Page frustrated in bid to calculate tax gap

PBO still waiting for numbers from Canada Revenue Agency

Paul Mcleod, Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page wants to calculate how many billions of dollars are being defrauded from taxpayers, but so far the government won't give him the numbers.

Page's office confirmed Wednesday it was asked by Liberal Sen. Percy Downe to calculate the tax gap - essentially how much tax revenue Canada is losing out on through fraud and offshore bank accounts.

Page asked the Canada Revenue Agency but was told it doesn't do those calculations.

He then studied how countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden calculate their tax gaps. He then asked the revenue agency for the raw data so he could do the math himself.

It's been about five weeks and the revenue agency still has not provided the numbers, according to Page's office.

Tax gaps range from the United Kingdom on the low end - it calculates it loses about seven per cent of its tax base to fraud - to the United States, which assumes that over 14 per cent of all potential tax revenue is lost through fraud.

Staff in the parliamentary budget office say there is no way to predict what Canada's tax gap would be without the data, but it would almost certainly be in the billions of dollars.

The Opposition is now accusing the government of deliberately withholding the data.

"Canadians want, and deserve, to know just what type of figures we are dealing with," said Downe, who represents Charlottetown in the Senate.

"And yet, this government not only lacks the will to calculate it, they are not too keen on anyone else calculating it either."

New Democrat MP Murray Rankin asked National Revenue Minister Gail Shea in the House of Commons what the government is trying to hide. Shea's department has not explicitly refused to give Page the information. A spokesman said the department is considering his request. Page's staff say they have been told for weeks that the numbers would be released.

At the same time, Shea's office is casting doubt on the idea that it is even possible to define the tax gap. It is citing tax policy director Pascal Saint-Amans of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, who said it is "almost impossible" to calculate the gap.

"That's why the OECD says all countries should have robust auditing," Shea said in the House. "And that's exactly what we're doing, Mr. Speaker."

ILLUS: National Revenue Minister Gail Shea's office says it is considering a request from Canada's parliamentary budget officer for information on how much tax revenue Canada loses through fraud and offshore bank accounts. (ADRIEN VECZAN / Staff)