Tax Time Woes

If you are Canadian, the deadline to file your income tax is this Monday. We get two weeks more than the Americans do. I’m not sure if that is because our government needs the money less or if it is because our system is so complicated it take us longer to figure things out.

I could get into the various issues I have with the way the tax man runs things here, but I don’t need to. My friend Paul has been having some taxation issues. His blog is much more structurally themed than this one, so he asked if he could share here.

I know from working in politics that Paul’s story is not unique. Since I’ve always liked his way with words, I’ll let him tell things his way.

 

We were in Hamilton, Ontario, the first week of March dropping off our son’s passport as he needed a second piece of ID to renew his provincial health card. He mentioned that he didn’t have a blank income tax form, so I went next door to the post office to get one. It was there I was informed that the entire city had run out, and more were not expected. I was rather shocked, but not concerned; surely they would see the need to print more, as the tax deadline was still eight weeks away.

I returned to our own hometown in Eastern Ontario only to find the same situation existed here. In the first week of March.

Electronic filing is not an option when you own your own business. You have to submit a statement of business or professional income anyway, so you might as well do everything by mail. I should add here that for owners of unincorporated companies, April is a nightmare. Our system is partly computerized which mean it partly isn’t. Our business is small — a few years ago I would say that it had the financial scope of a child’s newspaper route — but our inventory is a collection of knicks and knacks which need to be counted individually and so inventory takes time. You are expected to take an actual physical inventory and we do that, but I suspect others simply use their computer’s inventory assessment, because they’re emailing me complete profit information by the first week in January. Ours consists of about 40 pages, 30 lines per page, 6 count items per line. Furthermore, I have to go through the thing like a teacher marking the class homework, and code in red pen what commodities need to be assessed at particular discounts. My wife then sets about the tedious task of summarizing these on her adding machine.

But wait, there’s more. While all this is going on, the April 30th deadline also looms for the first quarter of the current year, as HST reports need to be filed. I refuse to file them if the primary bookkeeping system — the correct word is trial balance, and some quarters it’s a trial, believe me — doesn’t balance to the penny. But we always get it done, even as we’re completing T4 slips for our employees, and working on the end of the previous year’s return.

When you own your business, your personal income tax and that of your business are one and the same. We could pay an accountant to do some of this, but given the business’s aforementioned puniness (an actual accounting term, I’m sure) we’ve preferred to slog through this ourselves.

It’s no wonder my wife now refuses to celebrate her first-week-of-April birthday on the day anymore. We save it for the first week of May when the mood is more celebratory.

So back to the forms.

I like our tax system. I’m glad the deadline is the 30th, unlike our U.S. cousins. And I like the idea that we’re held accountable with actual documents we mail in, as opposed to the American receipts-in-a-shoebox system.

Not having the forms this year was a challenge. We were fortunate enough to have a printer. My son does not. But the forms are posted online in monochrome. Before, I had this down to a science: The pink forms were provincial. The return itself was usually blue or green. You get the idea. As I’m writing this, the dining room table is awash in letter size printer pages which all look the same.  It’s also thicker paper, so I don’t know what the mailing costs are going to be like; I’ve got about 20 pages, even though we did two-sided printing. And I’ll take the high road and not mention the cost of toner for a set of working copies and a set of higher quality final copies. Those multi-colored forms were like friends; these self-published ones are aliens.

The bottom line is that the taxes are due on April 30th — or equivalent; since that’s a Sunday this year — and while filing is compulsory, I feel like we live in a banana republic which can afford a variety of million- and billion-dollar capital projects, but when it comes to collecting personal income tax can’t provide its citizenry with forms to file the darn things.

Surely our MP will come to the rescue, right?

Not exactly. The first round I got a flat no: “I can assure you that the responsibility to file his income tax falls squarely on his shoulders. In this modern age, he has many avenues to get the income tax forms he needs, such as any Canada Post office or online via a My CRA account.”

I liked the Canada Post reference. Someone’s not been paying attention.

My second letter drew a response suggesting he print the forms at the library. Sadly, his mail is still coming to our home, and without an addressed letter or two, the local library doesn’t see him as a member of their suburban Hamilton community. (She also suggested the library there would print his forms for free. That I would like to see.)

My third letter apparently was either met with more grace, or fear I was becoming the proverbial obnoxious constituent. They asked for his address; I sent them his and our own. Weeks later, he received a set of income tax forms. No envelope, mind you; a hardship for someone living on a budget or not knowing where to mail the thing. Worse, no copy of the guide. We’ve been doing this for decades and know the drill. This is only his second time filing.

We received nothing.

Not everyone has a computer. Not everyone with a computer has a printer.  All this to say that I think some people will simply not bother. I’d be interesting in comparing the compliance rate for 2017 to previous years.

After Paul sent me the post, he sent this addendum.

So we’re wrapping this up this morning and I go to write the cheque and…

…we’re discussing whether to make the payee Revenue Canada or Receiver General for Canada.

So we go to the tax guide for line 485 as instructed.

Nowhere, by which I mean absolutely nowhere, is there a reference to paying by cheque as an option.

(Google informed us it was Receiver General in 2014; so we’re going with that.)

 

Paul Wilkinson is a writer and owner of a retail store in Cobourg, Ontario.  For ten years he was weekly columnist for The Cobourg Daily Star and Port Hope Evening Guide.

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