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No change in May 1 tax deadline despite labour dispute

Canada Revenue Agency says it will accept all returns during the labour disruption and digitally filed taxes will generally be processed automatically “without delay.”
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VICTORIA, B.C.: APRIL 25,2023- CRA workers picket in front of the Tax Services Office on Vancouver Street in Victoria, B.C. April 25, 2023. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST). For City story by Cindy E Harnett .

The general tax filing deadline of May 1 has not changed despite a nation-wide federal public sector worker strike headed into its eighth day — but about 25,000 people signing an accountant’s petition say the filing date should be pushed back.

About 100,000 Public Service Alliance of Canada members, including about 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers, have been on strike since April 19. Canada Revenue Agency workers are members of the Union of Taxation Employees, a subdivision of the Public Service Alliance of Canada; they are asking for a wage increase of 20.5 per cent over three years. That’s 4.5 per cent in 2021, and 8.0 per cent in 2022 and again in 2023.

The Canada Revenue Agency said it will accept all tax returns during the labour disruption and that digitally filed taxes will generally be processed automatically “without delay.” About 95 per cent of the 17 million who had filed as of Monday filed this way, the agency said.

Chartered accountant Eric Saumure, principal at Zenbooks, argues the deadline should be pushed back to June 15, when people who are self-employed are required to file tax returns.

Saumure started a petition to National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier last week that had about 25,000 signatures on Tuesday afternoon. It’s argued that at a time of rising costs for Canadians, possible penalties from owed taxes would be an additional burden.

The Canada Revenue Agency extended the deadline in 2020 at the start of the pandemic and said it wouldn’t impose penalties until September of that year.

Saumure argues in his petition that revenue agency staff reduction and limited support to help people file personal tax returns during the strike is going to especially affect the lowest income Canadians “as they may not have access to a team accountants to answer their questions.”

It’s also argued that filing taxes online is not easy for all Canadians.

Chris Dahl, chief shop steward for the Union of Taxation Employees Local 20028, said no one on the picket lines wants to frustrate people.

He’s been a revenue agency employee for 28 years. “It sucks to see people inconvenienced and we tend to be a very service-oriented population; we like helping people,” said Dahl.

While workers in the Victoria taxation office on Vancouver Street handle audits and collections with little in-person engagement with the public, the Vancouver office deals more with “client-facing” services including answering in-person questions and calls from the public as well as processing tax filings.

As part of strike action in Victoria, for instance, audits of GST and tax accounts aren’t getting done, compliance checks aren’t happening, and past-due accounts aren’t being collected, Dahl said.

One picketer’s sign on Tuesday read: “You can’t tax the billionaires without us.”

Essential workers in Victoria include people handling mail and working on security, while in Vancouver it’s answering inquiries about tax filing and status of benefits, said Dahl. “It’s difficult in peak hours to get through at the best of times so running on a skeleton crews the process is a little more fraught.”

Dahl said no one wants to see people denied information about their tax filings or see a delay in benefits or returns.

“The problem is, this is a situation that was so easily avoided — we’ve been 18 months without a contract with the CRA,” said Dahl. “At what point do we say enough is enough? Do you want us to wait three years?

“But at some point we have to start helping ourselves and a year and a half without a contract after our last contract took five years past its due date … people just are tired of waiting … tired of getting stepped on.”

Dahl said instead of seeking an extended tax-filing season, he would ask Canadians to pressure the government to settle the strike.

The Union of Taxation Employees demand of a 20.5 per cent wage hike would bring Canada Revenue Agency workers back on par with border services agents before the two groups were divided, he said. “We work for CRA, we can do math, we know that any wage increase that doesn’t track with inflation is effectively a pay cut,” he said. “We’re not greedy, we’re not trying to get rich, we just don’t want to fall behind.”

The Treasury Board and the Canada Revenue Agency have offered the unions nine per cent over three years on the recommendation of the third-party Public Interest Commission. A deal on telework or remote work is also part of the negotiations.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com