Receiver who?

As the saying goes, two things in life are certain: death, and payments to the Receiver General for Canada. We all sign off on cheques (or bank transfers) for the Receiver General. Much as this accepter of government funds conjures an image of a wizard punching calculators and building spreadsheets, we’re sad to inform you it’s not quite like that.

The Receiver General, who accepts all payments for the federal government—from taxes to passport renewal fees—is technically the cabinet minister holding the Public Services and Procurement portfolio. Currently, that makes her Carla Qualtrough.

Qualtrough holds political accountability for a department serving as “principal banker, accountant, central purchasing agent, linguistic authority and real property manager,” according to the government.

She is responsible for all funds coming in and out of government accounts. Considering the government handles more than a trillion dollars in cash flow annually, and brought in $192.8 billion in tax revenues in 2015–16, those responsibilities sound stressful. Not to worry: Qualtrough has many departmental staff supporting her work—747 full-time equivalent public servants, to be precise.

Federal government revenues (millions of dollars)
2014–15 2015–16 Change
Income tax revenues
Personal $135,743 $144,897 $9,154 +6.7%
Corporate $39,447 $41,444 $1,997 +5.1%
Non-resident $6,216 $6,505 $289 +4.6%
Subtotal $181,406 $192,846 $11,440 +6.3%
Other taxes and duties
Goods and Services Tax $31,349 $32,952 $1,603 +5.1%
Energy taxes $5,528 $5,565 $37 +0.7%
Customs import duties $4,581 $5,372 $791 +17.3%
Other excise taxes and duties $5,724 $5,916 $192 +3.4%
Subtotal $47,182 $49,805 $2,623 +5.6%
Other revenues
Employment insurance premiums $22,564 $23,070 $506 +2.2%
Miscellaneous $31,194 $29,732 $(1,462) -4.7%
Subtotal $53,758 $52,802 $(956) -1.8%
Total revenues $282,346 $295,453 $13,107 +4.6%

Where do my tax payments go?

Cheques payable to the Receiver General go into the government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund, held by the Bank of Canada. The flows are used to tabulate the annual Public Accounts of Canada, containing the government’s annual audited financial statements. Public accounting wonks can check out Part VI of the Financial Administration Act.

Consolidated Revenue Fund

The Consolidated Revenue Fund is the federal government’s only bank account.
Each day, a section within the Department of Public Services and Procurement, called the Accounting, Banking and Compensation branch, reconciles all fund flows in and out of this fund.

The branch exchanges data about money coming in and out of the fund with each department so it’s clear which program has received funds, from whom and for what. Outflows happen after departments tell the Receiver General who should be paid for what.

Generally, the funds in the Consolidated Revenue Fund are held in cash. If there’s a surplus, the BoC can invest the money overnight in money market funds. These days, however, the government is borrowing, so the BoC works closely with government to ensure sufficient levels in the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

by Simon Doyle, an Ottawa-based financial writer.