PCU: lack of rigor in recovery
“I am concerned about the lack of rigor in post-payment verification and collection activities,” Karen Hogan said in a press briefing on the audit of several emergency aid programs.
The Auditor General’s review focused on the CERB, which was very popular at the start of the pandemic, but also on other programs such as the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) and the Emergency Wage Subsidy.
The Office of the Auditor General was able to determine that $4.6 billion (B$) had been overpaid to ineligible recipients, and a large sum of at least $27.4 billion should be audited as it may have been overpaid.
However, we also note that Justin Trudeau’s government does not plan to “audit all payments made to recipients at risk of ineligibility.”
Karen Hogan said at the press conference that she recommended that the responsible departments conduct more “comprehensive” audits of those planning to refund money already paid.
After the Auditor General’s audit of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and the Employment and Social Development Agency of Canada (ESDC) was completed, Ottawa received a total of $2.3 billion, according to information provided to Karen Hogan’s office.
Liberals defend the CRA plan and “severity.”
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said the Trudeau government “does not agree” with Karen Hogan’s estimate of “overpayments of business subsidies.” In the same breath, he defended the APC’s plan and the “hardness” of the work carried out there.
“The agency continues its painstaking audit work, and while it is too early to comment on the total amount of overpayments, the results so far indicate a higher level of compliance than the Auditor General had estimated,” he said.
He claimed that in CERB’s case, it took months for the CRA to have the required information to ensure that the buyers were eligible after the money was paid.
“If we remember correctly, in 2020, the agency did not have tax information for 2019, for example, which allows people to verify the income of people applying to the CERB,” said Diane Lebouthillier, noting the deadline for filing tax returns. and the deadline for payment of taxes was extended.
An audit of these rushed initiatives, stemming from a legally required review, notes that Ottawa has chosen the approach of conducting the bulk of compliance checks after benefits are paid to meet the urgency of the situation. In the meantime, the responsible departments “based on the personal attestations” of the applicants.
Karen Hogan’s office says: “Eligibility checks after payment were more important because some recipients were at risk of not being eligible for the benefits they received.”
However, these after-the-fact inspections are considered insufficient, and there are also delays that worry the Auditor General.
“The department and agency may not be able to complete all scheduled post-payment inspections within the specified time frames,” he wrote. Therefore, they will not be able to collect and collect part of the amounts due. »
As of the afternoon of Dec. 6, Ottawa is on track to recover the toll money before it’s too late, according to CRA officials who answered several questions from the media.
“We have a plan. We are very, very comfortable with the plan,” said one of these officials.
He said that about 1,700 audits have been completed, another 1,900 are being continued, and 2,500 will be put into use next year.
“We deal with files that present the highest risks. But the results to date encourage us. There is a fairly high level of compliance by the organizations we audit,” the official said.
Conservatives and Bloc Québécois demand amendments
Quebec Lt. Col. Pierre Paul-Hus, of the Conservative opposition, reacted to Karen Hogan’s observation of “lack of rigidity,” saying, “It shows how dumb there is in the overall management of the programs.”
Along with fellow finance critic Jasraj Singh Hallan, he called on Justin Trudeau’s Liberals for a new plan to claw back the fraudulently collected sums.
“In 2020, we raised a flag saying we have to be careful and put a beacon,” said Pierre Paul-Hus, adding that he fears other surcharges if new initiatives like the Canadian dental benefit emerge.
Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet called on Ottawa to regulate the situation based on “recommendations for future reference,” in a press release.
“There are amounts to be recovered on deadlines, which may be very short. I advise the government to target the most likely cases of abuse with the largest amount,” he said.
For his part, New Democratic Party (NDP) finance critic Daniel Blaikie called on the government to “be careful here to prevent people who honestly apply for these programs and don’t have the money to pay back (being persecuted).
In a written statement, he noted that the NDP is calling for an “amnesty for CERB and PCRE reimbursement for low-income people.”