COLUMN: Tax time illustrates cuts at CRA

Evaporation of services may leave some Canadians adrift at tax time

By Murray Rankin, guest columnist

Ottawa is in the midst of a long, slow thaw from a cold winter, but Victoria has all the telltale signs of spring.

The change in seasons is visible everywhere, with the requisite umbrellas and budding trees. Usually at this time of year we also receive paper tax packages in the mail, but this year, without warning, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) announced it will no longer be mailing the T1 general tax package.

Service cuts and sweeping changes at the CRA have left Canadians confused about how to access the basic information they need to file their taxes.

The Telefile service used by hundreds of thousands of Canadians was cancelled earlier this year and changes to NETFILE have triggered major privacy concerns.

Payment and enquiry counter services are closing, face-to-face outreach sessions have been discontinued and every service counter in Canada is set to close by Oct. 1.

The CRA is effectively closing its doors to the public; meanwhile, seniors, persons living with disabilities and persons living in remote or rural areas are concerned about access to basic tax forms and other information.

In the government’s 2013-2014 estimates, the CRA is projected to be cut by approximately $100 million. This is on top of last year’s Economic Action Plan, under which more than 3,000 full-time equivalent jobs have or will be cut from the agency over a three-year roll out period.

As official opposition critic for national revenue, I have opposed the CRA service cuts and been seeking answers to constituents’ questions to ensure you have the information you need to file your taxes with ease and on time.

The federal privacy commissioner has sought further information from the CRA and is investigating the new NETFILE requirements to use a social insurance number and a birth date to file online.

Previously, NETFILE required a personal code and pin number to file tax returns.

The New Democratic Party’s privacy and National Revenue critics have been in contact with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner regarding this matter and are awaiting the results of that investigation.

Canadians not using the NETFILE option have been encouraged to download tax forms from the CRA website or pick up tax packages at local Canada Post or Service Canada locations.

Canadians are entitled to receive tax documents by mail, but the CRA will only send a package to those who specifically request it. If you would like a tax package mailed, call 1-800-959-7383 (French) or 1-800-959-8281 (English) as soon as possible.

To assist you, my community office has compiled a list of tax clinics in Victoria where volunteers are available to help you complete your taxes. Please visit murrayrankin.ca for more information.

Please contact my office at 250-363-3600 should you have any further questions or concerns about the CRA or other federal government agencies.

Murray Rankin is the Official Opposition Critic for National Revenue and the NDP Member of Parliament for Victoria.