As hunts go, this one should be simple. Head to the nearest post office, pick up what you need, head home. Then spend hours thinking about where you should look in the book for your T776, your T1013, the always-popular T1036 or the T3012A.
But for scores of people — among them, seniors in St. John’s — it’s far from that simple.
There was a time when the federal government, eager to get every tax dollar as quickly as possible, mailed income tax forms to your home. But, keen to be green (or so they said), the federal government stopped sending packages out.
Instead, you can print forms from the website, or pick them up at Canada Post or at Service Canada outlets.
But the pickup’s not really that simple: at Canada Post outlets around the city, the forms have been unavailable for weeks.
At one outlet, apologetic staff said that they’d only received one box of forms, several weeks ago, and that they’d all been gone almost immediately.
Every day, people come in and ask; every day, they leave empty-handed, and the staff said they had no idea when or even if they might get more forms.
Another outlet had signs saying “Only French forms available,” along with an empty box and, right next to that, another message that all forms, in all languages, had run out.
At a third, an outlet in a drug store, there hadn’t been any forms available for weeks — at least, not on any kind of consistent basis.
“As soon as we get them, they’re gone in under an hour,” a clerk said. “We put a limit on them, two to a customer, and they’re still gone.”
“We’re sending people to the main post office on Water Street.”
Does the main post office have the forms, though? “I don’t know — but we sure don’t.”
Printing the forms from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) site is fine, so is doing it online. But if you are less than fully computer literate, it’s hardly an option.
And if your taxes are a complex collection of forms, anything more than the standard basic T-1 General, it’s a lot of printing — especially since the forms are such pretty colours. (Who on Earth thought that was a good idea? And do they have stock in companies that manufacture printing cartridges?)
Essentially, the federal government has downloaded the printing costs onto anyone who decides to print the forms.
It’s really only an annoyance, but it’s another annoyance at an already annoying time of year.
It is, of course, only a few short days to the federal tax deadline. Miss the deadline, even if it’s because you can’t find a form to complete your taxes, and you’re on the hook for interest.
CRA probably doesn’t care if they’ve taken the tools away from taxpayers. Death and taxes are certain, and if you don’t have the forms, well, too bad for you.
The Heart Bleed virus may get taxpayers a few extra filing days — missing forms? Not so much.
Federal politicians? They don’t care either. In fact, they probably aren’t even looking — at their rarified level, the closest they get to tax returns is signing on the bottom line when their accountants are finished filling out the forms for them.
But it makes you wonder about what it’s like for average Canadians, Canadians who don’t have accountants and who have to fight their way through the federal government’s strange definitions, curious use of language and a blinding array of numbered forms — Canadians who can’t even claim the gas they burn, driving from postal outlet to postal outlet, just trying to handle the civic responsibility of paying their taxes.
Meanwhile, at least one enterprising tax-filing service is setting up displays directly next to in-store postal outlets, complete and fully stocked with rafts of brochures.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
news editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.