Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to rise today to clarify the actions being taken, on multiple fronts, to uphold the rights and interests of Canadian taxpayers in a responsible manner.
The Canada Revenue Agency is committed to delivering real results and professional government to Canadians. Thanks to budget 2016’s infusion of $1 billion over five years in supplementary funding, the agency will be able to do just that.
In addition to combatting tax evasion and tax avoidance and enhancing tax collections, the CRA will put this new money to work to improve service to Canadians, especially low-income Canadians, newcomers, and indigenous communities. An investment of $185.8 million over five years will support enhanced telephone access and easy-to-understand correspondence, and several measures have already been taken to do just that, as well as increased outreach for vulnerable and low-income Canadians, including indigenous peoples.
As members can see, there is a fundamental flaw with Motion No. 43 moved by my colleague. While it is undoubtedly well-intentioned, it is unnecessary, and I will explain why. It is a solution in search of a problem, a problem that does not exist.
I am not disputing the stories my colleague shared with us, but I just want to say that there are measures in place to help these people who are encountering these types of problems with the Canada Revenue Agency.
Canadian taxpayers already have numerous means of recourse to resolve disputes if they disagree with their tax assessments. If the House were to adopt this motion, it would merely duplicate the full range of services and information currently available to taxpayers. The CRA's taxpayer bill of rights contains 16 rights as well as five commitments to small business. This confirms the CRA's commitment to serve taxpayers with professionalism, courtesy, and fairness.
The service rights of the taxpayer bill of rights are backed by the CRA's service complaints program and the taxpayers' ombudsman. More to the point, many rights found in the taxpayer bill of rights are already enforceable under the Income Tax Act, the Official Languages Act, and the Privacy Act. These statutes ensure judicial recourse for Canadians, such as the right to object to a tax assessment or the right to privacy and confidentiality.
Moreover, the Supreme Court of Canada has already made a distinction between policy decisions and operational decisions. The court has ruled that operational decisions, the implementation of government policies, are already subject to a duty of care. Accordingly, the creation of an enforceable duty of care would be legally redundant. Simply adding the term “enforceable duty of care” to the taxpayer bill of rights would have no more force than what exists at the moment.
I should point out that the taxpayer bill of rights was amended in 2013. This provided the opposition with ample opportunity when it was the government to make the improvements it deemed necessary. It is curious that the hon. member for Calgary Rocky Ridge now feels that it failed to do an adequate job and must call for these amendments.
Presumably, the authors of those recent amendments recognized that CRA's mix of legislated and service rights is the right approach. It is consistent with the way many other OECD countries address these issues.
I would also note that the member has cited particular cases in media interviews as inspiration for his motion. One of the cases began 19 years ago, well before many of the avenues of recourse that exist today were in force.
While I share his concerns about the taxpayers in his riding who had difficulty with recourse to the Canada Revenue Agency, I can report that the case in question was resolved shortly after this government came to power.
The hon. member cited the case of one of his own constituents as well. It is not appropriate to discuss detailed information. According to section 241, the Canada Revenue Agency cannot discuss specific cases. However, I would hope that my colleague has advised the individual of the recourse mechanisms provided by the CRA.
My second argument against the motion relates to the Office of the Taxpayers' Ombudsman. The ombudsman provides an impartial review of unresolved service complaints from taxpayers. The Office is neither an advocate for the taxpayer, nor a defender of the CRA. Rather, it investigates complaints related to service delivery to determine whether taxpayers received accurate, clear and complete information in a fair, courteous and timely manner.
The ombudsman investigates the facts and, when required, recommends corrective action to systemic service problems. This approach makes it possible for taxpayers to avoid an adversarial, protracted and litigious process. This is the fairest way to address contentious issues, since these rights are extended to all Canadians and not only those who can afford to go to court.
Perhaps even more importantly, this fosters an open and co-operative relationship between taxpayers and the Agency, allowing the CRA to resolve complaints quickly and at minimum cost. Some complaints and disputes are caused by a lack of information or by a simple miscommunication. That is why people working at the CRA want taxpayers to talk to them and stay in contact.
I would remind hon. members that we are making an unprecedented $188-million investment to improve client services. My colleague's concerns are welcome; however, we have already launched a number of measures to resolve some of the disputes.
Briefly, if a taxpayer is having problems with the Canada Revenue Agency, there are a number of ways to address this. A number of measures including My Account, My Business Account, and Represent a Client are in place to help taxpayers resolve their disputes with the CRA.
This motion proposes that a formal letter be mailed out to taxpayers following each telephone call to the CRA. All that would do is put in writing the information that taxpayers already received from an agent on the phone.
I would remind my colleague that last year, in the last Parliament, the Canada Revenue Agency even looked into whether its phone services were satisfactory or not. I wonder what was done about it. The Conservatives were in power at the time.
Now we are in power. We are investing an incredible $185 million to improve telephone and documentation services. We want taxpayers to be treated as clients.
That is why we are voting against my Conservative colleague's motion.