With tax season in full swing, Canadians are asking for a delay in filing their tax returns due to the strike by federal public servants.
An online petition started by Eric Saumure, an Ottawa accountant, is asking Ottawa to set the deadline for filing tax returns to June 15, rather than May 1 as planned. On the Change.org site, the petition had collected more than 25,000 signatures by early Tuesday afternoon.
According to Mr. Saumure, job action launched last week by federal officials reduced the staff assigned to a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) helpline, which forced some Canadians to wait for hours for advice.
In his opinion, it is low-income taxpayers, especially those who need help but do not have an accountant, who would be the most vulnerable right now.
“It’s as if you were in school, doing an exam, but the teacher didn’t give you the right to ask questions,” Mr. Saumure lamented.
“If you make a mistake, there’s a penalty – a financial penalty. So it’s not fair to all Canadians,” he said.
About 159,000 federal public servants from the Public Service Alliance of Canada have been on strike since last Wednesday, including 39,000 CRA employees. Negotiations with the government are tense, in particular because of the differences of opinion on wages and teleworking.
The CRA says on its website that electronically filed tax returns will largely be processed automatically, “without delay.” So far, around 95% of the 17 million people who have filed have done so using self-service digital options.
The federal agency adds that the deadline for filing tax returns has not changed and that Canadians should ensure that their returns are filed by May 1.
Since the vast majority of tax returns are filed electronically, Vivian Leung of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada doubts that the civil servants’ strike will significantly delay the filing of tax returns.
“I would say 90% of the essential services that Canadians need to file their tax returns are available online,” she said.
“So I don’t really see a real need (to push back the deadline) for the vast majority of Canadians at this point,” she said.
By email, a CRA spokesperson acknowledged that if “circumstances beyond the control of a Canadian or a business” cause them to file their return late, “the CRA may provide tax relief. penalties or interest” on a case-by-case basis.
Still, the agency says on its website that “some services may be delayed or not provided at all,” particularly in the processing of some paper-filed income tax and benefit returns.
Mr. Saumure pointed out that there are always people who cannot file their return electronically, especially if they do not have access to a computer or are not computer literate.
In addition, there are people who need advice from the CRA to file their taxes, which could put them at risk of receiving penalties if the wait is too long.
“It really impacts people who don’t have enough money to hire a competent accountant. Often they are low-income Canadians or, in many cases, the average Canadian,” he said.