Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Minister, I want to welcome you to the Senate. I am particularly proud that you are here as you are a minister from my province. I want to tell you we are very proud of the work you have done, especially when you came to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, and the honest way in which you answered the questions was very comforting.
Minister, from the way you are answering questions, and I had the same question as Senator Dagenais so I won’t go into details about it. You are very much aware of the public servants suffering from mental and emotional anguish and struggling to pay for everyday necessities. You earlier on set out all the things you have put in place to help public servants.
One thing that really bothers me is that worse than their situation, as the tax deadline appears, thousands of public servants affected by Phoenix are scrambling as they receive T4s that are not reflective of their actual earnings. Public Services and Procurement Canada has sent a message to federal employees asking them to meet the April 30 deadline and to use the most recent tax slips issued even if they contain errors.
Minister, it is not acceptable that they have to pay taxes on wages they have not been paid and based on T4 slips that are not correct. What are you going to do to help these public servants?
Hon. Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., Minister of Public Services and Procurement: Thank you. Once again, I appreciate the horrible position we’ve put our public servants in. We identified late last year, working with CRA, that we wanted to mitigate as much as possible any impact on taxes that the Phoenix pay system would have. We identified that a significant issue was overpayments because, of course, we would be asking employees to pay a higher level of tax, and, quite frankly, being in a certain tax bracket could result in public servants not having access to certain government benefits. It became a priority to make sure that as many overpayments as possible were dealt with. We also realize that as much as you might have an overpayment in our system you could very well also be underpaid in another area. To go after someone for an overpayment who hasn’t been made whole within the system — because, as we know, the likelihood is that someone who has one transaction in the queue will have more than one.
We put in place a number of measures to mitigate this. First of all, we put a collective effort on addressing overpayment issues. I would say we were pretty successful in reducing the number of overpayments that are reflected on T4s. To be honest, there were some that were not addressed, and some employees did get T4s that were inaccurate. We have committed, working with CRA, to not have employees have to re-file taxes. That will be done automatically. We have issued amended T4s for every single one of those overpayments we did not get to. We have also created a government-wide policy that we will not require an employee to pay back any money that may be in an overpayment situation until that employee has been made whole.
Until Mr. Harder here has — I’m not sure if you do, sir, but until all of your transactions are dealt with, we will not come after you for the payment of that money. We are doing the best we can to make sure that is mitigated. As I said earlier, we completely understand the difficult situation we’ve put people in.