Friday 23 July 2010

Outdated CRA Tax Bulletins and New

Something is wrong with this picture: the Canada Revenue Agency wants us to do our taxes honestly and accurately but it deliberately neglects to provide up-to-date information and instructions through its Interpretation Bulletins. U of T law professor Ben Alarie noted this alarming and infuriating practise (which he notes was confirmed by the Auditor General) in Prof. Ben Alarie on If the CRA knowingly allows IB's to fall out of date, what about the rest - how is the ordinary taxpayer able to use any of CRA's information with any confidence?

Prof. Alarie is responding by launching as an online source of updated Interpretation Bulletins and other Canadian tax materials. Like other wikis, it will be publicly-editable so that everyone can add material as they encounter the intricacies of taxes through their personal experience. The added value potential of the taxwiki over and above the updating issue is that it can go beyond the strict tax rules to explaining whether this or that specific set of facts fits into, or not, the eligibility for beneficial tax treatment. For example, as someone who spends a lot of time overseas I found that the IT 221- Determination of an Individual's Residence Status page provides a lot of meaty explanation on the topic.

Of course, quality and accuracy is critical and Prof. Alarie hopes to achieve that by monitoring the content himself (he is a tax specialist) and by recruiting other tax experts as the project grows. There is already substantial detailed content on taxwiki so it is off to a promising start. But as Prof. Alarie said is his email to me announcing the project "... the whole idea is to allow for many hands to make light work for the benefit of all. The benefits of a wiki are magnified as more and more users refer to, modify, update, and streamline its contents." I will give it a shot myself by putting in some of the details encountered in the process of doing my annual online tax software review. A permanent organized repository is a far better place to find tax info than a blog archive, whose past material becomes hard to find, even with Google search ( I sometimes have trouble finding stuff of my own despite knowing I wrote about it!).

Good on the prof for launching taxwiki. Instead of merely whining about the CRA, he's done something positive. As the proverb says, "If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain."

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