Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-462, and I want to thank my colleague, the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, who is a fellow member of the class of 2000. I know many in the House, my colleagues from Brant and Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, have remarked on a number of occasions that the class of 2000 was probably one of the strongest and most capable collection of members of Parliament to come to the House in generations. I thank them for that.
The member's bill is certainly well-intentioned. I want to congratulate her on it. The bill seeks to restrict the fees that consultants can charge disabled Canadians who need help with applying for the disability tax credit.
It seems that since 2005, a cottage industry of consultants has sprung up to help Canadians apply for the disability tax credit. Although many of these businesses are legitimate and provide a useful service, there are some that are charging outrageous fees to help guide people through the application process.
I agree with my colleague that it is important to protect persons with disabilities from being taken advantage of like this. Therefore, as with many of my colleagues from all parties, I will be supporting this bill, as I hope my Liberal caucus colleagues will as well.
However, I want to spend some time speaking about some of the shortcomings of the bill. It has some flaws that give me concern, and I believe they should be corrected. I would also like to talk about the reason the bill is needed in the first place and how additional steps are needed to fix the problems. Finally, I would like to talk about a note of caution. The disability tax credit is essential to many support programs for people with disabilities, so we need to ensure these changes would not make it more difficult to get help when they need to apply for this credit.
My first area of concern is that the bill may be too vague. The bill does not make it clear who exactly would be affected by the new regulations on charging fees. Right now, there may be a risk that legitimate accountants, tax filers, or doctors could accidentally be hurt by the bill.
In the submission of the Canadian Medical Association, for example, it noted that:
as currently written, Bill C-462 proposes to apply the same requirements to physicians as to third-party companies if physicians apply a fee for form completion, a typical practice for uninsured physician services.
As the CMA points out, there are already guidelines for these types of physician fees in provincial and territorial medical regulations.
The member says her proposal is targeted at third-party promoters other than normal tax preparers and accountants. In order to ensure the legislation would only affect the right people, it needs to be made more clear.
On a similar note, although the bill seeks to put a cap on how much consultants can charge to help file for the credit, the bill does not make it clear how high that cap would be. The finance committee has heard that the CRA would be in charge of setting the level for the fee cap, but CRA staff were unable to give the committee any idea of how high or low that level might be.
I understand the member wished to avoid including specifics so that the CRA could consult with stakeholders before setting an appropriate cap. While I understand and appreciate her concern on this point, it is nonetheless difficult for tax filing professionals to plan ahead if they do not know whether, or by how much, their fees would have to change. In order to ensure that legitimate businesses are not hurt by the bill, the text must be more clear about unfair fee levels.
My second concern is that the bill would not tackle the root of the problem and may reduce the ability of persons with disabilities to access programs designed to support them.
Although I believe the member has proposed this bill with the very best of intentions, we must be sure that it would not have the unwanted effect of reducing the amount of disability tax credits that Canadians claim. As we know, the cost of this tax credit to the treasury has grown quite a lot in the past few years. Some consultants may be abusing the system, but we must keep in mind that others are clearly successful at ensuring that Canadians with disabilities get access to the money they need and deserve. It makes sense to restrict the fees consultants can charge to help with the tax credit; no one should be taking advantage of people who live with disabilities. However, we must ensure that by restricting these fees we do not also restrict disabled Canadians' access to this tax credit.
The fact that these consultants exist in the first place suggests that it is hard to file for this tax credit. The Canadian Medical Association noted in its submission that it was:
...concerned that one of the reasons individuals may be engaging the services of third-party companies is a lack of awareness of the purpose and benefits of the Disability Tax Credit. Additional efforts are required to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form be more informative and user-friendly for patients.
Therefore, I want to call on the member to address this issue. The process to apply for this tax credit should be made simpler and the cuts to CRA staff should be reversed so that people struggling with the application process can get the help they need without having to pay through the nose for it.
This brings me to my third point. It is important to make the disability tax credit easy to access because applicants have to be eligible for the tax credit in order to qualify for a number of other support programs. Representatives of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities said in their submissions:
The Disability Tax Credit was initially designed as a tax fairness measure recognizing that people with disabilities have additional disability-related expenses. Disability Tax Credit eligibility is now the determinant for accessing other benefits and programs....
Some of these other programs include the registered disabilities savings plan, the disability tax credit benefit, the working income tax benefit for persons with disabilities, and the disability accommodation benefit. As we know, it also spills into a number of provincial programs; certainly it does in Nova Scotia.
Because of a number of benefits and the fact that individuals can back-file for up to 10 years, there is a huge amount of money available to people who qualify for this credit. The disability tax credit really is a gatekeeper for disability benefits, and qualifying for the credit can mean tens of thousands of dollars in relief for a disabled person. We need to ensure that whatever changes we make do not prevent people who need help from filing for the tax credit and getting that help. We do not want to set out to help persons with disabilities only to end up hurting them in the end.
The bill seeks to prevent some consultants from taking advantage of persons with disabilities, but there is a risk that this legislation, if not applied properly, could also prevent legitimate consultants from doing their job. That would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In conclusion, it is important to me that we make sure that disabilities do not get in the way of people living a full and happy life. Disabilities impose extra costs on those involved. Because of this, Canada has a number of programs designed specifically around the disability tax credit. However, it is not helpful to set up a program to help people that makes it so difficult that people cannot access it or that requires them to pay ridiculous fees to consultants to help them through the application.
The bill has good intentions. It may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. I recommend that some parts of the bill be updated so that it would be sure to target problem areas and not negatively affect people. I also recommend that the government look more generally at simplifying the application process for the tax credit. Those are my comments.