Published by Senator Percy Downe on 09 April 2012
Revenue Minister Gail Shea’s op-ed article (The Hill Times, April 2, 2012) certainly shows her willingness to highlight the Conservative Party line regarding overseas tax evasion, but it does little to illuminate the Government’s response – or lack thereof – to the four year old revelations of 1800 Canadians with secret bank accounts in Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Indeed, in her entire article, the two countries receive no mention at all, which is surprising given that 106 Canadians were found to have bank accounts containing over $100 million in Liechtenstein alone. Gail Shea boasts of the compliance rates of Canadian taxpayers; I have no reason to doubt that this is the case, but my concern is with those who do not comply, a topic about which the Minister had much less to say. In particular, she is silent on my question of why not one of the over 1800 Canadians with hidden overseas bank accounts named in documents given to the Canada Revenue Agency has been convicted of – or even charged with – tax evasion: a curious circumstance, given this Government’s much-touted “tough on crime” agenda. Are wealthy Canadians receiving a special deal from this Government?
Similarly, there is a claim that “CRA has been able to assess more than $4-billion in taxes owed on money hidden offshore.” At first glance, this certainly appears to be an impressive accomplishment, but to “assess” and “identify” money is not the same as having it in our national coffers. Shea’s response contains no mention of what proportion - if any - of all those billions that the CRA refers to has actually been collected. Unfortunately, more tough talk, but no action to fine and charge these potential tax cheats.
She goes on to talk about the success of the Voluntary Disclosures Program (VDP), a long-standing measure that allows Canadians to own up to past misdeeds and pay the taxes they owe with reduced penalties. “Come to us, before we go to you”, as the CRA website warns. However, she fails to explain how it is that at least 20 Canadians named as having secret accounts in Liechtenstein banks were able to take advantage of this program. This is despite the fact that the CRA had stated to Parliament on April 20, 2009, that none of them were eligible for consideration under the VDP, then flip-flopped and advised Parliament on June 10, 2010, that they changed their policy for the Liechtenstein tax cheats.
An explanation of how this change in policy came about is conspicuously absent from Minister Shea’s op-ed. Who benefited from this change?
It would appear that Gail Shea is following in the footsteps of her predecessors in that she is saying the right words, but failing to take the concrete action needed to go after those wealthy Canadians who would rather hide money overseas than pay their fair share to fund our medicare system.
We deserve more than reassuring words. I would ask Gail Shea to let the Canadian public know when progress has been made on this file and she has actually charged at least one of these 1800 wealthy Canadian tax cheats.