Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the committee's study of supplementary estimates (B).
I am joined by Commissioner Bob Hamilton, who will speak to you more about this and other topics following my remarks.
I’d also like to introduce three senior officials from the Canada Revenue Agency: Janique Caron, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Finance and Administration Branch; Ted Gallivan, Assistant Commissioner, International, Large Business and Investigations Branch; and Frank Vermaeten, Assistant Commissioner, Assessment, Benefit and Service Branch.
I would like to start by providing members with an overview of some recent achievements following the second year of my mandate as Minister of National Revenue.
First, the Government is steadfast in its efforts to crack down on tax evasion and combat tax avoidance. We will increasingly identify aggressive tax planning schemes that are not in the spirit of the Income Tax Act.
The Government has invested nearly $1 billion in Budgets 2016 and 2017 to address this complex problem that is taking resources away from the services that improve the standard of living of all Canadians.
The Agency’s auditors now have access to more and better refined information, which helps them to focus on the individuals and corporations that actively seek to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Second, we have strengthened our partnerships and cooperation with international governments. The results speak for themselves: The Agency is currently conducting more than 990 audits related to offshore financial structures. It is investigating more than 42 corporations and individuals with offshore accounts. The Agency has also imposed $44 million in penalties on promoters and tax preparers.
Third, regarding our work to improve support for indigenous peoples and people living in remote communities, the Agency is working hard to keep the government's promise. It is increasing its outreach efforts to make these individuals aware of the benefits available to them, and reducing the challenges associated with filing their tax returns.
This past October, in Yellowknife, I announced the Agency’s Northern Consultations Action Plan. This plan outlines actions over the next two years to improve the Agency’s services for northern residents.
My main objective is to improve the client experience for Canadians who access tax services. Canadians communicate with us in good faith. They are important clients, not just taxpayers. They deserve to receive quality services in a timely manner. In order to improve the customer experience, here are some of the latest service improvements from the Agency.
The Agency has introduced enhanced electronic processes for filing tax returns, such as information auto-fill. This secure service allows Canadians to automatically fill in parts of their income tax and benefit returns with information that the CRA has available at the time of filing the return.
Last year, more than 86% of Canadians filed their taxes electronically, almost 750,000 more than the year before.
In 2017, the Agency has taken steps to improve and modernize its call centre services. We have hired more agents and we have increased self-serve options, leaving more time for agents to provide the answers to more complex questions.
The Agency is also in the process of upgrading its call queue technology, and enhancing its training programs to ensure our clients receive the quality service they deserve.
While I am proud of these accomplishments, I fully recognize that there is still work to be done. This week's Auditor General's report was clear, and I accepted all of his recommendations regarding our call centres.
In our first Budget, our government invested $50 million over four years to improve the range of services we provide to the public. Starting this year, our clients will begin seeing the results of these investments.
Rest assured, we are listening to Canadians.
We know we must explain the Agency’s actions as clearly as possible so that its intentions are not misinterpreted.
We are seeking advice from Canadians to ensure that the Government’s programs and services are tailored to fit those who need them. We encourage Canadians to enter into a dialogue with the Agency to share their concerns.
Today, I also announced that we have re-instated the Disability Advisory Committee. This committee will be made up of 12 members with different backgrounds; they will work with the Agency in order to come up with recommendations so that it can administer disability benefits in a more fair, more transparent and more accessible manner.
Outreach and consultation are key, and the Agency will continue to work with Canadians to ensure their views are incorporated into the decisions it makes.
Mr. Chair, I will now yield the floor to Commissioner Hamilton, who will speak to the Supplementary Estimates (B) and other matters of interest to the committee.
I thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.