Corporate tax avoidance, tax evasion, and GAAR: Oh my!

There has been a lot of attention on corporate tax avoidance of late, with calls for corporations to ‘pay their fair share.’ If you are in this camp, then I hope you are following closely the OECD BEPS debates, the luxleaks fall out, and yes even the federal budgets. No? Well, then you should.

A lot of people seem to equate corporate tax minimization strategies with tax evasion. But rarely are their shenanigans cut and dry evasion. Most of corporate tax strategies used to minimize their taxes use the existing tax code to their benefit (as we all are allowed to do). This is why a lot of focus in the last few federal budgets has been focused on closing loopholes that allow some of this behavior. One area of focus has been to stop relying so much on the General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR, I blogged about GAAR before, here and here) and instead detail specific anti-avoidance rules. However these specific rules don’t seem to get much attention outside of very small tax nerd circles. But this move I think is important for all of us to understand.

So let me talk about the surprise element in Budget 2015 that did not get much attention at the time of the budget (or even now) outside of narrow tax circles, but it was an interesting one and caught many off guard. Budget 2015 included specific anti-avoidance rules for synthetic equity arrangements (SEA).

As you know (?), some shares in Canadian companies pay dividends. Dividend income is taxable (sort of), but there are very special rules when a Canadian company pays a dividend to a Canadian resident for tax purposes. On the corporate side of things, when a dividend is received by a Canadian corporation from another Canadian corporation, the receiving corporation is permitted to deduct these dividends when computing its taxable income to avoid double taxation of the dividend income. This is because the dividend is paid out of after tax income.

There are, however, caveats to this rule. The receiving corporation is not eligible for the deduction if the dividend is received as part of a dividend rental arrangement (DRA). A DRA is when a Canadian company enters into an arrangement that enable the Canadian company to receive a dividend on a share, while economic exposure to the share accrues to, or is borne by, someone else, usually a non-Canadian company who wanted the shares, but because they are not a Canadian company, can’t deduct the dividend. That is, the whole point of these types of DR arrangements is essentially tax avoidance and run against the spirit of the tax principles embodied in the Income Tax Act.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people paid a lot of money to find new and wonderful ways around these types of tax rules and that is indeed what happened. As a result, Budget 2015 extended the definition of DRAs to include a new and specific form of these arrangements called synthetic equity arrangements. SEAs potentially avoided the application of the DRA rules, mostly because they were so convoluted that it was not clear what these arrangements were. SEAs appeared to be mostly used in the financial sector and were generally unknown to a lot of people. The fact that Finance caught wind of these things, understood them, and cracked down on them is a testament to their catch up abilities. However there were a lot of people on the tax community that were highly skeptical that this crack down would result in the increased revenues detailed in the Budget, which seemed oddly calculated to ensure a budget surplus.

However, by the sounds of it, these transactions were already caught under the existing DRA or GAAR, but given that Finance devised specific rules for these arrangements (and actually any future arrangements that look like SEAs, but were designed to get around these new rules), it is very clear that (1) Finance wants to signal to the corporate community that these kinds of tax shenanigans will not be tolerated and (2) was hesitant to get involved in any more lengthy and complex GAAR cases.

Given that this is the second budget that opted for such complex specific anti-avoidance rules (Budget 2013 had a similar approach to character conversion transactions and synthetic dispositions), some are wondering if the GAAR will become a thing of the past signaling increasing complexity of our tax code. I mean, Ottawa is still consulting on the latest anti-avoidance rules and I expect it will be not until 2016 that we see anything specific tabled.

And of course these specific anti-avoidance rules only target the stuff we already know about. I assure you that hours after the budget was announced, a bunch of highly paid folk began huddling around their desks/computers/tablets/smartboards creating the next thing to minimize taxes using the letter of the law. I bet that they have completed their work and we will be hearing about the next specific anti-avoidance rules in short order.

That is the tricky part with combating tax noncompliance. You are always a few steps behind those whose job it is to find ways around the rules. So for those of you who seem to think CRA should just crack down and close the loopholes, it is a lot harder than it sounds. Crack down on what? Where? How? What loopholes? Those loopholes that allow preferential tax treatment for you too?


Income, Wealth and Tax Noncompliance: Richmond Income Tax Invaders

You may have caught wind of the Vancouver Sun article from Monday June 15, 2105 that reported on the ritzy Vancouver neighborhood where many people are poor. This was follow up with an article about these “Richmond income tax evaders”, but that article no longer exists on their site. Instead, this little gem appeared today.

The crux of the argument is that because the price of homes in this area is so high, but reported incomes so low, this must mean its residents are underreporting their income, and specifically their global income. There is a lot of focus on global incomes because Richmond is home to many non-Canadians. Here is a quote from the former mayor:

“Since many of the families live in over $1 million homes, it is simply under-reporting of income that causes the problem.”

I think it is a bit of a stretch to take this data and make this sort of bold statement for a number of reasons.

First, owning a home makes you a resident for some purposes, but not for others. Notably, owning a home does not necessarily mean you are a resident for tax purposes. Here are the CRA rules for determining residency. To determine residency, CRA looks at many factors and only if most of them indicate residency, only then will residency for tax purposes be established. Only once you are a resident for tax purposes do you need to report your world-wide income to CRA. If instead you are deemed to be a non-resident for tax purposes than the only income you need to report to CRA is your Canadian source income. Residents qualify for tax related benefits, such at the CCTB and UCCB, but non-residents do not. The other issue is that we have tax treaties with many countries that allow for foreign income not to be subject to tax in Canada. Again, something the Canadians working in other jurisdictions equally benefit from. One such country includes, gasp, China. There are also various immigration rules that allow for only some members of the family to be residents for tax purposes.

The article from today suggests that this is not fair and if you own a home, you should pay income taxes. Well, we should be careful here because Canadians benefit from similar rules in other countries. For example, many Canadians own property in the US, but this does not subject them to income tax in the US provided they are not a US citizen, green card holder, or do not stay more than 120 days in the US. By the logic expounded about the Richmond case, these Canadians should be paying taxes in the US. I am fairly sure the Canadian snowbirds would flip if that were the case.

Second, income is not the same as wealth, something we really need to start getting our heads around as the wealthiest generation ever retires. Check out this gem of a quote from the article:

Jiun-Hsien Henry Yao, who ran for Richmond city council in 2014, is also troubled by the income-reporting problem. Normally, he said, “you would need a family income of $150,000 to $200,000 just to feel you can afford any home in Richmond.” But in high-end Thompson, most households report income well under $100,000.

Buying a home does not require income. It only requires income if you are going to have a mortgage. You can buy a home with wealth. It is very possible to have low income yet be very wealthy. Hence, owning a $1 million dollar house and having $50k or less in income is not an indicator to call in the tax auditors. In fact, if this were the metric, many seniors in BC would be in the CRA hot seat. More importantly, wealth is not reportable to CRA, only the gains made from said wealth and only according to your tax residency status.

The article from June 15 talks about people reporting poverty level incomes. See this:

“Statistics Canada continues to show (the entire city of) Richmond as one of the poorest cities in British Columbia, with a very high child poverty rate.”

While the article is not clear, this seems to be based on data from the 2011 National Household Survey. That is the voluntary survey that replaced the mandatory long form of the census. There are certainly problems with response rates, but Richmond seems to have a good response rate of around 80% which is not bad, but not 100%, and we don’t know how that response rate varies across the city or by other factors. The Survey collects information on income and, if permission is given, the respondents’ income is obtained from their income tax file, assuming they have one. If permission is not given, it is provided by the respondent. So again, we have the problem of residency for tax purposes creeping up again, but we also have to understand the data that is obtained. While it the income data is linked to the income tax file, Statistics Canada income definitions do not correspond to CRA definitions for income tax purposes. For example, total income does not include capital gains, an important income source for many high wealth individuals. It does not include inheritances, RRSP withdrawals, and related. You can get capital gains income from the NHS but it is not in the public tables.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Is there income tax evasion going one? I don’t doubt it. Some of it is due to a misunderstanding of the rules. Navigating the tax rules of a different country is not easy. I should know as my family has had to navigate the US tax rules and that was amazingly difficult. Ensuring that our rules are transparent, easy to understand, and easy to locate is an obligation on which the CRA falls vastly short.

But a lot of it is due to willful tax noncompliance. Certain groups of people that have come to Canada have tax morale problems. That said, so do certain groups of Canadians (cough, building and renovation industry, oil and gas, mining, cough). In fact, there is some good evidence that our tax compliance rate in this country is shockingly poor, but that will be the subject of a future blog post.

In the meantime, take this to heart. We know the IRS’s audit rate is 0.86%. We don’t know CRA’s audit rate, but based on the US rate, we expect it to be much, much less than 0.5%. Auditing is expensive and requires a lot of manpower. To have a higher audit rate CRA needs resources that it does not have, and never has had. To make this investment means an opportunity cost. What are you willing to give up to get this audit rate and are you prepared to happily accept being selected to have such an audit?

Nudge Economics and Tax Compliance

It would seem the latest bright shiny ball in the policy world is Nudge Economics. On the one hand, I suppose it is good that governments are finally getting around to reading some economics books. On the other hand, governments don’t seem to read the books too carefully since they can’t seem to understand the difference between Nudge economics and, well, economics.

If you take Ec101 you will learn something about the rationality assumption. This assumption means that people make decisions that make them happy. Those decisions may appear to be weird, nonsensical, and ‘irrational’ to some observers, but in economics (well Ec101 that is) we have this condition that one should not judge the preferences underlying someone’s decision. That fact that Mike Moffat hops on one leg throwing erasers at his students to teach this concept does not mean he is irrational. It means he is rational because doing so makes him happy (his students learn the concept).

But wait, you say. People often do things that are irrational and that makes economics bunk. Well, you might want to first read this, but you might also want to take a course beyond Ec101. Sometimes we make mistakes in making decisions because we don’t have the right information, we misunderstand something like information or risks, we don’t pay attention, the costs and benefits of the choice are too closely matched, herd mentality, and so on. So we want to make decision A, but for whatever reason we make decision B.

A good example is organ donation. Almost everyone says they want to donate their organs when they die, but very few of these people actually register to be an organ donor. To become a registered organ donor you have to incur the cost of registration and simple inertia fails to make that happen. So the rational decision is to register, but we observe the irrational decision instead.

This is where Nudge comes in. Nudge is about a cost-effective ways to ensure voluntary compliance usually through a change to the choice architecture to ensure the rational decision is made. So instead of having to register to become an organ donor, we change the choice to having to register to not become an organ donor. That is, moving from an opt-in to an opt-out system is simple Nudge economics. Similar techniques have been used for retirement savings.

This is not the same as incentives. Incentives are used to change a rational choice. So a pigouvian tax, like a carbon tax is pure economics based on rationality. What I find in going to these sessions where government is talking about Nudge economics is that they do not understand the difference between Nudge economics and economics. While they talk Nudge, the actions, suggestions, phrasing are all about pure and simple incentives.

One of the areas where governments want to apply Nudge economics is to tax compliance. After all, Nudge is all about cost-effective voluntary compliance, which is pretty much how we administer our tax system. To do so, we have to understand that Nudge will not work on people who are typical tax evaders. It will not work on those for whom the tax evasion decision is a rational decision. These are people who have strong negative attitudes about paying taxes, have low risk aversion, do not care about getting caught, understand the consequences, and have a strong social norm towards tax evasion. For these people, we have incentives. Nudge will work on people who made a mistake, don’t understand the rule, lack information, follow the herd, misunderstand the risks, and so on.

There have been a number of tests of Nudge theory on tax compliance. Prepopulated forms, which opts someone into filing their taxes, increased the number of people filing their taxes. The reason is simple, the application process for taxes is a significant compliance factor for many non-filers. The down side is this UK report shows there is little evidence that pre-populated forms decrease tax non-compliance by those already filing. By sending the pre-populated form, the revenue authority shows its hand to the taxpayer. There is little incentive for a taxpayer to disclose additional income that the tax authority is not aware of.

The UK used tax letters that stated the majority of individuals pay their taxes on time, which resulted in a 15% increase in on time filings. However, when Switzerland, Minnesota, and France used the same method, they found no effect on compliance behavior. This tells us that, as always, we have to be careful about generalizing findings obtained from methodologies that don’t allow for generalizations (causality 101).

There was also interesting work that examined whether telling taxpayers where their money went helped with tax compliance. It did not. Instead, it made it worse. What did help compliance a lot (16%) was to let the taxpayer allocate some of their tax payment to a particular program.

The difficulty though with some of these Nudge interventions is that you do risk future non-compliance if these interventions are targeted to the wrong people or if taxpayers feel they are not treated respectfully. Meaning that all the Nudge work on compliance can be undone by one wrong move by CRA (its communication with taxpayers is historically dreadful) or messages coming politicians (like those in Ottawa that are already suggesting that tax is a dirty word).

So what are things CRA could do to increase tax compliance?

I’ve talked about tax lotteries before, which is an excellent example of Nudge Economics and tax compliance. And is a great idea for CRA to consider in those pesky cash industries like the renovation industry.

But the simplest of all Nudge techniques in the field of tax compliance is third party reporting. Yup, that can work as a Nudge. Consider tip income. By simply subjecting it to third-party reporting, which is already required for controlled tips, you change the choice architecture related to tip reporting. Another area is rental income, where CRA can use tenants to report their rental income paid and match it to the landlords receipts.

I would like to see CRA more active in this area, but I also it hope it takes the time to understand what Nudge is (and what it is not), who to target, and what will work in Canada. There are more than a few academics who would be thrilled to be involved in such initiatives, in exchange for publications of course.

A Tax Lesson for the National Post

In today’s National Post there appeared an article written by Claire Brownell that talked about political parties ignoring the single voter. This article featured such glaring errors and omissions that demonstrate a lack of understanding of very simple tax concepts as well as recent tax policies. The author and editor should be embarrassed, and should possibly consider hiring Stephen Gordon to review all their economics pieces.

Here are the simple tax concepts that were glaringly wrong. Here is a one such error:

“They range from deductions for children’s transit passes to the maximum $7,200 Canada Education Savings Grant payment for parents who invest in registered education savings plans. Some are geared to the family’s income, but many are available to wealthy and poor families alike.”

First, neither of these are deductions. A deduction reduces your taxable income. The ‘price’ of a deduction is based on your marginal tax rate. The Public Transit amount is a federal tax credit. A tax credit reduces the taxes you owe and is calculated at 15% (the lowest tax rate) of the value of the claimed amount. Second, this article claims that the public transit amount is just for kids, but that is factually not true. Anyone that incurs the cost of monthly public transit passes or passes of longer duration can claim the credit on their federal taxes. Yes, this includes single people.

The Canada Education Savings Grant is for children, not their parents. Their, ahem, single children. It is to encourage parents to save for their children’s post-secondary education, a cost not incurred by folks without kids. The federal government provides 20% of a parents contribution to the child’s RESP up to a maximum of $500 a year and $7,200 over their lifetime. Again, this grant (not a deduction) is paid to the child’s RESP not to the parent. And when that child withdrawals the money from the RESP, the withdrawal of the non-parental portion is considered to be taxable income in the child’s hands.

Here is another gem:

“For example, based on measures introduced in the latest budget, a couple with a six-figure household income can still receive $160 per month for each child under six through the Universal Childcare Benefit. They can also deduct up to $1,000 per child for fitness expenses, $500 per child for art classes and $7,000 per child for childcare at tax time.”

The Children’s Fitness Tax Credit and the Children’s Arts Tax Credit are not deductions. They are tax credits. I mean you can even tell by their names. Parents cannot ‘deduct’ these amounts from their income. Parents with children who spend after tax money on putting their kids in sports or the arts can claim those costs up to a maximum of $1000 and $500 respectively and garner a 15% tax credit. This means these tax credits are worth $175 and $75 respectively. That is a pretty poor return on the cost incurred, costs not incurred by those without children. As a result, it should not matter to people without kids that they can’t claim these tax credit. (We can of course argue about the merits of these tax credit, as economists do, but that is a separate issue well covered on this blog).

The Child Care Expense Deduction is indeed a deduction, so that is our first example of the tax language used by this journalist being correct. Generally, under Canada’s tax code costs incurred to earn income are deductible from the income earned for tax purposes. This is called the matching principal: it matches expenses with the income generated. So I have a child. To return to the work force, I have to place that child in child care (damn laws!). So to earn that income, I incur the cost of child care, hence I get to deduct those costs. This is tax 101. But I only get to deduct $8,000 (it was increased in Budget 2015) and the lowest income spouse is the one that must deduct the costs. In big cities, day care costs for a kid under 3 run about $20,000-$24,000 a year. The deduction is not as appealing as you single folk think.

And this priceless quote:

“Powers, who is single, says he would like to be able to get a credit for the money he spends on staying fit at tax time, the way families with children can. But he’s not optimistic that will happen any time soon.”

As already mentioned families with children can only expense the cost for their kids to be active (and only certain types of costs). Parents do not have a magical way to ‘get a credit’ for the money they spend on staying fit. So Powers is not missing out on something that parents get. But don’t you worry, Harper has committed to an Adult Fitness Tax Credit, but, gasp, parents will be able to qualify for it too.

So now that we understand the difference between deduction and tax credits and what is a deduction and tax credit, let’s think more rigorously about the tax treatment of families and why. Our tax system looks to ensure that the burden of personal income taxation is apportioned in an equitable manner. How one defines equitable has been subject to some debate, but we have generally reached a consensus that it is based on ability to pay. But total income is often a poor determinant of ability to pay because it is a poor representation of taxpayer capacities to pay. Families with children incur significant costs which impede their ability to pay and these costs have to be acknowledge and represented through the tax system. Ensuring that families have the resources to raise their children to be productive members of society is the reason for the family focus in tax policy.

While there has been some great tax policies in this area, there have also been some pretty stupid ones (like income splitting) and the Harper’s government discourse and actions on tax policy have left a “what is in it for me” philosophy amongst tax payers, and now the singles want their goodies too. I am told by the author of this story it is not enough that singles benefit from a lot of tax cuts that have been enacted, like the cuts to GST, the lift in personal exemptions, the reduction in tax rates, the TSFA, capital gains exemptions rules changes and increases, the small business tax deduction, the WITB, the Public Transit Tax Credit, the Volunteer Firefighter Tax Credit, the elimination of the so called tampon tax, and so on. Nope, instead we need something just for the single folk. What, who knows. This is where the article fell very short.

The discourse we can and should have is whether everyone, singles, couples, and families (however defined) are shouldering the tax burden according to an agreed upon measure of ability to pay. For example, we recognize the cost of kids, but we do not recognize the increased costs of living ‘alone’, with no one to share expenses with, as many married couples do. Of course, many singles do share expenses with roommates and the like so it is a very difficult concept to start to operationalize. We have also possibly created an overly generous tax benefits for couples with children, especially considering the Family Tax Cut and many family targeted boutique tax credits. That, Claire, is what you could have talked about but didn’t, and that would have been interesting.

Pierre Poilievre’s Befuddling Tax Freedom Day Tweets

On June 10, the Minister for ESDC Pierre Poilievre sent out a slew of tweets, celebrating the Fraser Institutes controversial Tax Freedom Day. Their analysis is based on that founded by the Tax Foundation in the US, and here is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities critique of their work. If you are interested in reading about critiques of tax freedom day in Canada, might I suggest the Parliament of Canada’s piece as well as law professors Neil Brook’s piece and David Duff’s views.

There were two particular tweets that caught people’s attention. First, there is this gem

Most of the ways that the CPC government has ‘cut taxes’, to use their phrase, is through the form of boutique tax credits, including the family tax cut. These tax credits do not appear on the TD1 form, meaning that they are not taken into account for the calculation of withholding. As a result, more money does not stay in the hands that earned it. Instead the money is first taken away by those that earned it and given back to those that claim it. This means a 16 month delay between it being taken away before it is given back, with no interest paid, which means the distortionary effects of the taxes are being incurred which are not offset by the eventual repayment. There is also little to no matching between those that pay the tax and those that get the eventual tax payment. The more truthful statement would be “We borrow your money for 16 months, interest free, and give it back to those we think are most likely to vote for us.” Many feel different, but this is not something I think is worthy of celebration. And by his logic, the liberal plan for the CTB provides a bigger and better ‘tax cut’ to more Canadians than the CPC plan. Just saying.

Second, is this mystifying statement

Jennifer Robson summed up one troublesome aspect of this tweet here

I also proffered that the current Liberal government in BC would likely suggest that the Minister get his facts straight, as the BC government has been well known for its cutting of taxes, so much that many BCers pay less income tax than most Albertans.

But more troubling is that this statement has no real basis in fact. Municipalities have not experienced any increase the devolvement of revenue instruments from the provinces, so their tax instruments have not increased. So if not new taxes, then I guess he means an increase in tax revenues. There is very good data on Municipal revenues, data that I have used in my own forthcoming book on municipal user fees in Canada. Here is a graph of local government share of total government revenues showing that in the last decade, yes, their share has increased.

Fig. 2.1

But where is this coming from? If we look at share of total local revenue, we see that own source payments did increase in the mid to late 1990s, but has been falling since then, while transfer payments from, gasp, other governments have increased.


You might wonder whose transfer payments increased, well that would mostly be federal specific transfers with the biggest increase coming from transfers for transportation and communication.


Now there is some suggestion that property taxes have increased, but mostly we have seen declining mill rates due to increased valuations. This final graph shows that property taxes, as a share of own source revenue have indeed decreased, only partially offset by an increase in user fees.


So I am not sure in what way municipal government are ‘taxing more’, again using the Minister’s own language. Then again, perhaps the overall trend is masking what those pesky Liberal municipal governments are doing. However, I and many others have no idea how to identify those Liberal municipal governments and wonder how he is doing it.

Engaging with Academics: It can be free

In that last few months I have participated in a number of government conferences and workshops wherein at some point the agenda turns to the topic of ‘engaging with academics.’ During these conversations, the government folk start talking about university-government partnerships, task forces, RFPs, and expert panels. The academics all usually say the same thing: “will work for data and the ability to publish the results.”

This demonstrates a dramatic disconnect between the expectations and flexibility of both parties. Bureaucrats seem to favour overly clunky and complex arrangements, dependent on some compensation regime, that take a long time to set up, and with well-defined terms of reference. Academics, however, mostly loathe to involve universities (yes, even their own) and generally uncaring about additional income, are more interested in unfettered access to data and rights to publish, but want full freedom and flexibility to do what they want with that data.

In a nutshell, our preferences are misaligned. But, if we peel back the layers, I think we can get closer to each other than we think. The main reason for governments wanting to engage with academics and academics with them is in the spirit of evidence-based policy (insert here all jokes about decision-based evidence making). And this can occur through much less formal arrangements.

The best place to start to engage with academics is networking. First, come to our conferences (I know, yawn, but we usually drink), talk to us about our research and interests, or better yet buy us a beer or glass of wine (see my point about conferences). Many academics are active on social media (mainly twitter), and you can get to know us and our work quickly and easily from our twitter feed. And mentioning that you follow us on twitter is a great ice breaker!

Second, you can email us, but might I suggest that you instead pick up the phone. Yes, you can call us, directly. Seriously. The trouble with email is that we get a lot, especially when we are teaching. It is too easy for your email to get lost in the incessant email traffic we get. Also the email is usually something that ends with ‘call me.’ Why am I now doing the work when it is you that wishes to talk to me? I have to pay for all my long distance calls out of my own pocket so the chance I will return your call is low. Also, many government folks are worried about paper trails, especially these days. So call. If we don’t answer, as we often don’t, leave a message and say you will follow up by email. Now I know to expect your email and we can then arrange a time for a phone call!

If you call, quickly get who you are and what you are calling about out. When I hear that you are calling from the Ministry of SoandSo or the Department of Whathaveyou or even just the Government of Whatchmahooey, you are immediately elevated above probably anyone else that would call me. We warm quickly, but asking me how I am when I don’t know who you are is a good way to get hung up on. If the conversation is confidential, tell us. We understand, we do. But if you don’t tell us, don’t be surprised if it ends up in the news! And if you do call us and need to refer to us in the conversation, call us Dr. , Prof, or just use our first name. Using Mr., Ms., Mrs. Is not advisable. Trust me!

While some academics love flying to hell and gone, many of us do not. I hate spending two days to get there and back again for a 90 minute conversation. We have secure video conferencing facilities, as do you. Use them. Better yet, use skype! Most of us are more than happy to have a casual conversation with you like this. Or a formal presentation followed by chit chat. Whatever.

Once you get this kind of informal rapport going, use us for little things, like input to a briefing note, policy brief, Q&A and the like. But don’t over use us. We will work for free, to a point. If you are not sharing the note directly with us but rather asking us for evidence or to run an argument by us, I don’t see the obvious need for security clearance. But in the long run helping us get security clearance might help.

Now we turn to getting us a bit of what we want. Data and publishing. I understand these are tricky, but not as tricky as you think. Governments always seem to make this molehill into a mountain. There are lots of ways to grant an academic access to data. The Statistics Canada RDC experiment has worked very well via the deemed employee model. You can also use secondments, placements, fellowships, etc. Many of us are quite happy at the opportunity to leave the University grounds from time to time. We all get sabbaticals on predictable schedules and can often take leaves of absences. There is always the contract route as well.

The concern about publishing is always interesting to me. Very little of what we write is of interest to the general public. And the findings are rarely as scandalous as the government makes them out to be. More scandalous is hiding them. But if that is not enough there are a lot of ways to obfuscate details in a published paper. But if you want to engage with us, there needs to be something in it for us academics, and for us our currency is not money but rather publications. If you are not sure about this, I’ll give you a contact name for someone in the Ontario Government who has worked wonders in this area, and just got a huge increase in money and profile for what they do.

Engaging with academics can be free. I think the public would view that to be a great use of their money!

P.S. If you do something more formal, be sure to spell our name correctly, refer to us with the correct gender pronoun, and get our title and affiliation right. I recently did not respond to a request for my opinion as they didn’t spend a moment on the internet to know what my current title was or who I currently work for. They got both so offensively wrong that I was no longer willing to give them my time for free. I have also been introduced as a ‘he’ as I am walking towards the podium to give a talk and, trust me, my gender is fairly obvious.