I'm no friend of the Canada Revenue Agency but it's not for the reason you might think. After all, for fifty years I have faithfully filed an annual income tax return and paid whatever I owed. Although I'm not thrilled about paying taxes, I do so willingly, recognizing that it is my patriotic duty to contribute to the commonwealth.
Unlike tax cheats and those working in the underground economy, I declare all my income. So why, when I'm willing to do my part, does the CRA make it so difficult for me? I'm speaking, of course, about the annual question: "Will that be paper or electronic?"
For fifteen years, the CRA has offered individual taxpayers the choice to file their return electronically through their NETFILE service. According to the federal government, this option is secure and confidential as well as being faster and more accurate.
That's all fine and good and kudos to the almost 30% of taxpayers who choose to go that route (the total is closer to 80% when you include those returns professionally prepared and submitted through the government's EFILE system). But that doesn't give the CRA the right to undercut and marginalize those of us who still choose the paper-filing route.
I have my reasons for choosing paper including being more comfortable with paper filing, the ease of relying on past paper records and the government's questionable record implementing and maintaining electronic online systems.
In any event, I'm not sure why I should have to justify my preference for paper filing. After all, I'm trying to give the government some of my money so presumably they would want to make that easy for me.
Needless to say, the CRA does not go out of its way to accommodate paper filers. In fact, the last ten years has seen them make it increasingly difficult to submit a paper return.
The first hint that the CRA wanted to eliminate paper filing altogether was the preferential treatment given to e-filers. They received faster processing and quicker refunds and, in many instances, didn't have to submit supporting records.
I could live with that since I was in no rush to receive a refund and I didn't mind providing documentary evidence to support my claims. What I didn't appreciate, however, was the CRA's next step which was to eliminate the annual mailing of personalized forms to those still filing by paper.
Now I have to wait for tax returns to become available at Canada Post outlets before I can start my income tax preparation. The CRA's website allows me to order the forms and information packages online but on more than one occasion I have done so only to find that the materials never arrived.
This year, I noticed three more small anti-paper filing actions taken by the tax department. First, they no longer include an envelope inside the tax return package. You have to pick it up separately at a Canada Post location assuming you know to do so.
Second, they no longer allow you to order the statement of business or professional activities form online or by phone. You have to print it out yourself which is no easy matter for folks who don't have an Internet connection and a printer. Finally, I noticed this year on the last page of the return no mention of the possibility of making a payment by cheque to the Receiver General for Canada.
At this rate, I suspect the CRA will make it even more difficult to be a paper filer and that's a sad commentary on our government. Unlike rich tax evaders with their offshore holdings, wealthy corporations with their maze of tax loopholes and deferments and the underground cash-under-the-table tax avoiders, we paper filers are simply honest citizens trying to pay our taxes and do the right thing.
When it comes to most businesses, if I'm not getting the service I deserve, I just switch providers. Sadly, in the case of the Canada Revenue Agency, they're the only game in town.
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