Chapter 7 – Open and Transparent Government
Open and transparent government is good government. It strengthens trust in our democracy, and ensures the integrity of our public institutions.
The Government is committed to openness, transparency and collaboration, and will modernize how the Government of Canada operates to better reflect the values and expectations of Canadians.
In the digital era, Canadians have high standards for the service they receive. Dealing with the Government should be no exception. In this budget, the Government proposes measures to improve the quality and timelines of critical client services at the Canada Revenue Agency, takes important steps toward evolving online services through Canada.ca, and sets out to establish new performance standards to promote a better client experience for Canadians when they interact with the Government.
Canadians also expect government to be open and transparent. The Government is committed to making government more transparent and will enhance Canadians’ access to government information, including by reviewing the Access to Information Act, streamlining requests for personal information and making more government data available.
Improving Service for Canadians
Improving Client Services at the Canada Revenue Agency
Service excellence is a top priority for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Canadians deserve high-quality services delivered in a way that makes them feel respected and valued. Budget 2016 proposes $185.8 million over five years, starting in 2016–17, and $14.6 million ongoing for the CRA to address the Government’s commitments to service excellence through a number of initiatives.
- The CRA answers over 23 million calls in a typical year, but for a number of years, Canadians have been frustrated by frequent busy signals and long wait times to get the answers they need. By investing in the enhancement of telephone services, caller accessibility will be improved through reduced wait times and less frustration for millions of callers. In addition, the Government proposes to introduce a new dedicated telephone support line that will be piloted for tax service providers, giving them greater access to CRA information to the benefit of the millions of clients they serve.
- The CRA sends out over 130 million pieces of correspondence each year, but many of these letters are difficult to understand and at times can be confusing. In response, the Government proposes to invest in revamping the structure, design and format of its correspondence to ensure all communication is straightforward and easy to read. Over the next three years, virtually all of the CRA’s correspondence for individuals and businesses will be in this new, easy to read format.
- The CRA works with local community organization volunteers to help eligible Canadians with modest incomes complete their tax returns; this program ensures that lower-income individuals receive the tax benefits that they are entitled to. Budget 2016 proposes a further investment to expand this program, ensuring even more vulnerable Canadians receive the assistance they need. In addition, Budget 2016 proposes additional funding to implement a targeted strategy aimed at notifying lower-income non-filers who are likely eligible to receive tax credits.
- Pertaining to rules governing charities and their political activities, the CRA, in consultation with the Department of Finance, will engage with charities through discussions with stakeholder groups and an online consultation to clarify the rules governing the political activities of charities.
- Through proposed service enhancements, capacity will be increased to resolve taxpayer objections and ensure that taxpayers are provided with certainty of their tax obligations as soon as possible. Providing more timely resolution of objections will ensure that taxpayers are treated fairly and their concerns are dealt with quickly.
In addition to offering a new level of service excellence from the CRA, the proposed enhancements will promote increased compliance and fairness by making it easier for taxpayers to avoid errors and comply with their tax obligations, allowing the CRA to direct its compliance efforts towards cracking down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
The focus on improved client service will allow the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to proactively contact individuals who are entitled to, but are not receiving, tax benefits. In particular this initiative will help lower-income earners complete and file their tax returns. These actions will benefit lower-income earners including seniors, Indigenous people, and people with disabilities.
The Canadian personal income tax system provides many credits specifically designed to benefit lower-income Canadians (e.g., the Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax Credit). However, each year a number of these taxpayers do not file a tax return, causing them to miss out on potential tax benefits.
Under this proposal, the CRA would send out letters to individuals who have not filed a tax return, informing them that they are potentially entitled to benefits. This initiative, which will have an ongoing cost of about $1.8 million per year beginning in 2016–17, will help these taxpayers receive the tax benefits they are entitled to.
The Community Volunteer Income Tax Program is offered to eligible individuals with a modest or low income. Through this program, community organizations host tax preparation clinics and arrange for volunteers to prepare income tax and benefit returns free of charge each year. Last year, over 2,300 community organizations and 17,000 volunteers prepared and filed more than half a million tax returns nationally.
Budget 2016 proposes an ongoing investment of about $4.0 million per year, beginning in 2016–17, to allow the CRA to extend coverage of the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program and reach out to a larger number of vulnerable and low-income Canadians, including seniors, newcomers (targeting Syrian refugees), persons with disabilities, and Indigenous people.
Government of Canada Service Strategy
The Government is committed to making it easier to access government services online and to establishing new performance standards for federal services. To support this commitment, Budget 2016 proposes to provide $17.8 million over five years to the Treasury Board Secretariat to support the development of a Government of Canada client-first service strategy and to complete the migration of government websites to Canada.ca.
Opening Government and Engaging Canadians
Enhancing Access to Information
Transparency includes providing Canadians with timely access to their own personal information held by government. To make it easier for Canadians to access government information, including their personal information, the Government proposes to create a simple, central website where Canadians can submit requests to any government institution. This will be backed up with a 30‑day guarantee for personal information requests: should a request take longer than 30 days to fulfill, the Government will provide a written explanation for the delay to the requester and to the Privacy Commissioner. Budget 2016 proposes to provide the Treasury Board Secretariat with $12.9 million over five years for these activities.
In addition, informed by consultations with the Information Commissioner and stakeholders, and advice from Parliamentarians, the Government will move forward on our commitments to revitalize access to information, including empowering the Information Commissioner to order government information to be released, and ensuring that the Access to Information Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as to administrative institutions that support the courts and Parliament.
Expanding Open Data Initiatives
The Government is committed to accelerating and expanding open data initiatives and to better involving Canadians in policy-making. Budget 2016 proposes to provide $11.5 million over five years to double the Treasury Board Secretariat’s budget for open government activities. This funding will allow the Treasury Board Secretariat to enhance its capacity to support engagement with Canadians, to design and deliver an ambitious open government strategy and to accelerate the provision of digital content.
The Government has committed to restore public trust and faith in the political system by demonstrating to Canadians that their votes count and help shape the policies their governments pursue. As a first step, the Government is committed to working with Parliamentarians to establish a special all-party committee with a mandate to study electoral reform options that would be the basis for a cross-country consultation. Budget 2016 proposes to provide up to $10.7 million over four years, starting in 2016–17, to conduct outreach, raise awareness and encourage the participation of Canadians in consultations on voting system reform. This will complement the work of the Parliamentary committee so that reforms to our democratic institutions are developed through an open and transparent engagement process that includes all Canadians.
Parliamentary Approval of Government Borrowing
In 2016–17, the Government will propose legislative amendments to require Parliamentary approval of Government borrowing to enhance transparency and accountability to Parliament.
Better Government for Canadians
Focusing on Outcomes
To ensure that the Government delivers on its commitments, a new results and delivery approach will be implemented that includes the establishment of the Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications, chaired by the Prime Minister, and a Results and Delivery Unit, housed in the Privy Council Office.
By focusing on outcomes for Canadians and making evidence-based decisions that are anchored in meaningful data and indicators, the Government is moving to a culture of measurement and impact, and is putting in place the tools to deliver on priorities, align resources to programs and activities that deliver real value for Canadians, and provide meaningful information to Canadians and Parliament.
The Privy Council Office also plays a key role in ensuring the smooth functioning of the Cabinet decision-making process and facilitating the implementation of the Government’s agenda. The Government has committed to increasing its engagement with provinces and territories, putting more focus on digital communications, and making changes to Canada’s democratic institutions, such as revising the processes for Governor in Council appointments and Senate appointments and implementing electoral reform.
To ensure that the department has the resources required to effectively support the Government’s agenda, as well as to strengthen security and make required investments in lifecycle updates to systems and buildings, Budget 2016 proposes to provide up to $49 million in 2016–17 and up to $50 million in 2017–18 to the Privy Council Office. The Government will introduce legislation, as necessary, to ensure that government is organized to provide better outcomes for Canadians.
Strengthening the Public Service
The Government is committed to a strong, respectful and productive relationship with the Public Service of Canada, which is a source of comparative advantage for Canada and one of the very best in the world. Each and every time a government employee comes to work, they do so in service to Canada, with the goal of improving our country and the lives of all Canadians. The Government, under the leadership of the President of the Treasury Board, is committed to further strengthening this world-class institution, to ensure that it is innovative, agile, collaborative and high-performing, providing evidence-based advice and high-quality programs and services that meet the needs and expectations of Canadians in communities across the country. The Government is committed to the development of public service leaders and in ensuring that ongoing workplace improvement is based on evidence through employee surveys.
Reviewing Spending and the Tax System
The Government has committed to eliminate poorly targeted and inefficient programs, wasteful spending, and ineffective and obsolete government initiatives. As a first step towards meeting this commitment, Budget 2016 announces annual reductions of $221 million in professional services, travel and government advertising, starting in 2016–17. Going forward, under the leadership of the President of the Treasury Board, the Government will identify other changes and better align government spending with priorities.
In addition, the Government remains committed to ensuring federal tax expenditures are fair for Canadians, efficient and fiscally responsible. Individuals and businesses have expressed concerns related to the efficiency and fairness of the tax system, and how the increasing number of tax expenditures has made the federal tax system more complex. In the coming year, the Government will undertake a review of the tax system to determine whether it works well for Canadians, with a view to eliminating poorly targeted and inefficient tax measures.
Investing in Government Information Technology
Since its creation in 2011, Shared Services Canada has worked towards consolidating key Government of Canada information technology (IT) infrastructure in order to achieve savings from economies of scale. The Auditor General of Canada, however, recently identified challenges at Shared Services Canada, including adequately demonstrating that it can meet its objectives of maintaining or improving IT services to effectively serve Canadians. Investing in mission critical systems is essential to ensuring that the Government can meet these objectives and provide high-quality services to Canadians. To this end, Budget 2016 proposes to provide $383.8 million on a cash basis over 2016–17 and 2017–18 to Shared Services Canada to support the transformation of government IT systems, data centres and telecommunications networks.
Transforming Government Back Office Systems
Federal government departments and agencies currently have their own human resources management, financial management and information management platforms. This myriad of platforms makes it difficult to assemble enterprise-wide data for Canadians, and to achieve value for money through back office efficiencies. Budget 2016 proposes to provide $75.2 million over two years to support the replacement of these platforms with Government-wide systems. Once completed, this back office transformation initiative is expected to result in significantly lower annual costs to operate and maintain these functions, and will help deliver better services to Canadians.
Bargaining in Good Faith With Federal Government Unions
A new round of collective bargaining between the Government and federal public service bargaining agents began in 2014, with all 59 federal public service collective agreements up for renewal. The Government is committed to negotiating in good faith to reach agreements that are fair for public service employees and Canadians.
Demonstrating its commitment to fully respect the collective bargaining process, the Government has already introduced new legislation to repeal the legislative provisions that provide it with the power to make unilateral changes to the disability and sick leave system. It also reversed the previous Government’s decision to book savings in respect of changes to the public service disability and sick leave system in advance of the completion of negotiations. The Government will also consult on changes to the Public Service Labour Relations Act introduced through the 2013 Budget Implementation Act.
Increasing Capacity at Status of Women Canada
Public policies impact men and women differently, and the Government must take these differences into account when making decisions. To this end, Budget 2016 proposes to increase capacity at Status of Women Canada. Funding would be used to expand the Agency’s regional presence across Canada to support local organizations working on women’s issues and gender equality. Proposed funding would also ensurefederal government for more informed decision-making, and would support the creation of a dedicated research and evaluation unit within the Agency to provide evidence-based, innovative research with respect to women’s issues. Total investments would be $23.3 million over five years, starting in 2016–17.
Treasury Board Program Integrity Process
Building better government means being responsive to managing critical program and operational risks that emerge due to factors such as evolving workload pressures, asset rust-out, program price inflation and other program cost drivers. In this spirit, the Treasury Board will address government-wide program integrity issues with a view to improving client service and ensuring employee health and safety. For example, organizations such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Coast Guard are departments that have been identified as requiring incremental funding to deliver mission-critical services to Canadians.
To address these and other risk management issues, Budget 2016 proposes to allocate $500 million over two years, starting in 2016–17, to support the Treasury Board process. As specific decisions are taken, the amounts will be transparently submitted for Parliamentary approval through the Estimates process.
|Improving Service for Canadians|
|Improving Client Services at the Canada Revenue Agency||61||50||111|
|Government of Canada Service Strategy||8||7||14|
|Subtotal—Improving Service for Canadians||68||56||125|
|Opening Government and Engaging Canadians|
|Enhancing Access to Information||3||4||7|
|Expanding Open Data Initiatives||2||2||5|
|Subtotal—Opening Government and Engaging Canadians||13||7||20|
|Better Government for Canadians|
|Focusing on Outcomes||49||50||99|
|Reviewing Spending and the Tax System||-221||-221||-442|
|Investing in Government Information Technology||126||95||221|
|Transforming Government Back Office Systems||70||5||75|
|Increasing Capacity at Status of Women Canada||3||5||8|
|Treasury Board Program Integrity Process||250||250||500|
|Subtotal—Better Government for Canadians||277||184||461|
|Net Fiscal Cost||359||248||607|
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