The following articles are reprinted with permission from Ottawa Life Magazine - July 2010.
Jim Ploughman, P. Eng.
Securing Canada as a leader in technological innovation, one tax incentive at a time.
By looking at Jim Ploughman’s extensive engineering experience you would never guess he works for Canada Revenue Agency. His resume reads as a laundry list of high-tech engineering positions, but after learning what Jim’s job entails, his role with the CRA becomes clear.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from Memorial University in Newfoundland, Jim served as an engineering technician for the Fisheries and Oceans department in St. John’s. Then, for the next 20 years, he worked with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Canpolar East Inc, and Ocean Tech Engineering Ltd.
So how did this decorated engineer end up working for the CRA? That’s a question Jim gets every day, “people constantly give me a double take when they find out I’m a mechanical engineer for CRA,” he says, “but our program actually has experts from all sorts of fields—everything from chemists to biologists.”
Jim is a Research and Technology Advisor for the CRA’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development Program (SR&ED). The program, which was set up in 1985, is a federal tax incentive that is aimed at encouraging Canadian businesses to conduct research and development that will lead to new and improved technological advancements. Jim explains, “Essentially, companies will front the costs associated with conceiving and producing new technology, then they come to us and apply for a tax break. Companies of any size can get an income tax credit up to 35% as long as their work passes our requirements.” Many of the projects lead to the creation of new materials, products, and processes, which is something that keeps Jim’s job interesting day to day. “As most of my work is dealing with new and never-before-seen technologies, I’m always learning and every day is different. It’s a privilege to see this technology before anyone else.”
Cutting edge research and development is absolutely essential in positioning Canada as a global leader in scientific innovation. By providing financial aid to the Canadian companies that are at the forefront of high-tech research, we are securing Canada’s place within the international science community. Jim has been working as an engineer with the SR&ED tax incentive program and been a proud member of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) since 1999.
Providing "Made in Canada" IT help for the Canada Revenue Agency and Canada Border Services Agency.
Have you called a 1-800 help line lately? If so, chances are you have firsthand experience with a business process outsourcing company (BPO). Your phone doesn’t get reception, your printer won’t stop flashing “PC Load Letter,” or your laptop can’t find a wireless signal, so you call the helpline listed on page 500 of the owner’s manual and expect to talk with somebody from the company that manufactured the product. Wrong. Tech companies are contracting many of their IT help departments to a third-party service provider, often in India or the Philippines. IBM, Hewlett Packard, Dell—they all do it. In trying to avoid the burden of proper wages, red-tape and bureaucratic restrains, companies like these set up shop overseas in something called a Software Technology Park. Third world countries build IT warehouses and call centers and entice companies with free broadband, massive investment and tax incentives and low wages, sometimes the equivalent of $100 Canadian per month, and in an effort to reduce overhead, our Tech companies are eating it up.
So, it’s refreshing to hear the Canadian government is resisting such temptations, for the most part, and still employs their IT help departments on Canadian soil. It’s like checking the tag on the inside of a shirt and seeing “Made in Canada.” Stéphane Trottier of Shawinigan, Quebec, is one person who is definitely grateful the feds aren’t using BPO’s. Since 1998, Stéphane has worked in the Information Technology Services department for Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). “I went for an interview fresh out of college—I had the bleached blonde hair, and didn’t quite fit in the whole IT scene, but after a week of hard work people began to accept me and I started to fit in,” Stéphane says. For the past 12 years, Stéphane has held various positions, including most recently a temporary stint as Acting Team Leader, in which he oversaw up to twenty employees, managed budgets and dealt with employee questions and concerns.
Stéphane’s IT department has about 8,000 federal government clients all within the CRA and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). “Clients call us with any number of technology related problems, and it’s our duty to solve these problems in a timely matter,” he says, “our office receives anywhere from 350-600 calls a day,” which last year amounted to 80,000 calls and Stéphane expects that number to grow to over 100,000 next year.
Stéphane’s native language is French and when he first began his career he had a lot of trouble communicating in English. He says, “I became more involved with my union, PIPSC, because I saw it as an opportunity to improve my English, but the first meeting I attended was entirely in English, I was terrified,” he admits, “but when business was over we met up at a bar and after a couple beers I was fluently bilingual!”
North America’s technology companies should consider thinking less about the bottom line and remember that Canada and the United States have a huge talent pool ready with people like Stéphane Trottier who depend on jobs in the IT industry and aren’t just in it for paycheque, but genuinely care for their line of duty.