Hello everyone, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance to discuss the main estimates.
I would also like to thank the agency’s four assistant commissioners who are with me today: Ms. Kami Ramcharan, Mr. Ted Gallivan, Mr. Frank Vermaeten, and Mr. Geoff Trueman.
At the Canada Revenue Agency, putting tools and services into the hands of Canadians, so that they can easily file their taxes and receive the benefits to which they are entitled, is what drives the work we do.
As Minister of National Revenue, I made a commitment to the Prime Minister on behalf of all Canadians to adopt an approach focused on our clients, the Canadian people.
The needs of Canadians and the environment in which the agency operates are constantly changing. That’s why the agency must adapt and improve its services on an ongoing basis. This is true both for people who file electronically and for those who file on paper. Regardless of how Canadians choose to interact with the agency, we have made improvements.
Allow me to list some of the ones that are already benefiting millions of Canadians.
More and more Canadians are filing their taxes online. This year, more than 90% of the approximately 24 million returns Canadians filed were completed online. My Account, the agency’s digital portal, now has more than 7.9 million users.
Enhanced digital services, such as Auto-fill my return and Re-FILE, allow Canadians to file or edit their tax returns online.
You may also have noticed that you can now access your notice of assessment instantly. In fact, the Express Notice of Assessment is now available in certified tax software.
The agency is also simplifying its communications. Indeed, providing Canadians helpful information depends on the use of clear, simple, easy-to-understand language. In 2017, the agency simplified the language it uses in most of its correspondence to Canadians. The Clerk of the Privy Council, in his 25th report on service excellence, commended the agency for this effort.
Responding to the questions of Canadians is also a key service that the agency must absolutely provide by phone. That is why we have an action plan to improve the quality of the services that our call centre agents provide. During the recent tax-filing period, the agency hired additional agents, and more than 3,000 of them were able to answer questions from Canadians.
In addition, we have increased the number of self-serve options to help callers get the information they need more quickly and easily. These improvements and other new measures, such as better training for agents and the implementation of a new telephone platform, will allow more callers to have access to telephone queues, which means fewer lines will be busy.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s also important to continue meeting the needs of Canadians who use traditional methods to file their taxes. This year, we’ve made it easier for those who choose to file on paper to do their taxes by mailing approximately two million forms and guides directly to them.
In addition, people can now make tax payments in person at any of the 6,000 Canada Post outlets. This new in-person payment service makes life easier for taxpayers who live in remote areas and who may not be close to a bank or have easy access to Internet service.
Another new telephone service that was launched this year is File my Return. This service helps Canadians with low or fixed incomes, whose situations remain unchanged from year to year, to file their income tax returns by answering a few questions through an automated phone service. This year, we sent out more than 950,000 invitations to Canadians who may be eligible for this new service.
Lastly, I’d also like to highlight the important work done by volunteers from the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, the CVITP. This program has been around for a long time, helping eligible people who have modest incomes and simple tax situations file their returns. The funding announced in Budget 2018 will allow the program to open more year-round tax preparation clinics, which will help more Canadians access the benefits to which they are entitled.
To conclude, I’d also like to briefly touch on the agency’s recent accomplishments in fighting tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. The agency has taken concrete and effective steps to crack down on tax cheats. It has broadened the scope of its tools for improving its risk assessment systems. It can now assess the risks associated with all multinationals every year.
These improvements, as well as those made to other systems, provide the agency with more relevant information to better identify large businesses and individuals who may be participating in aggressive tax avoidance schemes or avoiding tax laws.
Moreover, with the implementation of country-by-country reporting, as of this year, the agency will automatically have access to information from other jurisdictions. As of March 31, 2018, audits of more than 1,112 taxpayers were underway with respect to offshore non-compliance, and the agency was conducting criminal investigations into over 42 tax evasion cases. In 2016–2017, the agency’s efforts resulted in 37 convictions, over 50 years in jail terms, and $10 million in fines imposed by the courts.
And I’m pleased to inform the committee that the fiscal service improvements offered to Canadians will not stop there, because this is an ongoing process. The agency must absolutely ensure that Canadians receive the benefits to which they are entitled. That is my priority. Budget 2018 announced the implementation of a measure to automatically register individuals for the Canada Child Benefit. Accordingly, I am pleased that approximately 300,000 additional low-income workers will receive the benefit.
Let me end by saying that improving service delivery to Canadians will continue to drive our efforts. This will ensure that Canada’s tax system is fair, helpful, and easy to use.
I will now yield the floor to Ms. Ramcharan, who will speak about the main estimates.
Thank you for your attention.