Low income Canadians could benefit from automatic tax filing

Many low income Canadians are missing out on benefits because they don’t file tax returns.

image: Victoria News

While most Canadians such as me think of what they owe at tax time, low income Canadians should be thinking about what they could receive. They pay virtually nothing in taxes and receive the greatest household income in terms of benefits from the Canada Revenue Agency.

So, why wouldn’t low income Canadians file returns? The reasons vary but when you don’t have much money, you can’t afford to pay for someone to prepare your taxes or to pay for a program like TurboTax that helps navigate the tortuous forms.

And this year could mean even fewer low income Kamloopsians file returns because the volunteers who usually help out with taxes are physically isolating themselves. That’s certainly the case for the society I belong to, CSI Kamloops. In normal times, we help thousands of people prepare returns at our North Hills Mall location. This year, we might be able to help at our Brock Activity Centre dependent on whether we can open.

For low income Canadians, the CRA is more like a social service than a tax collection agency. Since returns are used to determine eligibility for a abundance of other benefits, low income Canadians could be missing out on them as well. Professor Jennifer Robson of Carleton University explains:

“For many Canadians, the tax system can be more like a social service system. It delivers cash benefits such as the GST credit and Canada Workers’ Benefit, for example. Through a notice of assessment from CRA, the system also helps people prove their annual income so they can qualify for means-tested programs including housing and daycare subsidies, home heating rebates, and many others (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor November/December 2019).”

Working-age Canadians in the bottom 20 per cent of other income get the vast majority of their income from government transfers, “income that could be put at some risk if they can’t or don’t file a return,” adds Robson.

One way to ensure that low-income Canadians receive the benefits of filing a tax return is to have their returns automatically filed for them.

Almost everything is now in place for that to happen. You no longer have to apply for the Canada Workers’ Benefit because the CRA automatically assesses returns for eligibility for the tax credit. The same is true for the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Automatic enrolment is in place for the GIS so that seniors no longer have to apply for this benefit.

When I filled out my tax return using TurboTax, my forms were automatically filled out by accessing my CRA account. Except for political and charitable donations, CRA already had all my information.

Automatic tax filing doesn’t mean that the returns can’t be reviewed and corrected. In my case, I had the option of changing the CRA generated forms or not. Automatic tax filing probably wouldn’t work for those with complex returns such as business owners who could opt out the automatic return.

Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. The tax preparation industry including Intuit, maker TurboTax, has spent $6.6 million in the U.S. lobbying against government tax filing. If taxes could be filed automatically, it would eat into their profits.

Norway, Denmark and Sweden already offer automatic tax filing. Other jurisdictions such Chile, Spain and California are coming on board. It’s all but done in Canada.

Bubble families emerge from pandemic

Provinces are allowing the expansion of family units to include friends and family. The selection of who’s in and who is out is tricky.

image: Money Crashers

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said last week: “I believe that we are at a point where we can increase our social contact, and we can have more people in our close circle of family and friends.”

Singles can pair off with another single or with a couple and socialize exclusively with them.

Families can also pair off with other families. But it has to be done carefully. As soon as you add others to your circle, you add all the people which they are connected to which amplifies the risk.

Before you extend your bubble family, sometimes called a cohort family, you need to check with them to ensure that their degree of virus avoidance matches yours. It would be a mistake to extend your circle to a family just because they’re “cool” as Professor Lucia O’Sullivan found out.

O’Sullivan wasted no time inviting her “best friend family” to join forces after New Brunswick allowed bubbling. The families lived nearby, traveled together, spent Christmas Eve together and have children of a similar age (Globe and Mail, May 2, 2020).”

“Saturday morning,” said O’Sullivan, “I was gardening and I thought, uh oh, I better contact them and see. I felt rushed because I thought everyone’s going to ask them. They’re like the coolest family in town. It’s like asking someone to the prom: Were they already taken?”

It turned out that they were taken. Instead, the “best friend family” had bubbled up into a group of eight: two husbands, two wives and four kids.  O’Sullivan’s parents paired up with her sister. Her best friend family’s parents decided not to break their quarantine. Bubbling can leave you feeling left out.

Bubbling requires commitment, like going steady or being in a monogamous relationship. For instance, the chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease is extremely low in a monogamous relationship, but increases sharply if one or both partners cheat.

You can’t play the field. Dr. Henry says: “What you can’t do is see two people one night and four different people the next.”

Bubbling reduces the isolation of singles. Daycare and work-time access improve.

An Edmonton couple, both who work and have a two-year old, bubbled with another working couple with two-year old forming a makeshift family of six.  They care for the children on alternate days: While one parent goes for walks, or does arts and crafts with the kids, the other three parents can work a full shift uninterrupted. They rotate a biweekly grocery run, one person shopping for both families. As a courtesy, they text message each other whenever anyone leaves the house for errands, a walk or a drive.

Mental health improves with socialization. Some sense of normalcy returns to these crazy times.

However, what legacy will remain once the pandemic is over. Will you remain close to those in your bubble?  Will those not included feel slighted or shunned?

And how will you feel about the “others’” outside your circle? The stain of disease is deeply engrained in the human psyche. If they didn’t meet your standards of hygiene, can they ever be trusted?

 

China’s response to COVID-19 cover-ups should be to speak softly and carry a big wallet.

China has been accused of covering up the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for months, giving the virus time to spread globally.

Lu Shaye. Image: National Post

China’s response has been to come out swinging, angrily reacting in a manner not fitting a superpower. While irrational outbursts have been characteristic of the leader that other superpower, China should take the higher rhetorical ground.

China has lashed out at a number of countries critical of its handling of the crisis, including Australia. After Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent review of the spread of the virus, China’s ambassador to Australia questioned whether a country that is so “hostile” to China is the best place to send Chinese students for education, or whether Chinese consumers would want to buy Australian wine and beef, (Globe and Mail, May 1, 2020).

Canada has felt similar peevishness from China after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies after the U.S. had requested her extradition. The shrill tone of China’s ambassador in Canada was followed by the blockage of our exports of pork and canola to China. Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to Canada was decidedly undiplomatic last May in Toronto when he harangued Canadians and said that we have a “psychological imbalance towards China’s economic and technological development” caused by “West-egotism.”

Lu Shaye is now spouting familiar rhetoric in France. He has released a series of attacks on the “malevolence” of the French media, calling them lapdogs of the U.S.: suggesting that Le Figaro was trafficking in “lies,” and “Some Westerners are starting to have no confidence in liberal democracy,” with one of his favourite themes that the French were “psychologically fragile.”

It’s all so unnecessary. To call us psychologically imbalanced is an obvious insult.  There is no need to mimic Trump’s childish outbursts to demonstrate your status as a superpower.

The mature reaction of a superpower to accusations is to calmly carry on with global dominance and be diplomatic in areas of dispute.

China’s global influence needs no psychoanalysis of critics. That rising superpower is spreading its influence globally with the Belt and Road Initiative with projected spending on infrastructure of $1 trillion in 71 countries. The initiative involves one-half the world’s population and one-quarter the global GDP.

Sure, China’s worry is that its soft power being eroded by accusations of a cover-up. But that will pass, especially if China can clean up the breeding grounds of pandemics, the disgusting “wet markets” of slaughtered wild and domestic animals.

The U.S. superpower’s foreign policy hasn’t always been characterized by a whiney leader. Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy in 1900 was: “speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” The components of the policy were the possession of a strong military, never to bluff, and to strike only when prepared to strike hard.

China’s foreign policy should be “speak softly and carry a big wallet.” China has chosen to dominate the world through the investment in infrastructure.  That policy will deliver the resources needed to keep their industrial machine rolling out the world’s goods in a peaceful, albeit colonial, way.

China should resist the inclination to feel grieved at perceived historical humiliations over the past century. Lashing out is unbecoming of a rising superpower.

 

Ageism contributes to poor care in long-term facilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear the disparity of care for residents in long-term care compared to that in hospitals. An indicator of that disparity is the fact that 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care homes so far.

image: mybetternursinghome.com

I’m avoiding the label of “the elderly” for these residents for reasons I’ll explain later.

The reduced long-term care is not for lack of dedication by workers but for political reasons. Barb Nederpel, President of Hospital Employees’ Union, told me:

“The pandemic has brought the problems in how we treat seniors and those who care for them into sharp focus. Twenty years ago, workers in long-term care earned the same wages and benefits regardless of their employer. Through privatization and contracting out, the BC Liberals forced thousands of these workers into lower paid jobs. Many took second or third jobs to make ends meet. To keep seniors and workers safe during the pandemic, public health officials are limiting workers to single sites and we’ve secured agreement from government to increase those wages back to the industry standard.”

For ideological motives, the BC Liberals argued that private care facilities could operate more efficiently. Privatization created a multi-tiered system where those who could pay more got better treatment.

The trouble with this model is that in this market where there is a labour shortage, workers will go to where they are paid more -leaving places that pay less short-staffed. The residents who call those places home suffer.

Ageism is at the heart of deaths in long-term care homes. The reduction in worker wages reflects the degree that we care about the residents of those facilities. The death of “the elderly” is seen as no big deal. People get old and die. The meme “Boomer Remover” that has been circulating reflects the dark humour of ageism.

To dismiss residents as “the elderly” robs them of their dignity as fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters. Let’s call them persons; persons who love and are loved, who laugh and cry, and make a difference in the world. Age should be just one aspect of anyone’s life, not a defining attribute.

Hospitals are relatively well-prepared for the pandemic in contrast to long-term care homes says Rona Ambrose, former Conservative minister of health and minister during the Ebola crisis in 2014:

“Our hospitals are ready. Doctors and nurses have been properly trained and are waiting to be called in for COVID-19 duty. Personal protective equipment is available, and, if not, it’s on its way.

“Meanwhile, caregivers in many long-term care homes are underpaid, lack training and don’t have PPE. How could this have happened when we knew from day one that long-term care homes would be centres of COVID-19 infection? How could we have failed our care-home residents so badly? There are hundreds of these facilities dealing with outbreaks across Canada (Globe and Mail, April 13, 2020).”

Post-pandemic, we will need to reset our values so that workers’ wages coincide with the value that we place on them. It’s too bad that it takes a pandemic for that disconnect to sink in. There has been an outpouring of appreciation for workers who have put their lives on the line to serve us. Let’s back up that appreciation for long-term care workers with a living wage.

Ventilator treatment for COVID-19 leads to questions of end-of-life

Now is the time to talk to your friends and family about your prospects of survival should you become deathly ill. But if you’re like me, you’d rather not start the conversation.

image: The Conversation

If you are unfortunate enough to catch the new coronavirus and are placed on a ventilator, the odds are two-to-one that you will die. And if you survive, your quality of life could be seriously compromised.

The numbers are still coming in, but they don’t look good. One review conducted in China said that 86 percent of COVID-19 patients put on ventilators eventually died. In the UK, about two-thirds of ventilated patients died.

From an optimistic perspective, you have a chance of living so why not take it?

In the most serious cases, COVID-19 takes over the respiratory system and leads to pneumonia. Your lungs fill with fluid and you can no longer capture oxygen; you begin to suffocate and are left literally gasping for air.

A ventilator seems like the obvious choice but it’s extremely invasive. You are sedated and muscle-paralyzing drugs are given -the procedure is so aggressive that you would not tolerate it otherwise. A 10-inch tube is inserted into your lungs with the hope is that the oxygen will prevent you from suffocating to death before the body’s immune system is able to rally, overwhelm the virus and return you to health. That’s the hope.

Kathryn Dreger, an internist and professor of medicine at Georgetown University, describes a common result:

“The amount of sedation needed for Covid-19 patients can cause profound complications, damaging muscles and nerves, making it hard for those who survive to walk, move or even think as well as they did before they became ill. Many spend most of their recovery time in a rehabilitation center, and older patients often never go home. They live out their days bed bound, at higher risk of recurrent infections, bed sores and trips back to the hospital.”

Given that prospect, you will have to make the agonizing decision to ventilate or not. And you will have to decide at a time when you are least able to do so, when you are very sick and perhaps not thinking clearly.

Your doctor can help you decide but it’s not a purely medical decision. These are highly personal decisions affecting your future quality of life.

As difficult as it may be, you should give advance directions regarding invasive treatments.

As I watched my wife die of breast cancer seven years ago, the need for such directions became painfully clear. She had signed a “do not resuscitate (DNR)” order. It instructs health care providers not to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if her breathing stopped or her heart stopped beating. She died without any of those interventions.

When I talked to my doctor shortly after her death about a DNR order for me, he was concerned; worried about my apparent preoccupation with imminent death when I seemed perfectly healthy.

The best chance that a DNR will be honoured is if you have talked to your doctor and family. But kids have trouble dealing with their own mortality, let alone yours.

In our culture where talk of death ends a conversation, it’s easier not to start the conversation.

I would not consider a life hooked up to tubes, or bed-ridden with recurrent infections, worth living but I procrastinate in getting a DNR order.

One day when I’m least capable making the decision, I’ll probably regret my procrastination.

 

Canada could have stopped pandemic earlier -but at what cost?

Two nations have contrasting approaches to the control of COVID-19. One uses state-control, the other appeals to the individual’s sense of citizenship.

image: Forbes

China’s approach was to seal off the source of the outbreak in Wuhan in January. It was a draconian step to halt the spread of the deadly virus but by all reports, it seems to have worked.

On January 25, 2020, a man flew to Toronto from Wuhan and became the first presumptive case of the coronavirus in Canada. Airports were such an obvious point of vulnerability. Canada could have taken similar drastic measures by sealing off airports and by doing so, halted the virus in its tracks.

However, Canadians would have never accepted such heavy-handed a tactic. Instead, passengers arriving by air were asked to self-isolate, a tactic that depended on compliance.

I can imagine how I would have felt if, after arriving back from Mexico in March, I was herded into holding facilities and subjected to forced quarantine. Instead, some nice young people handed me an information sheet and advised me to stay at home for two weeks.

Sweden is trying a different approach. That county has no lockdowns, no school closures, and no ban on going to the pub.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven is appealing to citizenship, calling this a “common sense” response to the pandemic. Rather than the heavy hand of the state in controlling the pandemic, Sweden is depending on the power of citizens do the right thing. “We who are adults need to be exactly that – adults. Not spread panic or rumours,” said Lofven. “No one is alone in this crisis, but each person has a heavy responsibility.”

Faith in Swedish common sense is admirable but it doesn’t seem to be working. While Denmark, Finland, and Norway have seen some reductions in hospitalizations pre million, Sweden is still on the rise as of April 8. Swedish public opinion regarding the tactic is divided about 50/50. The Swedish government will likely change its mind if public opinion opts for more isolation.

I suspect that the public opinion of the citizens of Wuhan matters little. The Chinese state is not moved by public opinion.

Maybe some state intervention during a health crisis might be a good thing.

While an informed citizenry is a powerful democratic tool, reliable information is becoming scarce in this fractured newsworld of “true facts.”

An ill-informed citizenry leads to a chaotic response and the spread of disease.

Take vaccinations, for example. Some parents are informed by what they are led to believe are reliable sources; sources that say vaccinations cause autism and disease. In that case, the state has stepped in some jurisdictions to impose vaccinations for the health and safety of all.

The common good has to outweigh the misguided opinions of a few.

Canada has adopted a balance of heavy-handedness and public education. We accept that schools, restaurants, and stores have been shut down. Those who disagree with the fact of the pandemic, as an expression of their liberty to think as please, face limitations of movement and social censure.

Canada falls somewhere between state-intervention and freedom of expression. Sometimes the powers of government have to be used judiciously to outweigh the whims of individualists in order to protect greater society.

 

Some think COVID19 is a hoax

The inconvenient truth of COVID-19 is that it’s going to infect millions and hundreds of thousands will die. That reality is slowing dawning on a majority of Canadian as the virus moves closer to home. However a small minority see it as a hoax, a government plot to invade our daily lives. I’ll call this group the “Illuminati faction.”

A larger minority have politicized what is a health crisis. This group votes for the Conservative Party but I’m reluctant to label them as such. Let’s call them the “political partisans.”

Four million Canadians say the whole crisis is overblown, extrapolating from a poll conducted by Angus Reid on March 30. Twelve per cent of respondents agreed that “the threat of a coronavirus outbreak in Canada is overblown.”

Two-thirds of them voted Conservative in the 2019 federal election.

Other than politics, I can think of no other reason why Conservative voters would regard a health crisis differently than anyone else. The coronavirus does not select victims based on how they vote. Regardless of what they tell pollsters, I suspect that this group is as worried as anyone else.

The official stance Conservation Party is sensible. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said: “There really isn’t much philosophical difference when it comes to fighting a virus or keeping Canadians healthy and safe (CP, March 22, 2020).”

The motive of the political partisans seems obvious. They are reluctant to give the prime minister any kind of advantage. During a health crisis the prime minister appears statesman-like.

That bump in popularity has certainly worked for Prime Minister Trudeau and to slightly lesser extent for U.S. President Trump. Two-thirds of Canadians think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing a good job handling the COVID-19 crisis. Some provincial leaders have seen even more of a bump. The highest score came for Premier François Legault of Quebec with an approval rating of 93 per cent.

However, the Illuminati faction has more of a populist inclination. They distrust anything that the Mainstream Media (MSM) has to offer which they regard as fake news. The truth is revealed through the blogosphere.

I found two examples of the Illuminati faction on the Facebook page of a Kamloops user.

Henry Makow is the author of Illuminati: The Cult that Hijacked the World. On his website he proposes that governments are part of a sinister plot. His April 3 post warns:

“Flu Psyop — Pretext to Impose Orwellian Dictatorship?” ‘The Depression [resulting from the pandemic] will deepen and an oppressive political regime will be instituted.” “Their goal is take away our freedoms. Then if we want them back, we’ll be forced to receive vaccines to gain a digital certificate of movement which allows us to be tracked on 5G control grids.”

And a YouTube video with 508,068 views as of March 31, 2020, is titled “CoronaHoax Pandemic Proven Fake… Yet The Lockdowns Continue… Here’s Why.”

Like climate change deniers, COVID-19 deniers would prefer to believe some guy blogging from his basement. Unlike climate change, the effects of the virus are not glacial –they are immediate and deadly. And when not deadly, it’s extremely painful with possible permanent damage to the lungs.

Who says irony is dead?