanation, and I'll ask Mr. Goulet for more details.
The graph is dealing with just the 46 departments, so it is dealing with the departments that were being served by the Miramichi pay centre. Certainly by the time all of the second wave was done, everything had been transferred, and everything that happened after that was happening in the new pay system, but of course there was a transition period in getting the 46 departments' pay requests all processed at the Miramichi pay centre. That would have happened over a period of time as their pay advisers were removed and the services were starting to be provided at the Miramichi pay centre.
I'm not sure, and maybe Mr. Goulet has the details, about exactly when those services started to move over to the pay centre, at what pace those 46 departments moved over, and by what time all of that was completed.
I'll ask Mr. Goulet to provide those details if he has them.
View Jennifer O'Connell Profile
Lib. (ON)
My last question is with regard to training for front-line workers. We heard testimony yesterday that front-line workers often don't understand whether there are new proposals or new benefits or how to interpret them. The testimony yesterday was that veterans are being denied just because the front-line or the intake person doesn't want to or doesn't know how to interpret whether they are qualified or not. It requires the veterans themselves to appeal constantly, and some just give up.
What is being done with any of these changes to ensure that the front-line intake people who are working with these veterans actually know what the policies are, know who is qualified, and ensure that anybody who is entitled actually receives the benefit?
Faith McIntyre
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Faith McIntyre
2017-05-18 12:16
Thank you again for that question. It's a very important one.
I acknowledge that the system is complex and is not necessarily the easiest to manoeuvre through, whether from a client perspective or at times even from a staff perspective.
As you know, we've made a significant investment in order to hire about 400 new employees directly in the field and in the service delivery area. We have developed a very robust national orientation training program that all of our new field staff have gone through—and will be going through, if they are very recent hires. Part of it is certainly explanation of policy and of benefits, and it includes explanation of systems.
As well, we will be rolling that orientation out to all of our existing staff to make sure that everybody is at the same level of understanding. Even more so, for example, in my area in policy, the training and orientation will also be offered to staff in other areas of the organization.
More specifically to your point, we also just completed a service delivery review. One outcome of that service delivery review acknowledged that communication needs to be more assured in terms of the way we communicate, from a functional direction perspective, with the field. As well, there needs to be a reduction of complexity, in the numbers of policies, of business processes; it ties back even to the legislative authorities that we have.
How can we best simplify that work going forward? We have already reduced our policies by more than 200 in the last few years. We are also looking, as an example, through what we're doing with the budget implementation act, putting in this waiver whereby, if we already have all of the information on file, we would be able to make a decision without having to have contact directly with the veteran to get further information. We can then also look at what other benefits they would be eligible for and make decisions on those. That should reduce the, as you said, unfortunate need for the veteran to be constantly going back and forth and possibly even requesting reviews and appeals.
It's certainly something we're very aware of through the training, orientation, and even our service delivery review action plan. We are looking actively at moving forward.
Richard Kurland
View Richard Kurland Profile
Richard Kurland
2017-04-10 15:31
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It's indeed an honour and a privilege to appear before the committee. I'd like to preface my remarks with a description of the decades of intervention on this particular issue.
The immigration consulting issue encompasses the protection of people desirous of becoming Canadians and desirous of visiting our country. I'll distill the issues plainly and simply. When it comes to the issue of immigration consultants, the key is who can fix this and how to motivate the institution to fix this.
I've read the submissions of other witnesses appearing before the committee. What seems clear to me is that there is only one single entity capable of handling the immigration consultant issues and that is the department, not the provincial level and not the regulatory authorities, provincial or federal. Only our public servants, working within the immigration department, can truly and practically get to the bottom of this. Why? It is only the department that has the capability of identifying who accesses our immigration operational system. It is the department that controls this access. The department has the tools and mechanisms to prevent contact with the departmental systems, and the department has the means to allow access.
The two obstacles preventing resolution of the immigration consultant issue for over 20 years are basic. The first level is unseen. Our governance in Canada, for social engineering purposes, in terms of multi-year, long-term strategy, emanates from the Privy Council Office. Within that office, there is a directive to prevent the judiciarization of Canadian society. We do not want a litigious society as it appears in our neighbour to the south. Consequently, when it comes to dealing with immigration consultants, there is a hidden unseen directive to prevent the legalization, the judiciarization, of the issue.
On the other hand, there is the desire to offload client contact from the department, where possible. What does this mean? This means that the department prefers to have a three-tier delivery system. Tier one includes members of Parliament and senators, preferred service; tier two has the regulated professions, lawyers and consultants; and tier three has unrepresented members of the public.
Here's where I'll conclude my opening remarks. The cheapest, easiest, most direct way to resolve this is to require third party representation on every application for service. In this manner, the applicants are driven to publicly regulated individuals: licensing, insurance, protection of the public. It allows the applicants to pay for service.
It should not be mandatory, but a preferred service system for represented applicants would go a long way to preventing abuse and would save the department money by using trained officials—lawyers and consultants who are regulated. It is going to be up to the department to make this decision. It can do it now. It has the artificial intelligence mechanisms in the incoming application processing system to do this.
To sum up, all you've been hearing to date have been different sides of the elephant, how it got into the room, and individual concerns and group concerns. At the heart of all this is the key, the central decision, on the part of our immigration public servants to allow access to third party representatives, and reward applications with third party representation with preferred service times, or more reliability in terms of the product that's entering the system.
I hear the self-interest bell ringing, but over 20 to 25 years I have not come up with a better solution, other than hiving off ever greater chunks of the operational delivery system onto the offices of our elected officials.
Those are my opening remarks. Thank you.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
I'm sorry to interrupt. I want to leave some time for my colleague, Ms. Harder.
Mr. Nurse, you commented on attitude, and I think it's come up as a theme. Without denigrating the public service, I think it's something that is going to come up over and over again.
Could you just very briefly explain what that means to you and perhaps provide a concrete recommendation for performance management outcomes or something that could be inserted into front-line workers' performance reviews or something to that effect, and could you quantify what that means?
David Nurse
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David Nurse
2016-12-13 16:58
Sure. I think it's a matter of training and a matter of the instructions that are given to the front-line staff. I think they are doing their best, and I think sometimes we get absolutely fantastic service from ESDC or IRCC, but often we don't. I honestly believe it comes down to training and the expectations that are given to staff for what their deliverables are. Is it to get off the phone as fast as possible, or is it something else?
When Mr. Orr was here, and I listened to that. I think he did talk about changing the script and the tone. I think those things would make a dramatic difference. I don't run a call centre, but you have a policy manual, and people have a script as to how they interact and how they enter those conversations and navigate people.
I don't think there's a huge performance gap with the staff—
View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
Mr. Gannon, do you feel comfortable commenting on providing services and training your caseworkers so they're continually getting further training and they're up to standards as things advance?
Carl Gannon
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Carl Gannon
2016-10-18 16:23
Most definitely. It's another bone of contention for us right now. At one point, we had a very extensive training package. Unfortunately, when we suffered the cuts, we needed every case manager to hit the ground running.
It's a huge concern, because we are looking at bringing in a whole new slew of case managers. The majority are not going to have the experience of a more experienced case manager, obviously; they're new to the game. It's going to take them a bit of time to hit the ground running, and we need to revamp our systems at Veterans Affairs to ensure that we are providing all the necessary tools for them to do that. We're seeing right now that individuals are not able to meet those expectations, and they're leaving; they're quitting because they can't deal with the situation, and it comes down to training.
We are going to continue to push this; it's imperative.
Nancy Dussault
View Nancy Dussault Profile
Nancy Dussault
2016-09-29 15:41
I will provide you with some figures on the admissions of clients to our programs. From 2013 to 2015, 36% of requests had to do with an addiction issue, 32%, depression, 19%, respite, 8%, PTSD, 4%, anger management, and 1%, anxiety management.
It is important to understand that someone in one program, such as the addiction program, can also have a depression and PTSD diagnosis, as well as an anger and anxiety management issue. Furthermore, 58% of residents have suicidal thoughts.
The requests of Veterans Affairs Canada clients come mainly from the department's case managers, the operational stress injury clinic, the OSISS program—for the operational stress injury social support—or directly from veterans who call us. In that last case, the veterans are redirected to Veterans Affairs Canada to talk to a case manager who will then connect them with us for their application. Generally, the confirmation of the stay at La Vigile from Veterans Affairs Canada case managers takes less than 48 hours.
The main reason for admission of military personnel and veterans is addiction, meaning the alcohol and drug withdrawal program, which requires 24-hour medical supervision and participation in psychoeducational workshops.
La Vigile is the only specialized centre for those in uniform in Quebec that provides a 24-hour medical service for alcohol withdrawal. It is important to understand that alcohol withdrawal comes with risks, especially during the first 48 hours after stopping consumption. There are risks of convulsions, delirium and even death. The presence of medical staff is a must for the first 48 hours.
The respite service is also very much in demand for managing post-traumatic stress symptoms, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, for developing a healthy lifestyle and dealing with home and workplace stress.
I will now talk about the criteria for excluding patients from our programs.
The nurse must complete an assessment...
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for being here with us today.
To the Veterans Transition Network, I visited your installation in Vancouver when I was there last May.
I am very pleased that representatives from the Maison de la Vigile came to meet with the committee. I live near the Maison de la Vigile in Quebec City and I can say that you are doing a great job. Thank you very much.
We may have to interrupt you sometimes because we have a number of questions for you. Do not be taken aback by that.
Inevitably, you work with veterans very often. In fact, you work with them every day and I imagine that many of them express their discontent, rightly or wrongly, with case managers and with the way the Department of Veterans Affairs operates.
What do you think of the administrative process and the organizational practices of Veterans Affairs Canada? What is your relationship with case managers? How do you see the department’s way of operating? Are the administrative processes followed properly? Are there things that need to be replaced?
Nancy Dussault
View Nancy Dussault Profile
Nancy Dussault
2016-09-29 15:54
Mr. Chair, if I may, I will answer the question.
In terms of the administrative process before the Maison La Vigile receives a call from a case manager, we unfortunately cannot say because we don’t really know what is happening up there. However, our relations are excellent from the time we receive a call from a case manager. As I explained, the admission process is often initiated in less than 48 hours and the veteran's date of admission is set. Our relations with all the managers are excellent.
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
Your document points out that veterans’ family members do not necessarily have easy access to the department’s case managers. This committee has, on several occasions, come across that problem of family members’ lack of access to case managers. Does that complaint come up often?
Nancy Dussault
View Nancy Dussault Profile
Nancy Dussault
2016-09-29 15:58
We have heard those comments from some veterans. Some would have liked their family members to have access to La Vigile’s services too. We have also heard that on occasion.
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