And it’s “a big blow to downtown” not just for service but if jobs have been lost, said Larry Horwitz, who heads the downtown business association.
“We certainly pay our fair share of taxes and I don’t believe we get the same return as every other city,” he said.
Downtown ward councillor Fulvio Valentinis called the closure “unfortunate to say the least” for a “city of this size.”
According to the union representing taxation employees, counter staff not only could dispense forms and schedules not included in general T1 forms readily available at post offices but staff also at one time took cash remittances and provided general personal assistance for people having questions.
“We also were helping out a lot of people – vulnerable people, old age people, new immigrants who were barely able to speak French or English,” Marc Brière, first vice president of the Union of Taxation Employees, said.
“They did not understand the tax system, so we were basically walking them through how to do their income tax.”
Ironically, Brière said, at his home office in Quebec, some of these same “amazingly good” staff who took pride in helping the public had been shuffled to jobs where they are now collection agents, going after taxpayers’ unpaid accounts.
“They went from helping people to collecting cash from people” he said.
A local union representative could not be reached.
Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) spokeswoman Kim Hynes said the closures reflect the fact Canadians are no longer using counter services the way they used to.
“There has been a significant decrease in face-to-face enquiries and a continued increase in the use of electronic services,” she said.
She said the government has “increased” its focus on “online delivery”, which also results in “savings for government and improved self-service options for taxpayers.”
Hynes added, “Many Canadians want modern, convenient, and time-saving ways to take care of their tax matters, and the CRA is striving to meet these demands.”
A sign in the building indicates the office was closed October 1 and a dispenser has information sheets which indicate how to contact the government, such as through its website and 800 numbers.
Brière said emphasizing online access “is the spin that they’ve been putting on” the closures but that doesn’t help numerous people who still aren’t computer savvy, such as seniors, the poor, or new immigrants with language problems.
He also questions why CRA couldn’t have reduced hours during slow times of the year but boosted counter service during tax time.
Brière said counter staff used to be able to point out useful things such as how a taxpayer hadn’t applied for the GST credit, saving them real dollars.
But, he said, on the Internet, when the CRA receives a filing, “they won’t change the T1 to add up a credit.”
Brière said the counter closures is also “the same thing” that the federal government has done with the recent closure of smaller Veterans Affairs offices including in Windsor.