So today, cinco de mayo, is this year's tax deadline day in Canada. I was later than I often am filing my return, but it had nothing to do with Heartbleed.

Towards the end of March, I sat down with my tax guide and forms and the various receipts I'd received. I noticed I didn't have a T4A for my superannuation, which was my main source of income for 2013. On consulting the tax guide, I learned that technically, the various organizations have until the end of March to send out receipts. But usually that's the first one that arrives, some time in early February. I could provide details to the penny of the amount deposited in my account each month but I had no idea how much had already been deducted from that in the way of taxes, health and dental premiums and so on.

So I sat down with my pension information and touch tone phone and let my fingers do the walking through touch-tone telephone tree hell. To make a long story short, the representative somewhere in the wilds of New Brunswick told me it appeared that a change of address had been requested at some point. My supposed "new" address was just a few doors away from my actual one, on the same street and with the same postal code. She said a number of documents had already been returned to them because of the slightly-faulty address but that my T4A did not seem to be among them. So she said she was now requesting a replacement one and processing a change of address back to the proper one where, incidentally, I've lived for over 30 years! She said it usually took about two weeks to accomplish this although it would likely take less given that they had all kinds of people working overtime at this time of year. Would it reach me before the filing deadline, I asked? She was optimistic that it would. I was also led to believe that the other various documents that had accidentally been sent to a neighbour and then returned to the superannuation folks would also be on their way at the same time.

Why would it take so long to correct what seems like a very basic mistake and one which I have to assume THEY made (unless some neighbour is out to get us?) I've no idea! In the event, it was nearer to three weeks than two when my T4A finally arrived. Even then, what I got was my T4A with the wrong address and a piece of paper wrapped around it, showing in the window-envelope, so that it would come to my proper address. I made a point of correcting it on the T4A slip before attaching it to my return. I've still seen neither hide nor hair of the other misdirected documents.

In the recent round of cutbacks, the feds assured us that only back-office functions would be affected. Hah! It's pretty clear to me that they're seriously stretched and understaffed at the Superannuation office. Moreover, CRA is always urging us to file online (using, of course, tax software that WE have to pay for) and get our refund sooner. This Heartbleed business has certainly reinforced for me, and no doubt a lot of other Canadians, the value of using good old-fashioned paper!
"Did you remember to lower the star wheels? If not, you could permanently damage the machine!" That dire warning comes from a training tape that I remember listening to when training to work as a keypunch operator during tax season. In fact, if one neglected to lower the star wheels, it did not damage the machine at all - it simply switched it to keypunching in alphabetic rather than numeric mode.

Keypunching was basically a minimum-wage job, but it did help to finance my university education, at a time when a degree seemed to mean rather more than it does today - though probably not as much as it had a decade or two earlier. There aren't nearly enough jobs like that around for students and others still working their way into a career these days. Instead, you have to be pretty high up on the office totem pole to have your own personal assistant - so for most office workers, even highly-educated, highly-skilled professionals and lower-to-middle level managers, that means doing your own "keyboarding" at the usual skilled-worker rate. Is that a sensible use of resources? I don't know. I guess at least it makes for a less assembly-line atmosphere in the workplace if one person gets to complete a task from start to finish.

There's a series of commercials for a well-known tax preparation firm, in which a man goes to the doctor complaining vaguely of a pain in his lower gluto-whatever. "Oh, that's tax pain!" says the doctor. "We can't help you with that." Then there's that rather right-wing think tank that laments that "Pay Yourself Day" - the day that you can stop working for the taxman and start working for yourself - gets later and later every year. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that if I'm paying to help set up and maintain educational and health-care infrastructure, link communities through real or virtual highways and other transport networks, ensure the quality of our food and water, and so on, then I AM working for myself and the kind of world we all want our children and future generations to grow up in!

Of course, we probably won't as individuals agree with all the projects that get financed with our tax dollars, nor will we necessarily agree about what constitutes a fair tax rate or a fairly-distributed tax structure. But can you imagine a world where EVERYTHING was direct user-pay and there were no tax-supported services whatsoever? Something to keep in mind as we approach the midnight deadline for federal and provincial tax-filing.



October 2017



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