The Harper government forged a partnership with a major Canadian accounting association, formalizing it as an adviser to the Canada Revenue Agency, at the same time as the group was fighting the CRA in court to shield the files of multimillionaires who had stashed money offshore.
Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay trumpeted the alliance in November 2014 as a "new era of information and collaboration" between the Canada Revenue Agency and Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.

CPA Canada represents and lobbies on behalf of most accounting firms in Canada, including KPMG, which the government was pursuing in court at the time to obtain a list of wealthy clients enrolled in an offshore tax scheme in the Isle of Man.
The agreement, signed by Canada Revenue Agency chief executive officer Andrew Treusch and CPA Canada head Kevin Dancey, called for the formation of joint committees with senior representatives from both groups — and "ensures" that the CRA will consider the accounting group's "input" into any changes to its programs and services, according to a government news release.

"We value our role as a trusted adviser to the CRA," Dancey said after the agreement was signed.
Andrew Treusch, Kerry-Lynne Findlay and Kevin Dancey
Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay watches CRA chief Andrew Treusch, left, and CPA Canada president Kevin Dancey sign a partnership agreement in November.

Three months before the government announced the partnership, Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself met with CPA Canada and the heads of KPMG and other major accounting firms. The exceptional visit on Aug. 13, 2014, to the industry association's headquarters in Toronto was recorded in the federal lobbying registry.

The files show KPMG, CPA Canada and another firm met with Harper, his chief of staff Ray Novak and two other aides, though the Prime Minister's Office won't say what was discussed except to say it was a routine stakeholder meeting.

"This is a serious problem, certainly a perception of conflict of interest. The government shouldn't be cozying up to companies that they've taken to court over very serious allegations," said Dennis Howlett, executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness.

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Howlett said the government should have thought more about partnerships and high-level meetings with an industry whose clients it audits and investigates.

"When they get in bed with the very companies that they're supposed to be regulating, it leads to all kinds of dangerous results," Howlett said.

Duff Conacher, who teaches government ethics at the University of Ottawa, said the agreement might send mixed signals to CRA staff auditing clients of CPA Canada member firms.

"It sends a very bad message. Essentially it says don't enforce laws fully and properly because the government is now a partner with this organization and you wouldn't want to make the government look bad."