• Carmen Marie Fabio

Close enough for government

In a week that revealed, once again, that crime may not pay but certainly has the ability to make life a little more comfortable, we learned that a Health Canada employee used government credit cards to charge close to $20,000 in personal items including spa visits, restaurant meals, clothes, and cash advances.

The fact that said employee's job description didn't warrant having a credit card in the first place is immaterial – he or she was reportedly given a number of chances to rack up the debt and, lucky for them, get fired before the total amount could be garnished from their paycheque.

The final balance of $11,210 was finally paid by you and me – in tax dollars.

People do bad things. To err is human. We all make mistakes.

But we also pay into systems that we trust have checks and balances in place to stop things like this from happening and certainly from happening to the tune of five-figures.

Perspective being what it is, my other experiences with governmentality this week are almost acceptable by comparison.

Having a son in the process of getting a learner's permit as he attends driver's education classes led us on what turned out to be a wild bureaucratic goose chase.

Landing at the SAAQ that advertised right on their door Permis de Conduire, my husband and son waited in line for 20 minutes to be doled a good-news-bad-news scenario by the civil servant behind the counter. “Congratulations,” she told my son, her expression tinged with a hint of pity for someone who had waited 20 minutes in line for nothing. “Unfortunately, we don't do learner's permits here as it requires a vision test. We don't do vision tests.” My son's vision was good enough to read the sign on the door that clearly said they issued Permis de Conduire but I digress.

Though it's only Wednesday at this writing, my trifecta of government-induced head scratching showed up in my mailbox today with the second of two 'Important messages from the Canada Revenue Agency' postcards, both extolling the virtue of accuracy in filling out federal income tax returns. And while I appreciate the sentiment expressed that information errors in taxation returns result in unnecessary delays, I can't fathom why it took two mass mailings, ostensibly to millions of online taxpayers, to get a singular message across. The cute graphics – one showing mismatched socks, the other two different shoes – each proclaim a slightly different website address... one cra.gc.ca/accurate and the other cra.gc.ca/errorfree. Cue the head scratching.

Both sites, to my eyes, are identical with nothing to discern which is accurate and which is error free.

If we invoke a simple mathematical formula using the latest statistics available, 19,836,000 Canadians will e-file their tax returns this year. If they were all notified in the same manner as I – in duplicate – the cost in a postal rate of $0.80 per mailing is equal to $31,737,600 to ensure that no errors are made.

Now, journalists are notoriously very bad at math and I welcome anyone to correct my calculations but even if my math is off, it's a phenomenal amount of money spent to save a bit of money by making a mistake to ensure that no mistakes are made.

And no matter how you tally that, it just doesn't add up.

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