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$15 billion given away to those not eligible, but CRA doesn’t care

TORONTO – Canada Revenue Agency calls you if $10 is “missing” (and if you don’t pay immediately, interest will kick in) but doesn’t think it’s worth recovering $15 billion. Incredible but true, so much so that even the “watchdog” of Canadian finances, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux, said he was bewildered to hear the head of the CRA say that it was not “worth” recovering all that money, i.e. the $15.5 billion in potential Covid-19 wage subsidy overpayments. In other words, money ended up in the pockets of those who had no right to receive it. 

Speaking to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, Yves Giroux – who was the CRA’s chief data officer and deputy commissioner before taking on the “watchdog” job – criticized his former agency for views it has expressed on recoveries of Covid-19 overpayments. 19.

“The Canada Revenue Agency does not deem it appropriate or cost-effective to pursue recovery of $15.5 billion in potential overpayments, which is a bit disconcerting when the government is faced with a shortfall” Giroux said referring to the testimony from CRA commissioner Bob Hamilton who told lawmakers in late January that it “wouldn’t be worth it” to try to recover every dollar of the $15.5 billion in Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) payments recently reported by the auditor general, because substantially the expense would not be worth the enterprise.

During the same hearing, Giroux also addressed other issues. First, he said Canadians are not getting the level of performance expected from a “world class” public service and called on the government to “crack the whip” on Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), highlighting delays and problems with employment insurance, old-age security, and passports (all administered primarily by the ESDC), as well as the federal government’s nascent access to the information system.

“We’ve never, or perhaps rarely, seen an unemployment rate this low, yet it takes weeks and weeks for people applying for EI to get their review” he cited as an example. “There are pockets of excellence, but there are also pockets, I would say, of nonchalance in public service. They are overwhelmed or something is wrong” he added.

And then he went back to attacking the CRA. “Every time we interact with them, we receive incomplete information” Giroux stressed, hoping for legislative changes so that “CRA stops hiding behind taxpayer confidentiality” as an excuse to prevent it from receiving depersonalized data.

The watchdog also expressed frustration with the government’s departmental performance reporting system, whereby organizations set targets for themselves and then assess themselves the following year whether they have met them or not. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Passport Canada, which has been buried in criticism over the past year for record delays processing passport applications, claims ‘something of success’ in its departmental results report, despite the disaster” Giroux said. In other words: they toot their own horn…

Pic by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

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