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A Taxing Problem

by Stephen Lautens


June 23, 2000

Last week I got one of those dreaded brown envelopes from the tax department. I knew I wasn't getting any money back from this year's taxes, so whatever was inside couldn't be good news.

I don't know if I should be happy or mad at what was inside.

The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency sent me a notice of overdue taxes. They said I owed them the sum of six dollars - get this - from 1996.

Of course they charged me $6.28 in interest and a penalty that brought the final total to over twenty dollars.

I'm pretty good at paying my taxes. I'm smart enough to know I shouldn't be doing them myself, so I regularly hand all my little slips of paper over to professionals. So how I ended up owing six dollars from four years ago is anyone's guess.

Why this is the first time I've heard of it is beyond comprehension. I live in the same house and have the same phone number. We don't have a dog or child that eats the mail. It's not like I've been ignoring overdue notices and using them to light cigars.

Why it decided to spit out my past due six bucks now is anyone's guess. I suppose they must have gone to Radio Shack last week to get more memory for the big tax computer in Ottawa.

I thought about asking my bookkeeper to look into it, but she charges thirty dollars an hour. Then I was going to dig out my records myself, but the idea of spending a couple of hours in the crawl space with a flashlight and calculator didn't seem like it was worth six bucks.

My biggest worry was that I might find out I was right. Then I'd feel obliged to fight it. I'd have to find out how to file an appeal, but that means calling the terminally busy number, then negotiating RevCan's bewildering maze of push-button options: "if you are calling about the tax credit rebate program for Boer War veteran pensions, press 83 now"

In the end, I just went to the bank to pay it, interest, penalty and all.

I felt a little vindicated when the teller had to look at it twice and show it to a colleague in disbelief.

For me, the irony is that I'm a big defender of paying taxes. I think it's important that we all put into the collective pot to pay for the things we all need, like education and healthcare. Our social programs are important, especially the ones that involve children. After all, cheap kids make expensive adults.

And Ontario has seen what happens when the government cuts back on little things like testing drinking water.

But the fashion is to gripe about taxes and demand cuts. Voters won't give a politician the time of day unless they promise to cut taxes.

Still, every day the newspaper is full of letters to the editor asking why classrooms are overcrowded. Why our military is falling apart. Why Social Services doesn't have the resources to help an abused kid or battered wife. Why our roads have potholes and there's a long line to get your license.

All of these things cost money. Tax money.

So if my six bucks will fix all these things, I guess I can live with that.


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