CPAs can offer valuable input on taxation issues that affect their clients (Getty Images/Fat Camera)
With government workplace closures, urgent relief program roll-outs and new tax filing hurdles, it’s been “all hands on deck” at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for the past 18 months. As CRA staff scrambled to keep taxpayer services on track, CPA Canada and our members played a big role in spotting problems and advising on solutions to ease tax administration during these chaotic times, building on a well-established working relationship.
In fact, the pandemic fallout led to stronger trust, a better mutual understanding and more effective collaboration between our two organizations.
Canada’s professional accountants have a long history of advocating for a better tax system. From the introduction of income tax in 1917, professional accountants have brought a collaborative spirit to their role as intermediaries connecting taxpayers with government. From advice on dozens of federal budgets, through the Carter Commission and resulting 1972 tax reforms, to more recent consultations on areas such as the red tape reduction, the underground economy and tax supports for people with disabilities, Canada’s tax system has benefited from the profession’s work in the public interest across the decades.
With the signing of a framework agreement in 2014, CPA Canada and the CRA solidified their connection. The first deal between tax authorities and tax practitioners worldwide, the agreement set a formal process for continuous engagement and closer collaboration. A set of joint CRA-CPA committees established under the agreement serve as forums for identifying and discussing issues, while a steering committee of CRA and CPA Canada leaders provides high-level guidance and direction.
These committees opened ways for CPAs to provide valuable input on the CRA’s delivery of electronic services, tax audit experiences and streamlined administrative processes. CPA members with specific expertise, such as scientific research and experimental development tax credits or commodity taxes, now had opportunities to raise common problems they saw among their clients with their CRA counterparts. In turn, the CRA helped build understanding by explaining internal obstacles to better service (e.g. security issues, technological barriers) that might not be apparent to those outside of government.
With CPAs’ willingness to pitch in and our extensive network of practitioners interacting with the CRA’s services daily, the CRA began not only accepting our input but actively seeking it. For example, the CRA regularly consults on new design features of its electronic services—like My Account and other secure portals—with the efile program leaders of Big Four and smaller firms and tax software developers who comprise CPA Canada’s technology working group. More recently, CPAs were invited to preview the CRA’s new GST/HST registration website and the application portals for business subsidy programs administered by the CRA.
Over time, committee work evolved beyond regular meetings with formal agendas and action points. These meetings remain vital roundtables, but even before the pandemic, mutual familiarity and comfort had reached the point where issues could be handled informally as they arose, often with quicker resolution. This evolution made CPA Canada better placed to deliver input as the CRA sought our views on the pandemic’s sudden and unusual tax service challenges.
As the CRA was determining how to deliver the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and other complex programs under tight timelines, CPA Canada was gathering information from members and stakeholders on how to smooth their implementation. Together with the Canadian Tax Foundation and other stakeholder organizations, we also identified concerns about how pandemic-driven issues could disrupt the CRA’s usual tax and benefit programs. We also discussed legislative issues with the federal Department of Finance.
When a member of Parliament asked before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance whether the CRA predicted the pandemic would create challenges for people preparing and filing income taxes, Ted Gallivan, assistant commissioner of the CRA’s Compliance Programs Branch, replied:
“We’ve been working closely with CPA Canada almost daily by email and phone and having teleconferences with members. Also, with the [Canadian Federation of Independent Business], the Canadian Tax Foundation, [and the Association de planification fiscal et financière] in Quebec, so we’re in pretty close consultation with the practitioner community. They’re giving us feedback on what they’re seeing, and that allows us to react before Canadians are adversely affected.”
Of course, some taxpayer issues are not resolved as we hoped they would be. For example, the federal government agreed with the need to extend many tax filing and payment deadlines in 2020 in light of the extraordinary conditions. Unfortunately, as we documented on the CPA Canada website, more modest extensions were not allowed in 2021, despite extensive discussions with our contacts at the CRA and others in the federal government.
The CRA is committed to providing the best service for Canadians, so contact us if you’ve seen persistent issues with the CRA’s services or have ideas on how to improve them. Note that we can’t get involved in individual issues or complaints—for that we recommend starting with the CRA’s service feedback program for submitting complaints or, if that doesn’t resolve things, getting in touch with the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson.
But when it comes to ideas that can make Canada’s tax administration better for everyone, we want to hear from you.
Looking for more tax news? Visit our tax resource centre for the latest updates. Plus, check out Foresight, CPA Canada’s new podcast about the future of the profession.