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Canada

Engage Canadians to Improve Key Canada Revenue Agency Services (CA0063)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Canada Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Canada Revenue Agency

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Access to Information, Civic Space, Fiscal Openness, Marginalized Communities, Open Data, Public Participation, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information, Tax

IRM Review

IRM Report: Canada End-Term Report 2016-2018, Canada Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information , Civic Participation

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Engage Canadians to Improve Key Canada Revenue Agency Services Why do this: Service excellence is a top priority for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and the agency is committed to ensuring high-quality services are delivered to Canadians in a way that makes them feel respected and valued. How will it be done: Over the next two years, CRA will undertake a number of key public consultation and engagement activities to respond to key challenges: - CRA currently publishes open data in various categories both on its website and on Canada’s Open Data portal. A better understanding of the public’s satisfaction with, and interest in, statistical tax publications and related data, is needed to meet the growing demand for data that is of value to Canadians. - CRA has committed to providing more information on the regulation of charities to the public in a timely manner and to ensuring the engagement of the charitable sector in support of rules that are fair, open, and easily accessible and understood. - Each year a number of indigenous Canadians miss out on potential tax benefits. Through consultation, new data, and collaboration with other government departments and stakeholders CRA will seek to empower indigenous Canadians to obtain the tax benefits to which they are entitled.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

22. Engage Canadians to improve key Canada Revenue Agency services

Commitment Text:

The Government of Canada will undertake public consultations and engagement to support improved access to high-value, statistical tax data and publications, increased fairness of the rules governing charities’ political activities, and better understanding of factors affecting the low rates of benefit uptake.

Milestones:

22.1. Complete an online consultation with Canadians to measure public satisfaction with, and interest in, statistical tax publications and related data.

22.2. Engage with registered charities, the public, and other stakeholders in the charitable sector to help clarify rules governing charities’ political activities:

Conduct online and in-person consultations sessions on what information is needed, what form any future rules should take, and how best to communicate them to stakeholders and the general public.

22.3. Engage with indigenous Canadians to better understand the issues, root causes, and data gaps that may be preventing eligible individuals from accessing benefits.

Responsible institution: Canada Revenue Agency

Supporting institution(s): N/A

Start date: Not specified

End date: Not specified

Editorial Note: The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full commitment text, visit: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Canada_AP3.pdf.

Context and Objectives

Among the most controversial activities of the previous government was its practice of carrying out tax audits of charities engaged in political activities, particularly since these were widely seen as having targeted their political opponents, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) described the audits as 'a direct assault on freedom of expression.'[Note200: As expressed during the IRM Toronto Consultation, on 15 September 2017.] The current government ordered a stop to these audits and, more importantly, pledged to undertake a series of reforms to prevent such abuses from taking place in the future as well as improve the Canada Revenue Agency’s engagement with Canadians. This commitment addresses this important priority area. The milestones are crafted relatively clearly and specifically, although Milestone 22.3 gives relatively little detail on how a potentially large and diverse consultation will take place. However, other than in the specific context of Canada Revenue Agency audits on charities, these milestones are only tangentially connected to the OGP values. Because the audits posed a major threat to civic engagement, reforming the charity rules (Milestone 22.2) could have a transformative potential impact. However, the low impact and relevance of milestones 22.1 and 22.3, make the overall potential impact moderate.

Completion

For Milestone 22.1, the Canada Revenue Agency published an online survey on opinions toward statistical tax data in August 2016.[Note201: The survey is available at: https://sondages.outsidesoft.com/Engine/Default.aspx?surveyID=90870edd-0d52-4cd9-b03d-11f7bcb8b6e8&ds=6E&idlang=EN&respondent=dbd35b7a-247c-40f6-bbe2-dc2fa163464d.] However, the government’s self-assessment indicates that participation has been too low to generate sufficient data.[Note202: The draft self-assessment for Commitment 22 is available at: http://open.canada.ca/en/mtsar/commitment-22-engage-canadians-improve-key-canada-revenue-agency-services.] In response to queries from the IRM researcher, the Canada Revenue Agency said that the format is being improved to try and remedy this, with an anticipated relaunch in December 2017 and preliminary reporting of these results in June 2018. This is scored as representing limited progress in implementation, though the Canada Revenue Agency expressed confidence that the milestone would be completed on time, which seems realistic.

For Milestone 22.2, the government conducted a robust series of consultations on clarifying the rules around charities and political engagement, and received almost 20,000 written submissions.[Note203: 'The Canada Revenue Agency's online consultation on charities' political activities,' Canada Revenue Agency, 20 December 2016. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/charities/whats-new/canada-revenue-agencys-online-consultation-on-charities-political-activities.html.] Civil society stakeholders who participated in the process, including the Centre for Law and Democracy,[Note204: Halifax Consultation, 12 September 2017.] generally spoke positively about the consultation as well as the resulting recommendations for reform.[Note205: 'Report of the Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities,' Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities, 31 March 2017. Available at:https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/charities/resources-charities-donors/resources-charities-about-political-activities/report-consultation-panel-on-political-activities-charities.html.] The government self-assessment scores this as completed, however it is difficult to assess that the rules have actually been 'clarified' since the consultation has not yet had any impact on the problematic CRA rules themselves. However, given that the consultation generated strong recommendations for reform, this should be easy to achieve within the current action plan cycle.

For Milestone 22.3, the Canada Revenue Agency carried out public opinion research with indigenous communities and vulnerable populations, including urban Indigenous Canadians, in Spring 2017.[Note206: 'Qualitative Research: The Experiences of Indigenous Communities with Tax Filing,' Prepared by Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. for the Canada Revenue Agency, June 2017. Available at: epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/canada_revenue_agency/2017/040-16-e/report.pdf. 'Barriers Associated with Tax Filing in Vulnerable Populations Qualitative Research', Canada Revenue Agency, 24 March 2017. Available at: epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/canada_revenue_agency/2017/103-16-e/vulnerable_report_en_codes.html. ] This milestone has been completed, though the self-assessment reports that a project team is still processing the gathered information to determine how to apply these findings.[Note207: The draft self-assessment for Commitment 22 is available at: http://open.canada.ca/en/mtsar/commitment-22-engage-canadians-improve-key-canada-revenue-agency-services.]

Early Results

There are no indications of early impacts from milestones 22.1 and 22.3. In terms of Milestone 22.2, the civic space has improved considerably as a result of the suspension of tax audits.[Note208: Bruce Campion-Smith and Alex Ballingall, 'Liberals suspend tax audits of political charities,' Toronto Star, 4 May 2017. Available at: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/05/04/ottawa-urged-to-give-charities-more-freedom-to-speak-out.html.] These not only had a major negative impact on the charities being audited, but had a chilling effect on the non-profit sector’s speech and political engagement.[Note209: Canadian Unitarian Council, Toronto consultation, 15 September 2017.] This situation has certainly improved now that the immediate threat is gone, though whether changes will be implemented to prevent potential future use of the CRA to target political opponents remains to be seen.

Next Steps

This commitment, and in particular the milestone related to charities’ political activities, is an attempt to turn the page on a particularly challenging time for civic engagement in Canada. However, Publish What You Pay-Canada, the Canadian Unitarian Council, and the Centre for Law and Democracy all noted that the real test will be whether the consultation leads to substantive reforms of rules impacting charities.[Note210: Expressed at the Ottawa consultation on 18 September 2017, the Toronto consultation on 15 September 2017, and the Halifax consultation on 12 September 2017, respectively.] If these are not complete by the end of this action plan cycle, the IRM researcher recommends addressing this important priority in Canada’s next action plan.

Both Fred Vallance-Jones and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression expressed that the government could also examine their approach to funding of journalism, and consider whether that should be included among charitable activities.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

22. Engage Canadians to Improve Key Canada Revenue Agency Services

Commitment Text:

The Government of Canada will undertake public consultations and engagement to support improved access to high-value, statistical tax data and publications, increased fairness of the rules governing charities' political activities, and better understanding of factors affecting the low rates of benefit uptake.

Milestones:

22.1. Complete an online consultation with Canadians to measure public satisfaction with, and interest in, statistical tax publications and related data.

22.2. Engage with registered charities, the public, and other stakeholders in the charitable sector to help clarify rules governing charities' political activities:

Conduct online and in-person consultations sessions on what information is needed, what form any future rules should take, and how best to communicate them to stakeholders and the general public.

22.3. Engage with indigenous Canadians to better understand the issues, root causes, and data gaps that may be preventing eligible individuals from accessing benefits.

Responsible institution:Canada Revenue Agency

Supporting institution(s): N/A

Start Date: Not specified

End Date: Not specified

Editorial Note: The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full commitment text, visit http://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Canada_AP3.pdf.

Commitment Aim

This commitment aimed to improve the landscape for civic participation in Canada. It focused on supporting Indigenous Canadians, vulnerable communities, and charities. The commitment called for carrying out a consultation on statistical tax data and consulting with charities to improve the rules around political participation. It also called for engaging with Indigenous Canadians to help them understand the rules around eligible benefits.

Status

Midterm: Substantial

Under Milestone 22.1, in August 2016, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) published an online survey on opinions about statistical tax data. Response rates were too low to generate significant data. As a result, the CRA committed to improve the survey for the second year of implementation. Regarding Milestone 22.2, the government conducted a robust series of consultations on clarifying the rules regarding charities and political engagement. It received almost 20,000 written submissions.[Note193: 'The Canada Revenue Agency's Online Consultation on Charities' Political Activities,' Canada Revenue Agency, 20 December 2016, https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/charities/whats-new/canada-revenue-agencys-online-consultation-on-charities-political-activities.html.] A Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities, composed of experts in the charitable sector, reviewed the consultation feedback and developed a report that was presented to the Minister of National Revenue in March 2017.[Note194: Report of the Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/cra-arc/migration/cra-arc/chrts-gvng/chrts/cmmnctn/pltcl-ctvts/pnlrprt-eng.pdf.] Under Milestone 22.3, the CRA conducted public opinion research with Indigenous communities and vulnerable populations, including urban Indigenous Canadians, in spring 2017.[Note195: Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc., Qualitative Research: The Experiences of Indigenous Communities with Tax Filing (Ottawa, Ontario: Canada Revenue Agency), June 2017, epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/canada_revenue_agency/2017/040-16-e/report.pdf; and 'Barriers Associated with Tax Filing in Vulnerable Populations Qualitative Research,' Canada Revenue Agency, 24 March 2017, epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/canada_revenue_agency/2017/103-16-e/vulnerable_report_en_codes.html. ]

End of term: Complete

Under Milestone 22.1, Canada released an improved, more user-friendly format of its survey in summer 2017. Participation remained low, partly due to technical difficulties, according to Canada's end-of-term self-assessment.[Note196: An archived version of the survey is available at https://cra-arc-survey-sondage.ca/f/s.aspx?s=c0cd518f-c04e-49e3-b3b1-628d79fc68a4&mode=44&lang=EN.] By the end of the reporting period, only 34 responses to the survey had been obtained. This milestone has been completed, despite the low response rate. Regarding Milestone 22.2, the government completed the consultation during the first year of implementation. However, no responses or reforms have been implemented yet. The completion of this milestone is difficult to assess. Although the consultation has been completed, no changes were introduced during the action plan period, though Canada's end-of-term self-assessment claimed that a response will be issued in the coming months.[Note197: The self-assessment is available at https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/9da9faf5-deb1-48db-8f16-91055d942d65.] On September 14, 2018, the Ministry of Finance released proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act, which ultimately fed in to Bill C-86, currently under consideration.[Note198: See: https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-86/first-reading.] Regarding Milestone 22.3, Canada's end-of-term self-assessment states that it continues to process the results from its previous engagement and consultations to try and improve participation by Indigenous peoples in the tax and benefits system.

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Marginal

Civic Participation: Marginal

Canada's civil society space faced substantial pressure at the outset of this action plan, particularly as a result of a series of government tax audits of charities engaged in political activities. Although these audits have been discontinued—and this commitment addresses a crucially important thematic area—the actual effect of this commitment on access to information and civic participation is assessed as marginal. The rating corresponds to the low response rate for the survey under Milestone 22.1, the unclear impact of the consultations and engagement under Milestone 22.3, and most importantly, the fact that substantial reforms have yet to materialise from the charities discussions that took place under Milestone 22.2, though it is important to note that some changes were proposed just after the end of the action plan. However, this report summarises the results between July 2017 and August 2018 and, therefore, does not assess activities carried out beyond this period of time.

Carried Forward?

This commitment does not appear to have been carried forward in Canada's fourth action plan.


Commitments

Open Government Partnership