Dr. Strangetax

The credit for the title of the April 2010 Last Word, Dr. Strangetax, has to go to Lexpert’s columns editor David Diaz. I called it something dorky like “Why I love paying taxes.” Which I submit to you as proof that writers need editors, especially editors like David.

English: The descriptive sign at the entrance ...

Last Word: Dr. Strangetax

By Marzena Czarnecka

My accountant would never have made it at Arthur Andersen. He wouldn’t have been able to hack it at Nortel either — not, by the way, that I’m accusing Nortel or any of its agents of any accounting shenanigans. No, there’s a big difference between fraud and sheer incompetence (although it does get blurred when one starts trying to mask sheer incompetence). What I’m saying is that my accountant is singularly unsuited for both. He’s kind of odd that way. He thinks you ought to pay taxes.

He’s been doing my taxes ever since the year I brought him four overflowing shoeboxes full of expense receipts — sorted by language rather than category, as that seemed the obvious way to do it at the time — and one thin envelope containing two invoices that represented my income for the year. I knew I was with him for life when he neither laughed nor judged, but gave me a whopping discount on his fee and the business card of a client of his who was looking for a multilingual writer.

Over the 10 years that he’s been keeping me on the right side of the Canada Revenue Agency, he’s tried to inculcate in me all sorts of good financial and record-keeping habits. I have to confess, on most fronts he’s failed. Yes, I no longer arrive at his office with one shoebox marked “Korean” and another marked “Japanese,” but that’s about as good as it’s gotten. There is one lesson, however, that the good man has managed to get through my thick skull, and it’s one for which I’ve been extremely grateful, especially in the years in which my income exceeds my expectations, and the cut that goes to the government is somewhat larger than I’d like.

The Stanley Kubrick fans among you will have extrapolated the lesson already. Indeed, this is it: He’s taught me how to stop worrying and love paying taxes. OK, “love” is stretching it just a little bit. I’m not sure I’m even quite at “like” yet. But I’m working on it, and in the moments when I briefly achieve it, it’s an incredibly liberating, exhilarating experience.

The trick, you see, is to link your taxpaying experience to very specific and concrete and positive things. When you get to that last line of the tax return that tells you how much you owe the government, don’t gasp and whatever you do, don’t think about things like the Liberal sponsorship scandals, Afghan detainees, prorogued Parliaments and things like that. Don’t think about your MP’s or MLA’s salary or expense account. Do not, under any circumstance, let your mind wander to the federal government’s H1N1 campaign, its non-response to the financial crisis of 2008 and the thousand and one other things that make any thinking taxpayer’s blood boil. That way lies madness, and the slippery slope that can take you from tax avoidance to tax evasion and beyond.

No, to stop worrying and love paying taxes, you’ve got to think happy thoughts. Before I look at that number, I think of Banff National Park, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Its preservation is what my tax dollars pay for. The salary of the friendly park wardens. The upkeep of the Cave and Basin. The free parking in downtown Banff. The scenic highway that winds between those gorgeous Rocky Mountains …

You with me? But not quite there? I think, for the 2009 tax season, the park will be enough to get me to that good place. For 2006 and 2007, I did need a little extra inspiration. I had to draw on the Royal Alberta Museum and its funky bug room, so beloved by my kids. I’ve never been to the National Gallery of Canada, but that might do it for you. Or maybe it’s the Canadian Museum of Civilization. CBC Radio Two?

If you’re on the end of the political spectrum that gets irritated rather than soothed by government spending on such matters, go practical. Next time you’re in the car – mayhaps stuck in traffic caused by construction on an overpass – think, “I’m paying for this. This is my road.” (Resist the urge to roll down the window and yell at the lounging construction workers to stop wasting your money and get back to work — that’s good neither for your mindset as a taxpayer nor your blood pressure.)

Think you can do it? Roads. Hospitals. Parks. Museums. Commercial-free radio. That sculpture on the corner of … wait, that’s an eyesore, I didn’t pay for that. Did you?

Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based freelance writer, currently paying for a ring-road and all sorts of other infrastructure projects around the country, as well as the renovation of the Manitoba Children’s Museum in Winnipeg.