Sidney accountant at centre of tax deadline extension

Chris Cowland's email to MP Elizabeth May brought CRA error to the attention of the Minister of Revenue.

Sidney accountant Chris Cowland was the first to notice the impact of a Canada Revenue Agency communications error.

A Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) error has pushed the deadline for filing income taxes to May 5 and a local man was at the centre of getting that extension.

Accountant Chris Cowland of Cowland and Associates in Sidney sent his staff off to enjoy the weekend and posted on his website that clients had some breathing room, after the electronic filing department of the CRA sent an email saying the deadline had been extended to May 5.

“They had done it last year because of a computer failure,” Cowland said. “The computers seemed to be taking filings really slow this year and I thought, maybe the CRA were being good guys.”

So he told his hard working staff — his office handles around 800 tax returns and his employees work many extra hours to complete them on time — to take some time off before the crush of the final week.

When he returned to work Monday, Cowland said the CRA had sent another email, notifying him and other tax professionals that the first message was an error — and that the deadline was April 30.

Figuring he’d be on the hook for penalties incurred by his clients, especially after he passed on the initial incorrect information from CRA, Cowland said he emailed Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May.

“I asked her if she could contact the Minister of Revenue, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, about this error.”

He said May responded to his email 15 minutes later and wrote that she would do so. In an email exchange, May informed Cowland that Findlay told her that she would be looking into “the Cowland issue.”

“The next thing I heard, on the CBC, was that the CRA had extended the filing deadline.”

A notice on the CRA’s website states an erroneous communication was made April 24 and at “Findlay’s request, 2014 tax returns filed by midnight on May 5 will not incur interest or penalties.”

May, speaking from Ottawa, told the News Review she has a good working relationship with the Minister and was able to send her Cowland’s email with a note attached during Question Period on Monday, asking if Findlay could do something.

“It looked urgent, bad and fixable,” May said of Cowland’s concern. “That’s the test I give these things.”

Findlay replied that she would look into it. It turned out that Cowland’s note was the first to bring Findlay’s attention to the CRA error, said May. During Tuesday’s government session in Ottawa, Findlay stood and reported that due to the error, the filing deadline would be extended so as not to cause any Canadians a penalty.

“I really do believe so much can be accomplished by working across party lines,” May said, “especially on sensible issues. There was no need to go on the attack here. It was just a fixable error.”

Cowland said he is very much relieved and can finish off the more complex tax returns his office handles without added pressure.

“I’m amazed at what happened,” Cowland said. “I’m not political and only met Ms. May once when I helped with someone’s tax return.

“I really take my hat off to that lady, for her to do that.”