Canadians for Tax Fairness Study Suggests Changes Needed at Canada Revenue Agency

A study from Canadians for Tax Fairness suggests that the effectiveness of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is being undermined by a lack of resources and by political interference.

According to the study, politicians and lobbyists are able to influence the CRA. That includes lobbying CRA not to prosecute corporations for tax evasion. At the same time, $700 million in funding cuts between 2011 and 2015 reduced the ability of the CRA to deal with large-scale tax avoidance schemes. 

Offshore tax schemes estimated to cost federal and provincial governments $10 billion a year

Among the consequences of staff and funding cuts outlined in the report is that the CRA is not able to deal with the abuse of tax havens by large businesses or wealthy individuals. Most reports suggest that there is $199 billion of Canadian money in tax havens. Canadians for Tax Fairness has estimated that failing to deal with tax avoidance involving tax havens means Canadian governments are losing $10 billion a year in tax revenue.

Everest College shutdown raises questions about regulation of private colleges

The recent shutdown of 13 Everest College campuses in Ontario by the provincial government raises questions about the effectiveness of regulations intended to protect students at private colleges.

It was known for some time that Everest College’s US parent company was facing both financial issues and investigations for falsifying data on job placements, grades and attendance. When Canadian Press obtained information on complaints against private colleges in Ontario through  freedom of information legislation, 36 per cent were about Everest College.

Yet, in spite of these problems, Everest College was able to continue operating until a sudden shut down became unavoidable.

Ontario’s Auditor General has already raised concerns about the level of oversight for private colleges. In the 2011 Auditor General’s report, it was pointed out that even though there were serious concerns about 180 campuses, only 30 were inspected. Steps taken by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities since then provide little grounds for optimism. It can still take up to three months before high risk campuses are inspected, while for medium risk ones it can take up to two years.

For students and the public this is worrying. Much of the income private colleges receive comes from student loans and other public funding. The public funding private colleges receive will increase as the federal government implements its Canada Job Grant program. When private colleges fail to deliver the education or training they promised, students are left with loans that will be difficult for them to ever repay.

As with other privatized services, proper oversight of private colleges comes at a cost. Ensuring colleges are inspected in a timely fashion, and that complaints from students receive a thorough response, would require more staff and resources assigned to monitoring private colleges. The larger question this raises is whether the funds proper enforcement requires would be better spent on improving the public community college system so students are not forced to turn to private colleges for jobs training. 

Bonnie Lysyk is just the latest in a long list of government auditors general to find privatization proponents playing costly numbers games

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk's revelation on Dec. 9, 2014, that privatization has cost the province more than $8 billion should come as no surprise: she's the third Ontario auditor general in a row to debunk claims that P3 privatization schemes save money.

Each of the Ontario's last three auditors general have found that privatization proponents have artificially inflated the costs of public delivery in order to make their schemes look good. And this is not just an Ontario problem. Quebec's Auditor General and a forensic auditor in BC have all come to similar conclusions when examining P3 privatization schemes in those provinces.

In Ontario and Quebec, the numbers game is played by artificially inflating the value of the risk faced by the public sector if infrastructure projects are publicly delivered:

  • Lysyk found “no empirical data supporting the key assumptions used by Infrastructure Ontario to assign costs to specific risks.”

  • Her predecessor, Jim McCarter, audited part of the Air Rail Link to Pearson Airport and “saw no evidence that the estimates of the risks of delivering the spur under traditional procurement were based on actual experience of similar, traditionally procured transportation projects.”

  • And before that, Provincial Auditor Erik Peters, found “cost estimates for the government to do the project were overstated by a net amount of $634 million” when auditing the Brampton Civic Hospital P3 privatization scheme.

  • In Quebec, the Auditor General found the justification for two Montreal P3 privatization schemes was based on “inappropriate” and “unfounded” assumptions.

Partnerships BC found another way to artificially inflate the cost of public delivery. A 2009 report from two forensic accountants found that the future cost of government borrowing had been artificially inflated.

The frequency with which these numbers games get played when P3 privatization schemes are being proposed means they can’t be dismissed as isolated examples. They are part and parcel of privatization.