Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and deliver the final NDP speech on Bill C-462.
This is an important bill. I would like to thank the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke for introducing it. The Standing Committee on Finance reviewed it and asked the appropriate and relevant questions about the bill's scope. Accordingly, it is helpful to be able to conclude the debate with some observations about what happened and some testimony that we heard in the Standing Committee on Finance.
It is important that people know that this bill will limit a consultant's ability to charge fees to help people with disabilities claim a non-refundable tax credit that they are entitled to when they file their taxes. These consultants can play a significant role in helping people with disabilities. A witness from the National Benefit Authority appeared before the committee and made that very relevant point.
However—and I believe that this was acknowledged by witnesses and also members of the Standing Committee on Finance—there are people who are not as well-intentioned who might take advantage of vulnerable people with disabilities to put their hands on a larger share of the refund.
In fact, even in the case of legitimate organizations, commissions of up to 30% of the refundable amount are often charged. That is a problem. I could say that the bill, which I support and encourage my colleagues to support, addresses one symptom of the problem, but not necessarily the cause of the problem.
In fact, there are two reasons for involving consultants in the process. The first, and the one I am most concerned about, has to do with tax simplification. In this case, the tax credit system is complex. People who are eligible for this tax credit are not contacted and informed that they are eligible. They have to find out about it themselves. The form is complex, and that is a problem. This was mentioned many times by different witnesses, including the Canadian Medical Association. When it appeared before the committee, the association asked this question:
...why do vulnerable people need to go to these promoters [or consultants] in the first place? We [the Canadian Medical Association] suggest the disability tax credit form be revised to be more informative and user-friendly for patients. Form 2201 [the form in question] should explain more clearly to patients the reason behind the tax credit and explicitly indicate that there is no need to use third-party companies to submit the claim to CRA.
This is a complex situation. There are several tax credits for which people do not feel the need to use consultants or promoters. They can claim these credits themselves, whether it is a refundable or non-refundable tax credit.
If there are lots of people who are not aware that this tax credit exists, that means there is a problem. This is the second problem. The second problem with this tax credit that will also have to be fixed is the lack of information being made available. A number of my colleagues mentioned the excellent work done by my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster, who visited various ridings to inform people and let them know that they are entitled to this tax credit. In most cases, we held information sessions for some 50, 100 or even 150 people who learned that they were entitled to this tax credit.
I think everyone agrees that it should be up to the Canada Revenue Agency to inform people, especially in cases where there is insufficient information. However, the Canada Revenue Agency struggles to be able to provide adequate information to the general public. There are several reasons for that, including the Conservative government's decisions dating at least as far back as 2011. The government eliminated a number of regional program advisor positions, which jeopardized the information sessions on various topics, including those on the disability tax credit. It also closed Canada Revenue Agency counters. A counter in Rimouski was closed down. I do not think there are any left in Canada, or at least there will not be any left soon. These are the places where people could go for information directly, or they would employ people who would travel to give different information sessions.
That option no longer exists. The Canada Revenue Agency's ability to provide this information has been significantly reduced. Also, the numbers associated with the budget cuts have already been mentioned a few times. These cuts amount to a quarter of a billion dollars for the Canada Revenue Agency alone, or $250 million. Three thousand people work for the Canada Revenue Agency. The agency's information mandate is therefore at risk, and taxpayers, or the persons with disabilities in this case, are paying the price.
Therefore, there is much to do in terms of information as well as tax simplification. Indeed, regarding the information issue, we received a comment from the representative of the National Benefit Authority, an agency of promoters and consultants focusing on tax credits. He mentioned that his organization spent over $1 million last year to raise public awareness.
As things now stand, private promoters are obviously providing a completely legal and legitimate service. The fact remains that this organization has spent $1 million to advertise its services to the public and receives commissions that could reach up to 30% of the tax credit that the persons with disabilities would get after applying. These persons would have received nothing without this information. In this sense, this government initiative that aims to help people with disabilities struggling with higher costs is a bit problematic.
Once again I would like to acknowledge the member for Montcalm's great work on the issue of persons with disabilities, which raises all these problems, including the lack of accessibility and higher costs for Canadians with disabilities.
We are facing a situation where the government, by failing to do its work to provide information or to simplify taxation, is effectively delegating authority to promoters and consultants. There is some abuse, although this is not generally the case. However, the bottom line is that people who learn about this credit and wish to claim it, but who feel vulnerable and not necessarily equipped to deal with bureaucratic challenges, have to forego up to 30% of the sum they are entitled to.
In that sense, it is very problematic. This form represents a process that lacks transparency. We condemn that. At the Standing Committee on Finance, and here in the House too, we really hope that tax simplification will one day be the subject of a comprehensive study. Someone mentioned a certain form, but this applies to the entire tax system.
The Income Tax Act, which was only about 10 pages long when it was created in 1917, is now over 3,000 pages long. It is really hard to navigate. That is why some lawyers and financial experts work exclusively on tax issues, since they have to be able to sort through all the complexities and the labyrinth created by the Income Tax Act.
I applaud the hon. member's initiative. I will be voting in favour of this bill, and I encourage all members of the official opposition to do the same. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the bill deals with only the symptoms of the problem. There are two issues causing this problem: the lack of information available to Canadian taxpayers and the complexity of the tax system, and in particular the form needed for this tax credit.
I urge the government to look very closely at both of these problems, and then to propose alternatives in order to ensure that people receive the money they are entitled to in the form of a tax refund so they can have better lives despite the situation they are in.