A survey of auditors at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has revealed that the vast majority believe Canada’s tax system favors the wealthy.
Nine out of 10 of the auditors and tax professionals polled agreed that corporations and wealthy Canadians find it easier to avoid paying taxes than the less well-off. The majority of respondents also suggested the government needs to enforce tax laws more strictly to tackle this issue.
However, the poll, which was sponsored by the union that represents tax professionals working at the CRA, received widespread criticism for being unreliable, as the respondents were all civil servants.
Kim G C Moody, the director of Canadian tax advisory at Moodys Gartner Tax Law, said, “A non-biased poll would have polled all stakeholders — practitioners, academics, bureaucrats, non-profit members, etc. — and not just union members.”
“Most auditors have very, very limited tax knowledge or education other than CRA provided,” Moody continued.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), the largest union representing scientists and other professionals working for the Canadian government, conducted the survey with 1,741 tax professionals and auditors at the CRA.
PIPSC president, Debi Daviau, used the survey results to pressure the government to increase CRA funding. According to Daviau, tax auditors face a lot of pressure ensuring Canada’s tax system “remains fair in the face of off-shore tax havens and other tax avoidance schemes.”
The agency has operated on a slimline budget, $500 million less than in 2012, since the former Harper government cut spending.
A spokesperson for PIPSC insisted the union always maintained ethical standards. “All of our auditors need to have either a CPA designation or equivalent education, so they are indeed professional accountants,” he said. “Generally speaking, PIPSC auditors look at corporations and the most complex individual files, as well as leading teams that may include members from both groups.”
The Canadian national broadcaster, CBC, also came under heavy criticism for media bias for backing the poll’s findings on the topic of tax avoidance and evasion. The headline, “Most CRA auditors polled say Canada's tax system is skewed to protect the wealthy,” published online by the CBC on August 17, 2018, attracted particular backlash. Some commentators labelled the reports ‘fake news’ while others described CBC as socialist-controlled media.
Regardless of the poll’s findings, the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) recognizes that the Canadian tax system needs improvement. “CPA Canada also believes there must be a full review of Canada’s tax system to make it simpler, fairer and more competitive.”
An Environics Research poll, also sponsored by the union, found 79 percent of respondents agreeing that “it is easier for corporations and wealthy individuals to evade and/or avoid tax responsibilities than it is for average Canadians.”
The public opinion results are based on the views of some 1,000 respondents who were telephoned between July 3 and 8. The results are considered accurate within plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
In general, the wealthy have more resources at their disposal to seek advice about navigating loopholes, such as offshore tax havens. More often than not, these creative accounting practices are extremely complicated. For the authorities to keep up, they must unravel the paper trail.
Real estate website Zoocasa recently revealed the unequal land transfer tax paid by homebuyers across Canada. Their research found that on top of already paying the highest housing costs in the country, Vancouver and Toronto residents also have to pay the two highest land transfer tax rates on housing purchases.
For instance, in Toronto, a repeat homebuyer would have to pay 3.1% tax, while first time buyers qualify for rebate so their tax comes to 2.1%. On an averaged priced property this comes up to CA$25,162 and CA$16,687 respectively. Either way the amount is significantly higher than in other areas of the country. What could cost more than CA$20,000 in these cities can cost as low as CA$239 in Alberta where the residents of the province do not pay a land transfer tax but instead a ‘title transfer fee’ of $0.1%, which can be as low as CA$239 for an average priced home. Despite not all governments calling it a tax, all of the provinces charge it when a real estate deal occurs.
Evidently, in the priciest cities residents are paying a fortune in taxes, “and that's a cost that can't be mortgaged, it has to be paid in cash,” observes Penelope Graham, Zoocasa’s managing director. For some this can mean years of saving up, during which the house prices will increase even further. For many, this large tax may push housing affordability out of reach.
Graham argues this is a large source of income for the government. Since its introduction in 2008, Toronto’s municipal land transfer tax has brought in over CA$800 million. This large amount is due to the soaring house prices over the last several years. This can be problematic for more than just hopeful homebuyers, as Graham feels Toronto is "too dependent on the municipal land transfer tax” which leaves the city vulnerable if housing prices were to crash.
The high land transfer tax is also seen as problematic to the Canadian Taxpayers Foundation as it can affect housing affordability in Canada. Kris Sims, the British Columbia director, argues the high land transfer taxes “jack up the price of a house”, which demonstrates the Canadian government is taking the wrong approach to solving the housing crisis, reports the Huffington Post.
In addition to the land transfer tax, as part of a new policy introduced by the British Columbia and Ontario governments, foreign buyers also have to pay additional tax. Although this has been successful in reducing foreign buyer interest, it has not resulted in an improvement in affordability. As a matter of fact, the Huffington Post reported the Royal Bank of Canada found that at the start of 2018, housing affordability had moved to the worst level in decades. Sims further argued this reduced interest from foreign investors may negatively affect housing affordability, as the taxes will increase the cost for legitimate investors and developers who will in turn transfer this cost to future buyers.
The International Monetary Fund has given a warning saying Canada’s economy may face significant risks due to trade sanctions with the U.S. In an annual review of Canada’s economy, IMF has come out and said that Canada should have a “careful rethink of corporate taxation to improve efficiency and preserve Canada’s position in a rapidly changing international tax environment.” This would enable them to remain competitive after the U.S. decision to reduce corporate tax.
“The impact of lower corporate tax rates in the U.S. could make Canada a less attractive destination for investment,” said Cheng Hoon Lim, the IMF’s assistant director, Western Hemisphere Department.
The Canadian government is evaluating the impact of the tax cuts on Canada, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insists Canada remains competitive.
Although Canada has had a ‘robust’ 3% GDP growth in 2017, the current strength will not sustain. Growth is predicted to fall to 2.1% this year. Moreover, several factors will limit population growth; this along with loss in competitiveness will affect medium-term growth, limiting it to just 1.75%. This number is significantly lower than historical averages.
This warning comes after tension between Canada and its neighbor, with the U.S. placing tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum exports. The Canadian government responded with surtaxes of its own, on 16.6 billion dollars worth of U.S. products. However, the tax on Canada could prove to be a big blow to the country’s economy, especially if the U.S. and Canada are unable to reach a new NAFTA agreement, as output would be reduced by another 0.4% if the two countries revert to World Trade Organization rules. Lim also said that if the new NAFTA agreement is not met within a reasonable time frame, then Canadian investment and growth could be hurt for an extended period.
In the internal context, the IMF has also flagged the housing market as being a key risk to the domestic economy. A potential “sharp correction” in the housing market may occur, being potentially caused by a faster than expected rise in mortgage interest rates.
“If housing vulnerabilities continue to rise, new lending by banks should be subject to loan-to-income limits,” reports the IMF.
Despite the IMF reporting that this vulnerability has somewhat moderated due to Canada’s housing market cool down, “It will remain a vulnerability for some time given the large stock of household debt,” Lim said.
Bank of Canada’s report
This IMF report came before the Bank of Canada report released on the 7th of June. In the report, Bank of Canada shares the IMF concerns on the housing market. Although the amount Canadians owe has begun to decline, "the total amount of debt carried by Canadian households is so large, we know that it will be with us for a long time," reports the Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz.
The Bank of Canada report suggests Canada has several vulnerabilities that may result in key risks including severe recession, a house price correction, and long term high interest rates.
9th May 2018
“Canadian economy grows by leaps and bounds in all provinces last year,” proclaims a headline from 2nd May in the Financial Post, summarizing the estimated 3.3% GDP growth the country experienced in 2017. “Canada’s economy in 2017 had one of its most broad-based expansions ever, with no region recording a deterioration and GDP rising in every province for the first time since 2011,” the article continues, adding that “it’s a return to normal for Canada.”
As for the future, Bloomberg assures us that “Canada’s Economy is on Track to Emerge from a Soft Patch,” according to a recent headline, referencing a period of slow growth in January. The article notes that the oil and automotive industries are improving their economic performances, as is the rail industry, construction, goods production and overall manufacturing. “Fifteen of 20 industrial sectors recorded higher activity in February,” the article states, although it does note that the real estate sector continues to underperform.
All in all, this seems to be a description of an economy that most of the world’s countries would love to have. Two recent analyses, however, paint a very different picture of where things are for Canada and where they might be going.
The Economic Policy Uncertainty Index takes three distinct variables – media coverage, economists’ forecasts, and the status of tax code provisions – and uses them to calculate the expected level of economic uncertainty that a country will experience in the coming months and years. Its calculations for Canada are somewhat sobering, with the country experiencing its second-highest level of uncertainty ever. The highest was in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump winning the US presidential election.
So why is the current level of uncertainty higher than during the recession that began a decade ago? One economist from the Bank of Montreal identifies the major issues as rising budget deficits, climate change protection policies, new mortgage and credit rules, as well as delays and cancellations in oil pipeline construction. Business-friendly tax changes in the US have also been cited as a reason why Canadian businesses are hesitant to commit to invest. Concerns about the US-China relationship, as well as the future of NAFTA, are also factors in the current climate.
The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) also released its recent findings on the Canadian economy, noting that economic optimism fell from 48% in Q4 2017 to 34% in Q1 2018. 67% of respondents said that in terms of business, Canada became less competitive than a year ago in relation to the US. Concern about US tax reforms, as well as Canada’s failure to commit to a balanced budget, fueled the decrease in optimism. This is all aside from the $2 trillion in household debt across the country, a number that continues to swell amid other economic activity.
Although these numbers represent an unwelcome trend for Canada, they occur in a context of general economic wellbeing across the country. With so many variables still in play and subject to change, time will tell whether the current growth period will continue on track or be partially derailed by shortcomings over the following months.
10th April 2018
30th April has come around again, closing the door on a strong year of growth and ushering the country into a new and somewhat uncertain future. One variable that will be watched with close interest is the extent to which Canadian businesses will move south of the border to take advantage of low US corporate tax rates.
The full effect of Washington’s decision to enact new business-friendly tax laws is yet to be seen, but according to some, it is already pulling investment capital away from Canada and into the US. The situation creates a conundrum for Canadian economic planners: whether to follow the US down this path to stem the tide of departing investment money, or hold its course in hopes that Canada’s system is more stable in the long run.
Several other factors compound the situation. Canada’s trade deficit grew to $2.7 billion in February, significantly higher than estimates. NAFTA’s potential renegotiation, as well as the threat of a US-China trade war, leave open the possibility of consequences that few can accurately foresee.
In some ways, Canada stands poised to benefit from any increase in trade tensions between the US and China. As an alternate supplier of goods, US exporters’ loss could be Canadian exporters’ gain. A separate danger underlies the entire ordeal, however. If increased protectionism slows down economic activity as a whole, either through escalating maneuvers or through other countries becoming involved, then the resulting slowdown would be negative for nearly everybody, Canada included. With neither side of the US-China showdown eager to blink, these two economic powerhouses have the potential to massively destabilize current trade activity in scores of countries.
For these reasons among others, Canada is showing a rather unsettlingly high score on the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index, a data analysis compiled by a group of economists at three major US universities. For all the discussion about the disruption to US society following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the relevant data currently shows a dramatically higher ‘uncertainty’ score for Canada than for the US.
Beyond the reasons listed above, Canada has other unaddressed issues that contribute to the general lack of clarity about its economic future. One of these is the skepticism within the energy industry that its new pipelines will receive federal government approval. Another is the string of regional deficits being run up by governments across the Canada, without a clear plan to bring back fiscal responsibility. A third is the question of how Canada will set its interest rates moving forward. Each of these issues, and many others, creates just enough uncertainty in the markets to convince many businesses and investors to wait and see what will happen rather than make strong and positive steps forward.
All of these issues could very well turn out in Canada’s favor, but the uncertainties themselves inspire caution for the time being. With political scandals south of the border, Brexit in Europe and a world unsure of what era we are beginning to enter, caution may be the most sensible choice for individual businesses looking to plan ahead – until governments like Canada’s take decisive steps forward into safe territory.
26th March 2018
The Budget 2018 is here. And with it, the Liberal Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau, proposed changes to the private corporation tax reform, which was initially introduced last year. The changes are believed to benefit small businesses and will deal with investment income of private corporations.
The first component of the changes allows only businesses that earned less than $50,000 from passive investment annually to access the small business tax rate, which can be lowered to 9%. And those with passive income above the particular amount will be entitled to pay at the general corporate rate at 15%. Moreover, businesses with earnings of $150,000 or more will not be eligible for the small business deduction.
“The new approach will be much simpler to comply with, will not require the tracking of new and legacy pools of passive investments, and will target only private corporations with more than $50,000 in passive investment income per year,” according to the government’s 2018 budget document.
Another aspect of the change includes a proposition that businesses can no longer get “refunds of taxes paid on investment income while distributing dividends from income taxed at the general corporate rate.” However, refunds will be available when investment income is paid out.
“I think it’s a big improvement,” said Bruce Ball, vice president for taxation with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. “It’s better directed at the root issues.”
Following its initial introduction last year, the previous reform was received with attacks from many small business owners, who said it would create more tax burden and complexity for them. But with these new changes, many say that they now feel relieved.
A new approach to ease small business complaints
Even though this newly introduced approach in the Budget 2018 will decrease central government revenues, the feedback from the business sector sounds welcoming. Earlier, the government estimated revenues from the original proposal to be as high as $1 billion at first, and up to $6 billion annually within 10 years. With this new measurement, however, it is estimated that the federal government would raise money up to $305 million in 2019/20 and $705 million in 2022/23.
While overall the new changes appear to be relieving from a small businesses perspective, there are still some concerns about passive income from previous investments.
“The new rules appear to be simpler and may improve things for some business owners from the earlier proposals, but others will lose the benefit of the lower small business rate due to past investments,” said Dan Kelly from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
According to the federal government, the changes could affect as many as 50,000 private corporations, or less than three per cent of all small businesses.
In addition, the plan seems to have received positive feedback from tax professionals. Don Carson, a tax partner with MNP, suggested that the new approach is both easier to understand and helps ensure fair tax integration.
“Most of the negative consequences have been removed,” he said. “The concept of integration generally is being maintained through these modified proposals, whereas the earlier proposals would have represented a departure away from a system that had been in place for 45 years,” Don added.
14th February 2018
Tax season is here and Canadians across the country are now filing their returns. This year, as every year, there are of course changes to the tax law. One specific trend that deserves some special attention is cryptocurrency. 2017 saw the boom of bitcoin as the digital currency exploded to a price of over US $19,000 this past December. As many Canadians jumped into the cryptocurrency market last year, and some certainly made capital gains, it is worth noting that these citizens could be liable to pay taxes for their digital transactions using the coins.
The tax implications of cryptocurrency
Many Canadians are unaware that they must pay tax on specific cryptocurrency transactions. Last December, when bitcoin was experiencing its biggest boom yet, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz commented on the tax implications of buying into the trend.
During a Toronto speech, Poloz said, “Generally speaking, they can be thought of as securities. That means, if you buy and sell them at a profit, you have income that needs to be reported for tax purposes.”
Does this comment from Poloz mean that everyone who bought bitcoin or another digital currency must pay taxes? The answer is no. If a Canadian purchased any cryptocurrency but has not traded it since, then he or she is not liable to pay tax on it. Only when a person has traded their digital currency for real world dollars or has purchased a product or service using a cryptocurrency are there tax implications.
In 2013, the CRA issued a letter that said digital currencies, such as bitcoin, ethereum and dash, aren’t thought of as legal tenders. Instead cryptocurrencies are thought of as commodities whose losses and gains can be taxed.
“The act of buying bitcoin or receiving bitcoin should not be taxable,” said Lana Paton, Managing Partner of PwC Canada’s Tax Services. “The act of using bitcoin, will be taxable.”
Examples of when Canadians are taxed
If a Canadian bought a bitcoin in 2011 for one dollar and then sold it last December for $18,000, that person will need to declare $17,999 in capital gains.
Another example of when a cryptocurrency is taxable is when it is exchanged for goods or services. If a Canadian bought a bitcoin for $100 dollars in 2013 and then used it to buy a used car last year for $8,000, that person would have to declare a capital gain of $7,900. The bottom line is, any gain, whether it’s a few pennies or thousands of dollars, is subject to tax.
Fees should also be considered when it comes to cryptocurrency. Transaction fees, which reached a high of $55.16 last December, can also add to the loss, or reduce the gain.
Are cryptocurrency miners subject to tax liabilities?
The unprecedented rise of cryptocurrency value last year was also accompanied by another trend: mining. Mining is the process of using computers to help process digital currency transactions. For performing this task, miners are rewarded with cryptocurrency.
Gains that miners receive are also subject to taxes, but they can deduct expenses related to the cost of computers and electricity that are necessary to mine.
31st January 2018
Finding time to file taxes can be difficult for people anywhere. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is finally deciding to make the process easier. Canadians will soon enjoy a more convenient tax filing system.
Facing widespread criticism over their service, the CRA will implement a system where low-income Canadians can file their taxes by phone. Citizens who file using paper tax forms will also enjoy added convenience, as paper tax packages will now be sent directly to their mailboxes.
Criticism of the CRA
2017 was a year of criticism for the CRA. Last November, Auditor General Michael Ferguson noted issues occuring at the CRA’s call centres. Canadian citizens were either receiving erroneous information or they weren’t able to access call centre services. Ombudsman for taxpayers Sherra Profit also acknowledged problems with the CRA’s service issues. There were close to 1,500 complaints reported to her office in 2017.
A new and improved phone filing system
In early January of this year, the National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier announced the new automated service ‘File My Return’. As part of this service, approximately 950,000 Canadians will be able to file returns by answering a number of questions on the phone. To qualify for this service, Canadians must have reported a predictable fixed or low income over the span of several years. This demographic of people represents two to five percent of all Canadian tax filers.
This, however, is not the first time the CRA has tried to introduce a Telefile system. The former system, which enabled Canadians to file basic returns, was cancelled in 2013 in an attempt to get more people to file online.
Unlike the previous Telefile service, which required taxpayers to complete their income tax return and perform their own calculations beforehand, this new system will no longer involve these now unnecessary steps. How does the system accomplish this? Using a combination of information given on the call, and information in the CRA’s records, it automatically figures out the benefits, deductions and credits a person is eligible for. This technology enables the taxpayer to complete and file their return more conveniently than ever before.
Paper tax packages will be mailed directly to homes
For the two million Canadians who file their tax returns via paper, there is also some good news. In addition to the convenience of the new Telefile system, Canadians who file paper tax returns will now receive their tax package directly to their mailbox. In the past few years, paper tax filers had to pick up their tax package at a Canada Post, Caisse populaire Desjardins outlet, or Service Canada. This can be difficult for some Canadians, and Diane Lebouthillier acknowledged this.
"We know that Canadians lead busy lives and doing taxes can sometimes be a challenge. This is especially the case for people with reduced mobility, people who live far from service locations and people without internet access. The CRA is working to make it easier and simpler to find, complete and file a return,” stated the Minister.
23rd November 2017
A recent report by C.D. Howe Institute is making headlines across Canada. Its alarming analysis suggests young workers won’t be able to bear the financial burden of Canada’s growing elderly population. Because of this, the report notes taxes will be forced to increase in the coming decades, and the budgets of popular public services such as education, child benefits and health care will be squeezed.
What is the root cause of this issue? How much truth is there in the report? And is a tax hike really inevitable? These are questions surely on many Canadians minds. To discover the answers, Canada’s latest census reveals the facts about the country’s demographics.
How many young Canadians are there compared to the elderly?
Canada’s latest census, from May 2017, reveals that there are now more seniors in Canada than children under 14 years old. The reason for this is not surprising. The post-war baby boom juxtaposed with today’s trend of bearing fewer children is a major cause. Also, due to better health care, Canadians are living much longer lives than they did in decades past. All these factors contribute to the growing elderly population.
Are social services to blame?
Government education, child benefits and health care are a major cause for the potential tax hikes. The report asserts that the costs of these programs will increase from 15.5 percent of Canada’s GDP to 24.2 percent between 2016 and 2066.
The director of research at C.D. Howe institute, Colin Busby, had this to say about the analysis, “It’s something to be concerned about because if these programs continue to eat up a larger share of overall income in society, the prospects of having to significantly raise tax revenues in the future [are] altogether possible and feasible.”
Busby is not the only one concerned. This past May, Senator Sharon Carstairs argued that Canada is “woefully unprepared” to handle the country’s aging population. To add fuel to the flames, a Canadian Medical Association report revealed that Canada’s 65 and older population consumes around 45 percent of all health care spending, even though this demographic makes up only 15 percent of Canada’s population.
When will the effects of this problem be seen?
Busby argued that the beginning stages of this issue are already happening now. And as time passes, the problems will escalate. Busby noted, “We’re just at sort of the early stages of it right now. The big upward pressure isn’t going to hit until most of the baby boomers are starting to leave the labour force, and when they start to hit ages that really put pressure on the health care system.”
Is there a way to mitigate the problems?
While it will be difficult to avoid the tax hikes of a growing elderly population, it is not inevitable. There are a few solutions that can help avoid or decrease the negative effects. The report suggests raising the retirement age to 67 and that the government partially terminate Universal Old Age Security. Instead of providing the benefits of OAS to everyone, the program should be targeted to people who struggle without its support.
Outside of these two changes, the government will likely need to make the social services system more efficient to account for the increase in the elderly population.
23rd October 2017
When it comes to the question ‘who should pay the most in taxes’, the pervading philosophy has been to raise taxes on the wealthy. The rich have more money, so they can afford to pay a bit more. But how much do the wealthy actually pay in taxes? Are they truly paying their fair share? A recent survey by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) aimed to address just this question.
What percentage of Canada’s taxes are paid by the wealthy?
A recent study by the CTF has revealed some surprising results. Canada’s wealthiest individuals are actually footing a large amount of the country’s tax bill. The two tax groups who pay the most in taxes are Canadians who earn over $100,000 a year (before tax) and Canadians who make more than $250,000 a year.
According to the study, Canadians who make over $100,000 pay the largest amount of Canada’s tax bill. While this group is made up of only 8.4 percent of the population, 52 percent of all Canada’s income tax was paid by this group in 2014.
Next, Canadians who earn more than $250,000 annually constitute 1 percent of the population. According to the CTF survey, this group was responsible for 21 percent of all income tax revenue collected by the federal government.
Between these two high earning groups, 73% of all Canada’s tax revenue is collected. Still, while few people will likely feel sorry for these wealthy individuals, the survey shines a light on the common argument that “the wealthy don’t pay enough tax.”
A history of high tax rates for the wealthy
As Canada’s tax system is based on the amount of money individuals earn, higher taxes on the wealthy are nothing new. However, since the Liberals took office in late 2015, they have concentrated on fulfilling their campaign promise of raising taxes on the upper class. A new income tax bracket was formed dedicated to Canadians who earned $200,000 per year or higher. This group’s tax bill was raised from 29 percent to 33 percent.
Recently Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed this is still not enough, falling back on the old argument that “the middle class pay too much in taxes and the wealthiest don’t pay enough” noted Mark Milke, author of the CTF study.
Milke’s study shows that this belief is simply not true, and he commented, “The middle class could always use a tax break. But it is false to say higher income Canadians do not pay their fair share.”
While the statistics revealed by the survey are surprising, the CTF may have another agenda. The group is also asserting that Canada’s taxes are too high in general, noting, “The most recent statistics from 2015 show the general revenues to all Canadian governments amounted to 38.6 percent of (gross domestic product).”
Whether or not the results of the CTF’s survey change the perception of the wealthy’s tax responsibility, is yet to be determined. Will current tax policy change? Will taxes be reduced for all Canadians? This survey may play a role in answering these questions in the coming years.
29th September 2017
After Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau proposed a plan for tax reforms, he received critical responses from many sectors, including those from members of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce who said he owes them an apology. The tax reform proposal, according to Morneau, is believed to close loopholes which enable wealthy business owners to avoid paying higher tax rates by incorporating themselves.
The reform’s changes
The plan included more controls on business owners’ activities, including doctors and lawyers, who avoid their high tax rate by participating in “income sprinkling” to family members in lower tax brackets.
It also aimed to put restrictions on the use of private corporations to passively invest in unrelated companies, as it may allow a person to have tax deferral advantages. Another change would limit Canadian business owners from claiming regular income of a corporation as capital gains, which are generally taxed at a much lower rate.
Voices from Chamber of Commerce members
Upon learning the news, many of the business owners say the proposed reforms, and the Liberal government in Ottawa itself, are casting a negative light on them and the minister owes them an apology.
"Whenever a process from government starts to position business people and the business community in such a negative light, it is an absolute disaster from a communications perspective and I think an apology from our federal minister to the Canadian business community would be appropriate," said Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, the concerns were expressed that the reforms could be unfair for family farmers and small business workers.
"We may very well find that it discourages entrepreneurship and investment in Canada and has damaging impacts on the Canadian economy," said Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
The meeting also discussed the proposal as it would impact how doctors pay their taxes and could shake up the Canadian healthcare system. As of now, medical associations on many provinces have conducted surveys on doctors’ opinions towards the change. The results are shocking.
In New Brunswick, 65% of more than 500 doctors said they would consider reducing working hours, 46% would move their practice outside of the province, and 25% would consider retiring from the profession, if the measures are implemented.
In Nova Scotia, more than half of 864 doctors would consider leaving the province if the proposal passes.
There are growing concerns that Morneau’s tax reform will largely affect the patients as the loss of only a portion of doctors in a province like Nova Scotia could impact the needs for essential healthcare services. Given that it already faces a hard time caring for the aging and sick population, the passing of this proposal could have serious repercussions.
However, Mr Morneau said he is open to all opinions including those from doctors and willing to take them into consideration.
"We're out listening to people and haven't concluded on the fiscal measures," he said.
30th August 2017
July 25th, 2017, marks the day Canadians have been paying their income tax for a century! The same day in 1917, three years into the First World War, The Conservative Finance Minister Sir Thomas White introduced Parliament to federal income tax. The purpose of the tax was mainly to increase military support.
Many Canadians thought the tax was for a temporary period, especially because it was wartime. Sir Thomas otherwise stated in his tax introduction that it was intended for one or two years after the war, then the Parliament would review the clause to determine whether it was suitable for future application. Today, Canadians still pay the income tax. But how has the tax evolved as it turns a century old?
“The tax started out as a levy on the very richest Canadians. In the early years, as few as one in 50 people paid,” wrote Professor William Watson of McGill University. He also commented that only 2.3% of the population paid the tax in 1938. However, as of today, the tax was paid by most Canadians and 75% of them also file tax returns. This means income tax makes up nearly half of the country’s federal revenue.
However, as its population and economy grow, the country needs to revisit their income tax in other perspectives. Professor Watson suggested that Canada’s income tax is “too high, too important, too complex and too costly” for the country’s current situation.
Statistically, Canadians pay for their income tax at higher rates than most US states. According to the report, seven Canadian provinces were ranked in the top 10 marginal tax rates in North America. Professor Watson also noted the difference of margins for paying at top rates, “Top rates for U.S. states start at over $500,000, in some cases almost $1.5 million. In most provinces, by contrast, the top combined federal-provincial rate starts at $200,000”.
Out of 35 OECD countries, Canada ranks fifth highest for countries that rely on income tax revenue. The federal government, together with other provinces, received more than 33% of their revenue from income tax payers nationwide, while the average of other OECD countries is less than 25%.
Other points of concern for this current income tax are that it is “too complex and costly”. According to Dr. Watson, the current income tax contains a million words which is equivalent to 1,406 pages, compared to when it first launched in 1917 (it spread to only 10 pages). More importantly, there is significant increase in tax expenditures. In 2014, Canada recorded their tax expenditures to as many as 128 while there is also a 27% increase in number. Moreover, with all the complexity, every year a Canadian family on average spends no less than a value of $500 either in time or expense to have their tax done.
According to Professor Watson, in order to have a more efficient and reasonable income tax program for everyone, Canada may have to rethink their tax system. They may have to change how people pay tax by making the base broader and the rate lower, or even considering a low but progressively rising rate on personal consumption.
27th July 2017
The notion that large corporations and the wealthy do their best to dodge taxes is nothing new. Like the tax systems of many countries, Canada has a number of loopholes that businesses and wealthy professionals have been able to exploit over the years. Now, the Canadian Government is looking to crack down on this issue.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau has proposed a plan that aims to prevent businesses from continuing a practice that has become known as income sprinkling. This legal strategy the government now looks to outlaw occurs when a business owner shifts part of their income to family members such as their children or relatives. As these individuals are not subject to the same high taxes a business has to pay, the company using this loophole is able to lower its tax bill.
The government estimates there are around 50,000 Canadian families who use this ‘income sprinkling’ strategy to their advantage. And it is not just corporations who do this. Morneau has noted, “There’s been a big increase in professionals that have been using these structures.”
Doctors and lawyers, among many other types of professionals, are some of the people Morneau claims to be participating in income sprinkling.
As with any sweeping changes made by a government body, it is certain there will be people who will be against the reforms.
“Of course, when you change things in a way that make it less advantageous for some people, they’re not going to be happy about it,” Morneau said.
Dan Kelly, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business fears that if these changes pass, they will have negative repercussions on small and medium businesses. Smaller firms, especially, are more vulnerable to this type of legislation as they already face a large number of obstacles. Kelly notes that these firms must face the challenges of premium increases for the Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance, changes to NAFTA, as well as the difficulties brought about by a rising minimum wage.
While this tax reform will likely make it more difficult for Canadian small and medium businesses, Morneau notes there is a more important issue at stake, “I don’t want to see one small subset of the population advantaged because of our tax code, so it is about creating fairness.”
Perhaps as a testament to his belief, Morneau admits he is likely to be affected by these tax changes as well.
"I have not looked at my personal implications from these changes as we've gone through them, and I've done that on purpose because I want to make sure the system is fair and I don't want to consider my personal situation... My expectation is that these changes, over the long term, will mean that I’ll end up paying more tax." Morneau said.
Morneau firmly believes that all Canadians should have to pay their fair share of taxes, including himself.
At Accountancy Insurance, we hope to keep all our valued clients informed on the latest tax news and business trends.
25th May 2017
Two facts ought to draw close attention now that the regular tax filing season is complete.
The first is that record numbers of the highest-earning Canadians are paying no tax, according to a recent analysis by the CBC. The number is still small on a national scale – roughly 6,000 people, according to the most recent statistics made available – but it represents an increasingly visible issue in a country where many have argued that the tax laws are unnecessarily complex and vulnerable to clever accounting tactics that occasionally take advantage of original approaches to tax filing, including write-offs totaling billions of dollars each year.
The publicity alone surrounding this issue is likely to spur the Canada Revenue Agency into action, in addition to the CRA’s own recognition of the fact of lost revenue, as well as the likelihood that the Trudeau government would pressure the agency toward a more transparently equitable outcome.
The other noteworthy fact to consider is that the Offshore Tax Informant Program (OTIP) has been inundated with leads lately. The OTIP was launched in 2014, for the purpose of inviting taxpayers to report on their peers with any tips or information regarding those who are allegedly avoiding their obligation to pay taxes. The program offers the promise of rewards for those whose information leads to the collection of $100,000 or more in federal tax, and has already received hundreds of submissions.
Whatever one’s views about such a government program, the reality is that, by all accounts, the CRA is taking these submissions seriously and investigating the leads it has thus far generated. A spokesman for the CRA recently indicated that as a result of citizen submissions, the agency had initiated audits on 218 taxpayers, and reassessed upwards of $1 million in penalties and taxes.
And that’s just for tax issues related to international accounts. The program’s purely domestic analogue is far more active. In the 2016-7 financial year, reports indicate that the domestic tipline – which does not offer rewards for caught tax avoiders – has received well over 35,000 calls.
The CRA has not been shy about pursuing those it identifies as tax avoiders, as one Vancouver real estate developer recently learned to his cost. The man was recently stuck with a penalty of $300,000 for not paying GST on sales, in addition to the $203,082 he was deemed to have avoided paying in the first place.
Perhaps a third fact is also relevant to this picture of a possible increase in the number of audits to come. In an embarrassing development, the CRA has recently admitted that it sent $2 million in paychecks to former employees who were not supposed to be included on its current payroll. Moreover, this has been a recurring problem for the agency, which made similar mistakes in the past.
The upshot of all this is that the CRA has been given strong incentives to increase its frequency of demanding audits, reviews, investigations and inquiries – and that at the same time, it may well be doing so based on an imperfectly functioning database system.
5th April 2017
In stark contrast to the deregulatory flavor of the Trump administration, Canada has introduced a 2017 budget that features a strong government presence to keep watch over the economy. Put forth by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the new budget gives accountants plenty to think about – as it attempts to tighten or close off several avenues commonly used to lower tax obligations.
Among the programs introduced or strengthened by the new budget are an ambitious 10-year, $11.2 billion affordable housing plan, expanded daycare services, job training and support, additional funding for education to prepare workers for high-tech industry developments, a national housing database, a “venture capital catalyst initiative”, and several projects to facilitate student loans.
Part of the cost of these programs will be met through raised employment insurance premiums as well as higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol, but a multi-front set of countermeasures against tax loopholes will also play a large part in ensuring a sustainable tax base moving forward.
Perhaps most notable among these is a new $523.9 million investment over the next 5 years to increase the number of government auditors and ensure compliance with financial reporting regulations moving forward. This announcement portends a new wave of tax avoidance investigation cases nationwide, and crackdowns on individuals and organizations whose tax returns are incomplete or contain errors.
The Canada Revenue Agency clearly anticipates that this proactive stance on tax evasion will reap significant additional income, estimating that the government will receive an extra $2.5 billion as a result of the CRA’s enhanced investigatory powers. The message for accountants in this new environment is surely to be as meticulous as possible, and also responsive to the new set of reporting rules summarized briefly below.
Most tax rates will remain the same over the coming year, but work-in-progress exemptions for billed-basis accounting in several professions will be disallowed. Home relocation loans and gifts of medicine will no longer be eligible for tax deductions; insurers for farmers and fishing properties will no longer enjoy tax exemption; education and disability savings plans will be subject to tax-avoidance rules; and the Public Transit Tax Credit will be discontinued. In addition, straddle transactions will no longer provide the benefit of allowing realization of a loss while an offsetting gain goes unreported.
Other common practices will be monitored for potential future action, including the shifting of funds to capital gains or portfolio investments, as well as to other family members, for the purpose of securing lower tax rates.
The government has also modified its rules on the recording of gains and losses on derivatives, proposing an elective mark-to-market regime that will clarify reporting standards for these financial instruments. Switch mutual fund corporations will be eligible for re-structuring into multiple mutual fund trusts, though restrictions do apply.
The budget contains several adjustments in other areas, and as with all accounting-related matters, close attention to detail is essential. Moreover, modifications may be made as the year progresses, although the budget’s theme of closer supervision of accounting practices is unlikely to change.
10th March 2017
Canada’s economy grew at an impressive 2.6% annualized rate through the fourth quarter of 2016, better than the US (at 1.9% growth) and significantly higher than expectations. December brought a $900+ million trade surplus to the country, its second consecutive month of a profitable trade balance. Canada’s unemployment rate has also dipped to 6.8% in January, thanks to a higher-than-expected addition of 48,300 jobs in January.
Moreover, the apparent failure of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, together with moves toward a breakdown of global trade norms thanks to victories for Brexit and Donald Trump, have prompted Canada to begin discussions with China for a possible free trade agreement, in a signal that Canada’s businesses may be looking to benefit from political turmoil in other Western countries. Many observers expect trade between Canada and Mexico to also increase if relations worsen between Mexico and the US.
A closer look, however, reveals warning signs and hints that such indicators of growth may not tell the whole story, and may suggest more optimism for the future than is actually warranted. The 2.6% rate of GDP growth from December is impressive indeed, but was largely prompted by an increase in household consumption and spending on financial services, rather than sustainable growth engines.
The Bank of Montreal reported that it made about $1.5 billion in the past 3 months, a 40% increase over the same period the previous year. Others such as the Royal Bank and CIBC also experienced double-digit growth. As Canada’s GDP enjoyed its recent 4th quarter rise, overall business investment declined by 2.1% over the same period.
The $923 million trade surplus came despite a 1% increase in imports and a 1.4% decrease in volume of exports. The bulk of the surplus came as a result of higher global oil prices, giving Canada a better profit margin on its sales. Increasing revenue numbers are all to the good, but such deep links between a country’s fortunes and world commodity prices may not always turn out so well.
Meanwhile, moves toward alternative energy systems continue to gain steam. Tesla Motors has spurred much of the auto industry toward production of electric cars, while SolarCity (owned by Tesla) is pursuing its ambitious plans to connect much of the US to solar grids. Successes here will mean replication elsewhere, as countries and consumers looking to wean themselves off of oil could see their opportunity.
Regarding employment, of the 48,300 jobs added in January, 67% of them were for part-time positions and 88% were in the services sector. Trends in Canada, as elsewhere, have seen increased participation in the “sharing economy”, coinciding with the rise of companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. Between November 2015 and October 2016, 2.7 million Canadian adults reported participating in the sharing economy, whose critics complain of low wages for workers as well as a distortion of real estate prices.
Canada remains hopeful that its continued positive relationship with the US and with other world powers lead to strengthening economic numbers in the years and decades to come. As with all countries in this changing economic landscape, however, success will most likely depend on how well Canada focuses on anticipation and adaptation, as new industrial and political realities unfold around it.
(primary source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canada-gdp-q4-2016-1.4006233)
25th January 2017
One of Donald Trump’s first actions as president was to remove the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the controversial trade deal he criticized as a candidate, along with NAFTA. Some potential member nations are urging a resumption of talks and a new iteration of the deal, absent any US involvement, while others seem less sanguine about their hopes.
While the TPP’s future is highly questionable at this moment, it does seem certain that NAFTA will receive new scrutiny and very likely significant changes, as a revitalized focus on trade deals was a clear theme of Trump’s inauguration speech upon entering office.
The free trade agreement linking Canada, the US and Mexico has been at the center of much debate, and the economic priorities it represents have still not been accepted by its critics. The deal, like the proposed TPP and other trade deals over the years, aimed to boost trade between these countries to integrate their economies and allow business development to accelerate between them.
The most common criticisms are that such deals allow larger companies to prosper at the expense of smaller ones, that workers in the more developed countries lose jobs due to offshoring, and that the relative absence of workplace regulations in some countries (such as Mexico) increases pollution and other externalities.
Whatever the merits of NAFTA, clearly some kind of agreement needs to be in place for these countries as they move forward. For its part, the new US administration has signaled to Canada that, despite its frequent mentions of imposing tariffs in other contexts, it foresees no significant changes in the economic relationship between the two countries. The US posture toward Mexico, by contrast, may be up for realignment.
The Canadian economy – and indeed the US’s – relies heavily on positive trade outcomes between them. No country buys more American goods than Canada, which is the top purchaser of goods made in 35 of the 50 American states. In the other direction, 70% of Canadian exports go to the US – numbers that illustrate the close bond (and near-dependence) that develops between countries whose economies are tightly linked through free trade.
Given the economic ties binding the two nations, Canadian businesses on the whole will lose if the Trump administration leads the US into a recession the way that some analysts fear. It is also worth closely watching how America’s relationships change with other countries. If the Trump administration presides over a notable deterioration in trade relations with Mexico or other countries, Canadian companies may either suffer (if they use the US as a geographical intermediary for the transport of goods) or succeed by undercutting two countries whose tariffs are aimed at making each other’s goods less competitive domestically.
13th December 2016
A $70 million tax change that has members of Canada’s medical community fuming has received the support of the country’s highest ranking finance officer. Finance Minister Bill Morneau has come out in defense of the change, saying that it is aimed to simplify the tax rules for all professionals who run small businesses.
Mr Morneau appeared before the Senate National Finance Committee in early December where he received a tongue-lashing by Senators as he attempted to defend his latest budget bill, C-29. Mr Morneau was summoned to address concerns lodged by physician organizations about a tax change that limits how professionals working in a grouped corporate structure are eligible for small business tax deductions.
The government argues that professionals should not be allowed to claim they are a stand-alone small business if they are operating under one corporate entity. The measure was announced in the March budget to quell the ability of ‘high-net-worth individuals to use private corporations to inappropriately reduce or defer tax.’
“We believe the approach we’ve is fair across small businesses. We are not treating physicians in any way different from other professionals or other small businesses”, Mr Morneau told the Senate. “What we’re saying is one small business is able to have one small business deduction, he continued.”
The Finance Minister also affirmed that the tax change related to the small businesses will raise $70 million in new revenue per year. The change applies to a gamut of professionals, but physicians have rallied in an aggressive campaign, arguing that unlike other professions, they can’t pass the higher operating costs onto the consumer. They also contend that having many specialists operating in the same facility, the very reason they’ve been singled out as working within a corporate structure, leads to better healthcare. These joint medical partnerships were created to pool income to cover the costs for healthcare that is needed but not covered by provincial plans.
Many Senators voiced concerns on behalf of a multitude of physicians’ and medical professional’s associations, that such a tax change would have a negative impact on Canada’s ability to keep physicians and specialists in the country.
One medical association has said that the change would lead to some physicians owing tens of thousands in addition taxes. Another organization warned that the change is a tipping point which, in conjunction with several unresolved financial matters with the provinces, could have many of the most talented Canadian specialists jumping across the border to the United States.
Furthermore, many physicians feel like the lack of talented doctors and other healthcare professionals will impede support for research and education in addition to hampering the range of care and expertise.
15th November 2016
The Senate finance committee seeks to add an amendment to Bill C-2 that if enacted would make substantial changes to Canada’s federal tax brackets. Conservatives control a majority within the committee including the committee’s chair, Larry Smith of Quebec, who proposed the amendment. After heated debate, the motion to move the amendment to a full Senate vote passed 9-3.
The amendment would give Canadians making between $45,282 and $52,999 annually a larger tax break. The changes would have the effect of raising taxes by $1.7 billion in an attempt to address a funding shortage in the original plan.
Although it is not common for the Senate to amend a government bill, especially a tax bill, if the Senate passes the amendments, the bill goes to the House of Commons for a vote there. The Senate can’t initiate legislation that brings about new taxes or new spending which is part of the reason the committee’s debate grew heated.
The original bill, Bill C-2, applies the tax changes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government made which came into effect on January 1. The original reduces the second marginal tax rate from 22 percent to 20.5 percent on yearly earnings between $45,282 and $90,563 and creates a new tax bracket with a tax rate of 33 percent on income over $200,000. The government can apply tax changes after voted on in principle in the House of Commons without approval from the Senate.
According to Mr Smith, the government’s changes aren’t revenue neutral and higher-income citizens are set to receive weighted benefits from them. He claims his committee’s changes benefit more of the middle class and would achieve income neutrality.
The committee’s changes would make a new, reduced tax rate of 16.5 on income greater than $45, 282, but less than $52,999. It would retain the 20.5 percent rate on income more than $53,000, but less than $90,563. According to documentation provided by Mr Smith’s office, ‘a transition as an individual moves to the third bracket for income above $90,563 which would make the tax plan revenue neutral.
If Mr Smith and his fellow Conservative committee members are to have success, it needs to come soon. The Senate will soon welcome a new wave of Senators appointed by the prime minister. Mr Tredeau’s appointments will outnumber the Conservatives 44 to 40, although committees will not be changed to reflect this majority. Thus the Conservatives will continue to have a majority in committees.
Most of the existing Independents on the finance committee, who represent a minority, and those throughout the Senate, expressed strong disapproval to Mr. Smith’s amendment. Some Independent Senators argued that the committee’s plan would discourage Canadians from earning more for fear of triggering the transition clause.
Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau called the move ‘surprising’ because the liberal party had promise changes to the bill in the election campaign, but didn’t say much more about the issue.
14th October 2016
Earlier this month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government’s plans to introduce a tax on carbon emissions beginning in 2018 in an effort to meet the guidelines set forth in the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
The announcement came October 3, 2016 as Trudeau addressed parliament. Politicians started debating whether Canada should approve the agreement made in Paris. The House of Commons ratified the Paris accord by an overwhelming majority just two days later. The agreement will attempt to keep global warming below two degrees centigrade in the 21st century and will come into effect on Nov. 4. Canada joins 60 other nations that have ratified the agreement to halt climate change.
Applying the carbon tax will fall on individual provinces and territories, as is stated in the Vancouver Declaration, either by setting up a direct tax on emissions of at least $10 Canadian per ton or by imposing a cap-and-trade system. Either way, each province and territory must apply one of these methods for taxing carbon emissions by 2018 or the federal government will enforce a tax of $10 a ton with an ascending scale of $10 per ton per year until it reaches $50 per ton by 2022. The prime minister said that although past inaction regarding climate change cannot be undone, a ‘real and honest’ effort to protect the health of the environment and the people of Canada can be made.
Mr Trudeau believes that a carbon-based tax gives the country a leg up on other nations toiling with the decision. He argues that pricing carbon pollution, as it is called, will give business leaders motivation to find new and cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and provide the country with thousands of jobs in the clean energy sector all while making Canada’s economy cleaner.
The prime minister isn’t the only one who feels this will be great for the country. Also in favor of the carbon tax is the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKeena. Of the day Canada voted to ratify the Paris Agreement she said it was ‘a great day’ for Canadians and that it marked a step forward after years of doing nothing under the previous government. The ratification of the Paris accord also signifies support of the Vancouver Declaration. McKeena also believes that the ratification will improve the Canadian economy.
Still, the enthusiasm Mr Trudeau shares with some of the members of his cabinet isn’t echoed by all throughout the House of Commons with criticism coming primarily from the Conservative Party.
There has also been stinging comments made from province premiers, namely Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, who criticized the prime minister for making the announcement suddenly and unilaterally without seeking common ground or a sensible timeline with the provinces. Wall believes the tax will impair his province’s already reeling economy due to lowered commodity prices and that Saskatchewan will be among the hardest hit by such a tax because of its trade expose resource industries.