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COLUMN: Message for the early tax filers: 'The rest of us hate you'

'The dining room table, being the only surface remotely large enough to accommodate the clutter becomes the focus of this endeavour,' columnist notes of annual tax angst
Woman using calculator

“Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” — Benjamin Franklin, 1789

Our annual angst has arrived again.

Yep. It’s tax season. That time of year when 80% of the population of North America goes into a mild state of panic. When our respective governments rub their metaphorical hands together, anticipating a huge influx of taxpayer dollars, and daydreaming about what they can do with all that lovely lucre.

Until 1917, when the Income War Tax was introduced, there was no federal income tax in Canada. Originally intended to be temporary, it was meant to help finance Canada’s participation in the First World War against Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm.

But let’s be honest, what government is going to turn off a profitable spigot like that, once it’s been signed into law?

When we were kids, we never had to worry about taxes. That was our parents’ problem.

Once a year, Dad would descend into madness for a few days or weeks, in a desperate attempt to figure out what the government wanted him to do this year, because tax season only happens once every twelve months, and he could never remember in the interval, what was required last year.

Yes, we dread tax season. We put it off as long as we possibly can, because it’s so much easier to ignore it and hope it goes away. (It won’t!) So we drag it out, inevitably leaving it to the last minute before dumping a boatload of unidentified paperwork on our poor, overworked bookkeepers and accountants who never sleep at all in the last month before the final filing date.

If you’re organized — if you’re one of those people — you’ll already have it properly sorted into file folders in order by date, or you’ve already got it nicely arranged in QuickBooks and emailed to the accountant. Or worse, you have software that does everything for you, linking directly with Canada Revenue.

The rest of us hate you.

People like me shove it all into a shoebox until tax season when we have to try making last-minute sense of random receipts and indecipherable pieces of paper whose significance we can no longer recall.

Panic ensues, and we spread out several haphazard piles of papers, receipts and random bits and pieces of information that no one will ever read or decipher, in preparation for organizing and filing, naïvely trusting that the categories haven’t changed too much since last year.

The dining room table, being the only surface remotely large enough to accommodate the clutter becomes the focus of this endeavour, but inevitably, this is a mistake, because this is also the time of year when the weather is improving and people start visiting after the long, cold winter.

Every time this happens, we have to clear off the damn table for a damn dinner party, all while desperately trying to remember what we’ve organized and what still has to be categorized.

After the third time, it all gets shoveled onto the bed in the spare room, and we hope against hope that no-one will forget and open the bedroom door, letting the dog jump up and make a nice little nest in the rubble. Or worse, eat all the T4s.

But, suddenly one day, it all comes together, all neat and organized. Or so we hope. Praying we haven’t forgotten anything, we pluck up our courage and head to the post office or office supply place to get the requisite government forms, or we download them from the Service Canada website, crossing our fingers that we’ve picked the right one.

Now we have to figure out the forms, putting our tentative calculations into the correct spaces, and praying to every god ever invented that this time we’ve got it right, because every year, no matter how “simple” our taxes are supposed to be, they get more complicated than the year before. I honestly believe there’s a secret government department full of sadistic forensic accountants whose only job is to find new ways to make bureaucracy infinitely more baffling for normal people.

For seniors like me, our annual income is closely connected to how well we remember to file our income tax. If we forget, (which, given the state of our memory these days, is highly likely), or we file late, we get to have two panic attacks per year: once, when tax season rolls around and we can’t find all the paperwork, and a second time in July when the government’s paperwork is finally processed by some anonymous office drone who’s discovered a wonderful opportunity to save a few dollars by cutting off the lifeblood of unsuspecting pensioners.

It’s at this point that a letter arrives from the government informing us that our supplemental government income, you know the one; the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors — the one that actually lets us buy food — has been terminated because, you guessed it; we didn’t file on time.

Horrified, we suddenly remember that although we filled them in, we never actually sent in the forms before April 30, so now, a week of dedicated hysteria ensues, culminating in several frenzied sessions at the Service Canada office as we wade through bureaucratic red tape in a last-ditch attempt to reinstate the GIS, so we can afford to purchase actual food and, ohmygod, toilet paper for the rest of the year.

And we solemnly promise never to let it get this bad again. Until next year.

Yep. It’s tax season once more.

I blame Kaiser Wilhelm.

Bev Hanna is a writer and published author. A recovering artist, she now teaches senior writers how to craft compelling stories and memoirs, and manages the Let’s Write group at the Askennonia Senior Centre.