Mr. Speaker, one issue that arose repeatedly in consultations with the provinces and territories, the clients and the public was accountability.
Essentially there is a desire that the proposed new agency be accountable both to what it does and how it operates. Bill C-43 establishes a number of accountability mechanisms that will ensure that the agency despite its new structure and potential increase in services on behalf of the provinces and territories will remain accountable to parliament and its clients and to the public for its action.
Full ministerial accountability for the program, legislation and overall control of the agency by the government will be maintained.
The Minister of National Revenue will remain responsible for the administration and enforcement of the program and legislation such as the Income Tax Act, the Excise Act and the Customs Act. The minister will be able to direct officials to exercise authority under the legislation.
The minister is currently named in 1,470 various pieces of program legislation as the person with the authority to exercise specific actions such as assessing tax returns. The minister will continue to be the person named to exercise those authorities. This means that the minister will retain personal accountability for the way the programs are run. This direct accountability ensures that the minister has the authority to inquire into any matters of program administration. This is important because the minister can ensure that the clients of the agency have been treated fairly and equitably.
The minister will continue to respond to questions in the House and from the public on program and policy matters. The minister will continue to be able to respond to members of parliament when their constituents seek their help in dealing with tax or customs matters.
The minister will retain the primary role in establishing the strategic direction of the agency. The minister will approve major corporate documents, recommend approval of the agency's business plan to Treasury Board and table an annual report to parliament on the operation of the agency.
While the minister is accountable for how the programs are carried out, the agency has a considerable amount of autonomy in the matter of internal management.
The agency will be directed by a board of management which will be accountable to parliament through the minister for management policies of the agency, such as human resource activities in staffing and compensation; mandates for negotiating with its bargaining agents and collective bargaining agreements; service and performance standards; and the appropriate allocation of internal resources.
Some people have expressed concern that the board of management, consisting of private sector individuals, might ignore the public interest and act in a way that is motivated only by revenue generation.
There are sufficient checks and balances in this bill to ensure that the agency will remain within the overall government policy framework. These checks and balances include Treasury Board's mandate to approve the corporate business plan and the need for the agency to report annually to parliament. Ultimately, if problems do arise, the minister will have the authority to give direction to the agency on matters within the board's jurisdiction if they affect public policy or materially affect public finances. It is doubted that this direction authority will ever have to be used, but it is there as an insurance policy.
The commissioner, who is a full member of the board of management, would act as a full time chief executive officer of the agency and be responsible for the day to day operations of the organization. The commissioner will be accountable to the minister for the administration and enforcement of the program legislation.
With regard to accountability for the administration of provincial programs, the commissioner will offer to meet with provincial and territorial finance ministers and to report on such matters as service and revenue levels and to receive feedback from them.
As indicated, the agency's corporate business plan will require Treasury Board approval and its appropriations will be made through the regular government estimate procedures.
In addition, certain human resources aspects will form part of the corporate business plan. The public service commission will have authority to review and report on certain aspects of the agency's staffing program.
The Minister of Finance will continue to be responsible for the development of tax and trade policy and legislation. The Minister of National Revenue, through the agency, will be responsible for implementation. The important and necessary relationship now in place between the Departments of Finance and National Revenue will continue between the Department of Finance and the agency.
The Auditor General of Canada will be the auditor for the agency and will play the same role as with Revenue Canada.
Bill C-43 also provides a full scale review of the legislation by a committee of this House five years after coming into force. This does not exist, of course, to prevent parliament from exercising its normal authority over the agency in the interim.
Parliament will have all of the normal opportunities to ensure that the agency is being properly managed, such as review of its corporate business plan, its annual reports and its annual appropriations. It can require a further in-depth review at any time.
In summary, ministerial accountability, overall control by government and parliamentary oversight will be maintained for the new agency.
Those being served by the agency, especially the provinces and the territories, will have new means at their disposal to ensure that the agency is accountable to them for its performance.
Accountability for fairness is the cornerstone of our government's legislation, policies, regulations and processes.
Fairness is an essential foundation to the entire revenue administration. It is a system based on voluntary compliance and if the clients do not believe they are being treated fairly, one cannot expect them to comply voluntarily.
The issue of fairness is a priority for Revenue Canada and it will remain a priority for the Canada customs and revenue agency.
Revenue Canada's record on fairness is excellent. The fact that 95% of filers comply voluntarily is a testament to that record. That compliance rate can be even higher.
However, one can only maintain this level of compliance if taxpayers believe that the tax system is fair to them, fair to their neighbours and fair to everyone.
One also knows that complacency is no way to deal with fairness. Canada's business, economic and social environment is dramatically changing and that is one of the reasons that the agency is being created: to respond to those changes and to provide better service to clients.
Last spring an initiative was launched to look closely at fairness: what measures were in place; how well the department was doing at providing fairness; what improvements could be made to provide a greater level of fairness to the department's clients.
This has been a broad and comprehensive consultation effort. It has looked to the department's many independent advisory committees, to stakeholder groups, to the general public and to our own managers and front-line staff for their ideas and advice.
In addition, an assessment was performed of the best practices of other customs and revenue administrations around the world.
To ensure that this has been an open, credible and transparent exercise, the Confederation Board of Canada was retained to help design the consultation, gather and analyse the feedback and produce a report.
Fair treatment means being open, clear, courteous, responsive, timely and accessible.
For Revenue Canada, applying legislation fairly means applying it impartially, justly and consistently.
The commitments that Revenue Canada makes to fairness will be commitments for the Canada customs and revenue agency. The agency is all about providing better, more effective and more efficient service to Canadians.
Fairness is part and parcel of service and an efficient organization that is not fair to its clients is not an effective one.
As the Canada customs and revenue agency is created, there have been suggestions that an ombudsman forum be created to ensure that the rights of taxpayers are protected.
It would be premature to consider the establishment of an ombudsman or any such office until this process of public consultation is complete. In fact, early feedback from the fairness initiative is reinforcing the longstanding practice of building commitment to fairness throughout the organization as opposed to isolating it in a separate office.