Whitehorse CRA office returns … sort of

The Yukon Federation of Labour is disappointed with Minister Lebouthillier’s announcement regarding the re-opening of a Canada Revenue Agency office in Whitehorse. The CRA news release (read in full here) states:

“The cornerstone of the initiative is the CRA-supported tax preparation centre, where volunteers from the CVITP (Community Volunteer Income Tax Program) will provide advice to eligible individuals and help them with their taxes. CVITP members will undergo a rigorous and tailored training from CRA officers, and will be supported by CRA to ensure the quality and expertise of the services rendered.  If a volunteer is not available or if a tax situation is complex, clients will be able to use a dedicated phone line at the Elijah Smith Building to contact a CRA agent who specializes in tax questions specific to northern residents.”

A CRA office is needed in Whitehorse, that much is true.  Staffing it with volunteers is ridiculous.  It is also shameful coming from a government that committed to rebuilding public services.

The closure of the Whitehorse CRA office in 2012 was met with concern and condemnation from residents and business owners.  Since that time, Yukoners have had access to a toll-free number to try and address any tax issues they were faced with.  Minister Lebouthillier’s announcement does not amount to a significant change or improvement, it only represents more costs.

Taxpayers will now be paying for office space to house a telephone and a volunteer – when a volunteer is available.  The mention of availability suggests the office may not have regular hours.  This could easily create both cost and inconvenience for people who travel in from the communities only to find the office closed.

If paid staff are already serving Yukoners by phone, why not locate them in Whitehorse?  The value these positions would add to the territory is measurable.  Not to mention dealing with people, face-to-face, in the same time-zone, would help reduce the stress frequently associated with taxes.

Being the public face of CRA means far more than having a few courses.  Taxation is a broad subject and the intricacies of finance can be incredibly complicated.  It is often compounded by emotional situations, such as when a family member dies, bankruptcy or divorce.  Staff need to be able to work with clients who may be distraught, angry or suicidal.  To offload this responsibility to the backs of volunteers is unjust.

YFL would also like to know the answers to these questions:

  • What training will the volunteers need in order to be qualified to advise the public?
  • How will a volunteer know when “a tax situation is (too) complex”?
  • CRA waives fees and penalties when staff provide incorrect advice, will they do the same for volunteers?
  • Could volunteers be personally liable if they provide incorrect advice?

The Yukon Federation of Labour encourages Yukoners to contact Minister Lebouthillier and M.P. Bagnell, and make their opinions known.

Yukon taxpayers deserve to be treated like the valued clients they are.  Servicing our territory with volunteers falls far short of the standard Yukoners are due.