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Committee studying offshore tax evasion will not question revenue minister

National Revenue Minister Gail Shea responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Thursday January 31, 2013 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A finance committee study on tax havens will be written without input from National Revenue Minister Gail Shea after the Conservative majority struck down an NDP request to question the minister about spending priorities inside her department.

The committee has heard from a wide range of witnesses this year on the topic of offshore tax havens and what Ottawa could do to prevent this loss of revenue. Conservative MPs argued that there was no need for the committee to hear from the minister because officials from the Canada Revenue Agency had already spoken to the committee in February.

But opposition MPs noted that foreign tax havens have suddenly become a very topical subject in light of a massive leak of information on offshore accounts. NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said the Conservative government's March budget promised a crackdown on tax evasion, yet other government documents indicate that the Canada Revenue Agency is in the midst of eliminating 3,000 jobs over three years.

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"It is an absolutely valid and fair and logical question: How will the minister – not the bureaucrats – but the minister, square the circle of reducing 3,000 full-time equivalents in CRA and at the same time beefing up enforcement to crack down on tax havens?" she said. "I think it's a logical question and I would think the minister would be voluntarily coming forward and be rushing to the finance committee to explain that to us and to explain that to Canadians."

Liberal finance critic Scott Brison argued in favour of the motion, which was put forward by NDP revenue critic Murray Rankin.

"Having the officials does not replace the importance of a minister appearing before committee on an issue like this," said Mr. Brison. "It's a fundamental principle of ministerial accountability and this is one of those opportunities to demonstrate that it may still exist in Ottawa."

But Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, a committee member and parliamentary secretary to the revenue minister, said there was no need for a further meeting given that department officials appeared in February and the minister has answered questions in Question Period.

"We have had the minister respond to this issue in the House regularly," she said. "She has clearly stated that as Canadians change the way they file taxes – I think probably many people have their accountants electronically file – it is very obvious that you need less people that are sitting at keyboards inputting those thousands and millions and millions of paper returns."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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