Representation At Tax Time

While that sucking noise at tax time definitely sucks, it's also a great time to exercise a little social activism. You might as well get some representation with your taxation.

Last year, I took part in a symbolic exercise with Consience Canada, withholding a portion of my taxes and depositing it in the organization's "Peace Tax Trust Fund," which allows people to divert the military portion of their taxes, to be held in trust until there is a law respecting conscientious objection to military taxation in Canada. The whole exercise was a good chance to get in touch with my elected "leaders," and to create some dialogue on the issue of conscientious objection - you can bet the government takes notice when its lifeblood (tax revenue) is impeded in some way.

Even though I intended to ultimately pay the tax, I was able to register my dissatisfaction with the status quo as tax representatives and their managers were forced to take notice and at least be aware of a different viewpoint. Aside from a few tax notices from the government and my own filing of a "Notice of Objection" (easy to do online and which results in an automatic reassessment), I didn't incur too much inconvenience or any monetary consequences. There was some time required in mailing a cheque to Conscience Canada, and sending a copy to the government, but I'm glad I did it. Having done it, this year I may just stick to filing another Notice of Objection when my assessment comes back (gives you the opportunity to explain your grievance) and writing to my elected representatives on the issue.

In a similar vein, at tax time, we have the opportunity (when we can afford it) to invest in RRSPs. You've probably already heard about socially responsible investing, but it's not in the news near enough. Parking some RRSP cash in an investment like the Ethical Funds (or even a socially responsible high interest account, like Vancity's "Jumpstart" account) is a decent way to not only earn some investment income, but to also register your "vote" in the marketplace (your local credit union should be able to recommend some investments). Ethical investment funds often have shareholder activism programs, actively pushing companies through the tool of shareholder resolutions, to adopt more socially responsible business practices on issues ranging from human rights to climate change. These programs are strategic and long-term, often resulting in active dialogue over a number of years with individual companies on various issues. At a minimum, these resolutions force corporate managers to become conversant with the issues, and in some cases, often result in tangible positive changes in the marketplace. Basically you're earning money on your investment while also bankrolling shareholder activism.

Here are some recent climate change resolutions and their results.

It is possible to have representation at tax time - maybe not quite as much as we'd like - but definitely lots of opportunities to "represent."