A staff shakeup at the Canada Revenue Agency is prompting accusations the Conservatives are backing away from a promised crackdown on international tax evasion.
Months after the dust apparently settled in terms of federal public service staffing cuts, more than 300 workers at the Canada Revenue Agency are receiving notices their jobs could be "affected" in some way, either through relocation internally or a layoff.
More than 200 of those positions involve senior tax auditors who work on international tax evasion schemes, according to the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), the union representing the employees. In addition, "affected" notices went out to more than 100 staff who handle taxpayer appeals of CRA decisions, according to the Union of Taxation Employees.
The two unions say the changes are at odds with pledges in the last two federal budgets that Ottawa would boost enforcement of overseas tax evasion.
Debi Daviau, the president of PIPSC, said the shuffle will mean fewer senior auditors working on international files, even though it is one of the agency's most lucrative areas in terms of finding new government revenue.
Ms. Daviau said it appears those auditors will be shifted to a new focus on small and medium-sized Canadian businesses.
"In light of their [budget] announcements, it doesn't really make any sense at all," Ms. Daviau said. The union says that every dollar spent on a CRA salary for international tax evasion returns $46 in tax revenue, compared with the average of $19 for the agency as a whole.
"It's clear that they've shifted their positioning on this. I think it's from lobbying from big business, personally," she said.
Philippe Brideau, a spokesman for the CRA, provided a very different version of events that still left questions as to the exact nature of the changes.
"To be clear, the CRA is not reducing the number of tax evasion and tax avoidance experts or the number of auditors," he wrote in an e-mail. "This work force adjustment process will not result in any auditor positions being cut."
He added that the CRA's resources for auditing international tax planning have increased and money from the 2013 budget led to the creation of an Offshore Compliance Division with 70 full-time staff.
The agency has also seen a "dramatic increase" is the annual use of a voluntary disclosure program for offshore accounts, rising from 1,215 disclosures eight years ago to nearly 6,000 already this year.
"These increases are the direct result of the government's action," he said.
Staff levels at the CRA have fluctuated significantly over the past 15 years. The size of the CRA reached a high of 51,128 in 2003 and then a low of 39,895 in 2005. It then grew to 43,216 in 2010 and then back down to 40,279 in 2014.
There has been a sharp decline in the size of the federal public service as a whole in recent years, dropping from a high of 282,980 in 2010 down to 257,138 in 2014. The drop does not completely offset the major increase in hiring that took place in the early years after the Conservatives formed government in 2006. The current size of the public service is still slightly larger than it was in 2006 when the population was 249,932.
Many staff who received "affected" notices during the period of budget cuts who wanted to keep working were able to stay in the public service because of openings created through attrition.
Bob Campbell, the president of the Union of Taxation Employees, said the practice of leaving jobs unfilled is taking its toll. Staff are also upset with the government's plans to cut back on sick days and to launch an anonymous snitch line for agency staff to report perceived abuses by their colleagues.
"The morale within CRA right now is very low," he said.