Canada Revenue Agency opens offices in 3 territories
'People are excited that there is something closer,' says N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) opened the doors to three new northern service centres in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit Monday morning.
"People are excited that there is something closer," said Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod at a press conference at the downtown Greenstone Building in Yellowknife.
McLeod said he gets at least a dozen calls a month from northern residents about their taxes and the CRA. He said about half of those calls are from people venting about how unhappy they are with "the way things are going."
"There [are] people that are struggling to get their taxes done," McLeod said. "It could cause other issues such as not receiving the benefits from Canada child benefits and other programs that the federal government has that [are] based on income tax returns."
Prior to the offices opening, northerners could only call the CRA's general information line, or go to McLeod. Now the CRA has set up a dedicated phone line for northerners, and can go in-person.
While the centre is based in Yellowknife, he said officers will also be reaching out to communities, and are visiting the community of Tuktoyaktuk this week.
Similarly, employees in Whitehorse and Iqaluit will also travel to communities to provide services to residents and businesses.
For immediate service, the really best option is to call the northern dedicated line.- Nico Siemens, CRA
"On the business side, we're going to have people that can advise new businesses, people that are in business that are experiencing problems," McLeod explained.
Each office will have three employees — two who focus on outreach and free tax clinics, and one who works on business visits and seminars about operating a business in the North.
In Iqaluit, services will also be delivered in Inuktitut.
'Abnormal' number of tax reviews on Northerners
Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier was at the opening of Yellowknife's office.
Last year, the minister acknowledged there were an "abnormal" number of tax reviews in the North, with the CRA reassessing some northerners up to 10 years in a row. She vowed to look at the issue more closely.
Speaking on behalf of Lebouthillier, director of the CRA's Outreach and Community Support Division Renee Brisson-James said the CRA has already improved its tools, including online, to help residents.
"We've also sent over 1,100 information letters to individuals in the areas that qualify for the northern resident reduction," she said.
"CRA employees will be calling taxpayers … if the CRA hasn't received a reply letter or additional information by the deadline."
Dedicated phone line
Nico Siemens, a special advisor with the Canada Revenue Agency, spoke at the opening of the office in Whitehorse.
Though there are now three offices in the capitals, Siemens says a dedicated telephone line for northern tax questions is another way to get service.
"For immediate service, the really best option is to call the northern dedicated line," he said. "There's a line for businesses and a line for individuals. They'll provide a wider range of services and they'll be quite responsive."
With files from Dave Croft and Nick Murray