Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to provide input into the standing committee's study of the main estimates.
I am joined by Mr. Roch Huppé, the agency's chief financial officer and assistant commissioner of the finance and administration branch, and Mr. Ted Gallivan, the assistant commissioner of the international, large business and investigations branch.
First off, I would like to highlight that the agency is seeking $4.2 billion through these main estimates—$3.2 billion of which requires approval by Parliament. This number represents a 1.9% increase from last year’s main estimates. The agency will use these funds to successfully continue its important work.
In November, when I last spoke to this committee, I gave an overview of the Canada Revenue Agency’s efforts to combat aggressive tax planning and tax avoidance, as well as how the agency is improving services for Canadians. I would like to take a few minutes, Mr. Chair, to update the committee on these two fronts and the ways they are being addressed by the agency.
As you know, the Canada Revenue Agency is an increasingly client-focused agency that exists to serve Canadians. As it says in my mandate letter, my overarching goal as Minister of National Revenue is to ensure that the agency is fairer and more helpful, and that its services are easier to use. The agency is currently overhauling its service model so that people who interact with it feel like valued clients, not just taxpayers.
The agency is committed to ensuring that Canadians have access to the information they need about taxes and benefits—on its website, through its call centres, or through written correspondence.
Since my last appearance, the agency has responded to the public’s needs by making it easier to get help over the phone. To make sure that Canadians understand the information they're receiving from the agency, we have simplified the language in 75% of the correspondence we send to Canadians, making it easier to read and understand.
The agency is also ramping up its outreach efforts to ensure that taxpayers understand and meet their tax obligations. These efforts improve tax compliance through a “get it right from the start” approach to educate, inform, and support taxpayers by improving service and encouraging voluntary compliance.
As you are well aware, we have just completed the 2017 filing season. Over 22.8 million T1 returns were received from February 20 to April 30. Close to 90% of returns were filed electronically. Roughly 58% of those returns were filed by tax preparers through EFILE, and 32% were filed by individuals through NETFILE.
New services were launched to help individuals and tax preparers submit their returns electronically for the 2017 tax filing season. The Auto-fill my return service automatically fills in parts of tax returns, making filing online easier. This tax season, additional slips and prior year returns are available for Auto-fill. Tax preparers can also amend their clients' returns electronically by using the new ReFILE service.
I'm pleased to tell this committee that our service improvements that benefit all Canadians will not stop there.
The agency is developing a new service for February 2018 that will fully prepare returns for Canadians with simple tax situations, low or fixed income, and whose financial situations are unchanged from year to year.
In addition, in order to meet our commitment to provide the best possible service to Canadians from coast to coast, the agency’s service renewal plans are well under way. With more Canadians than ever filing their taxes online, the resources needed for the agency to deal with paper returns are decreasing. So, we are reviewing and reorganizing workloads in order to work smarter and more efficiently.
That means we are improving our call centres and creating national verification and collections centres. These changes mean the Canada Revenue Agency will be a more efficient organization and provide better service to Canadians.
Still, we always strive to do better, prioritizing Canadians in everything we do. As our prime minister says, we can always do better.
Since my appointment as Minister of National Revenue, I have been committed to ensuring that Canadians get the benefits to which they're entitled. That's why the agency is proactively contacting Canadians who are not receiving the tax credits or benefits they should, to make sure that the government is supporting the most vulnerable and ensuring Canadian families have the support they need.
The agency is also expanding the community volunteer income tax program; now, more Canadians than ever with low and modest incomes will benefit from free tax preparation clinics.
Mr. Huppé will speak to the details of the main estimates, but before I yield the floor to him, I would like to briefly touch on the agency’s accomplishments on the compliance front and our plans for the way forward.
Most Canadians pay their taxes in full and on time. But some do not pay what they owe. This is not right; this must change. By combatting offshore tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, as does our government, we are protecting the important public services that Canadians rely on.
Since my last appearance before this committee, the agency has taken concrete and effective steps to crack down on tax cheats. We are currently conducting audits on over 820 taxpayers and criminally investigating over 30 cases of tax evasion specifically linked to offshore tax havens.
Through Budget 2016, the agency increased its information-gathering capabilities and improved the tools at its disposal. The agency now has access to more of the information it needs to fulfill its obligations.
In the last year, the agency has increased the number of auditors reviewing offshore tax schemes, promoters and large multinational corporations. It has started reviewing all taxpayers in certain segments of the population identified as high risk. The agency is using external data and publicly available information to maximize its efforts to identify non-compliance. It has expanded its efforts specifically geared towards intermediaries, making promoters a focus of our criminal investigations, with several under way.
As well, the agency is taking a much harder stance on taxpayers who appear on leaked lists of offshore holdings. For example, with the Panama Papers, the agency has over 122 taxpayer audits under way and is reviewing a treasure trove of data linked to these taxpayers. It has also executed search warrants, and several criminal investigations involving both participants and facilitators are under way.
Audits of the highest-risk taxpayers moving money between Canada and four foreign tax administrations of interest are under way, with more to come. So far, a total of 41,000 transactions have been analyzed, totalling over $12 billion. The Canada Revenue Agency continues to build its capacity to detect and crack down on tax cheats. It is developing a powerful business intelligence infrastructure and risk assessment system to target cases of high-risk Canadian and international tax evasion and abusive tax avoidance.
It is clear, Mr. Chair, that our government is committed to protecting the integrity of the Canadian tax system by combatting offshore tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance on all levels. As Minister of National Revenue, I am committed to ensuring that the agency has all the tools and resources it needs to fulfill its role and meet Canadians' expectations.