The Conservative government doesn't know whether its first-time homebuyers tax credit is working as intended, and kept the evaluation of the child fitness tax credit hidden, Canada's auditor general said today in his spring report. 

The tax credit for first-time homebuyers hasn't been evaluated since it was introduced, despite an earlier analysis suggesting there could be some problems with it.

The same criticism applies to a textbook tax credit. Both were introduced by the Conservatives.

Both credits were analyzed before they were introduced, with risks identified. Despite that, "the department does not have complete information to determine if these tax measures are relevant and performing as intended," the report said.

Ferguson also concluded that the children's fitness tax credit was analyzed, with an expert panel pointing to a possible problem with that credit's implementation: not all parents could pay fitness membership fees, programs or camps in order to get the credit when they filed their taxes months later.

The panel requested a review after four years, which the department prepared, but that evaluation "was not made public," the report said.

Other findings by the auditor general include:

  • People living in remote First Nations in Manitoba and Ontario aren't guaranteed to have access to clinical and client care services, with major health and safety problems at the nursing stations, and only one of the 45 nurses evaluated finishing the five mandatory training courses chosen for the audit.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada aren't doing enough to tackle problems posed by antimicrobial resistance.
  • Department of National Defence "failed to fully investigate" two complaints of values and ethics violations in the ombudsman's office, which also had "inadequate controls for financial, contract, and human resource management."
  • Correctional Service of Canada officials recommended fewer people for early release in 2013-14 than in 2011-12, even if the offender was assessed as a low risk to reoffend, leading to an additional $91-million annual cost.
  • Canada Border Services Agency has had "significant challenges" managing IT projects.

Not enough information

Ferguson's audit looked at a number of issues, including "tax expenditures" — credits and deductions used to promote specific policy objectives. These include the targeted tax deductions and credits known as boutique tax cuts, a complicated series of measures the Conservatives prefer to target specific groups of Canadians.

The audit also found the Department of Finance doesn't give Parliament enough information to allow proper oversight of tax expenditures.

It found information, like future cost projections, which is available for other spending, isn't available for tax expenditures.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson 20150428

The Conservative government doesn't know whether one of its signature tax policies is working as intended, and kept the evaluation of another one hidden, the auditor general said Tuesday in his spring report. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Department of Finance doesn't include "valuable information" that's available in other parts of the world, like the number of beneficiaries — though that is sometimes provided by the Canada Revenue Agency — or consolidated information about the purpose of the policy.

This is in contrast to how government departments are required to account for other spending. Countries like France and Australia, according to the auditor general, have reports that:

  • Describe the tax measures.
  • Discuss its purpose, future cost and number of beneficiaries.
  • Link it to other spending programs. 

"We believe that details such as these could improve the quality and completeness of the reporting by the Department of Finance Canada," Ferguson wrote.

Kevin Sorenson, minister of state to Finance Minister Joe Oliver, said Ferguson also found the department does a good job of analyzing tax measures.

"The government already provides two years of data and at the urging of the auditor general, we will provide an additional two years of data for the Canadian public and for Parliament," he said.

Low-risk prisoners kept behind bars longer

Ferguson's report also found a number of problems with how the Correctional Service of Canada treats low-risk prisoners.

CSC officials recommended fewer people for early release in 2013-14 than in 2011-12, even if the offender was assessed as a low risk to reoffend.

Ministers respond to auditor general's report

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Steven Blaney, centre, Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Minister of Health Rona Ambrose, right, listen as Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson responds to a question about the auditor general's report in the Commons foyer Tuesday April 28, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Eighty per cent of offenders were kept behind bars past their first eligible date for parole. That's despite the department's data showing low-risk offenders who serve longer portions of their sentences on parole — in the community — reintegrate better.

The audit also found more offenders are being released directly from medium- and high-security penitentiaries rather than spending time serving supervised sentences in the community on parole.

Ferguson recommends investigating why parole hearings are being postponed, especially for low-risk offenders.

It also found CSC is getting faster at getting inmates into programs, but those programs are still not delivered on time: many low-risk offenders aren't referred to programs while they're in custody.

"Most offenders did not complete their programs by the time they were first eligible for release," Ferguson said.

The report also found that the department sometimes uses outdated information to assess inmates for custody and programs.

In a statement, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said he's "fully confident" both CBSA and CSC are addressing Ferguson's findings.

"CSC initiatives are underway to address the issues raised by the auditor general, while keeping public safety at the forefront of all decisions made."