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  • Charles Rotenberg

Federal Budget 2017

Exactly one year ago today, Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled the Liberal Government’s first Budget. Taxes went up to the degree that a top rate taxpayer in Ontario now pays in excess of 53% in income tax. Among the G7 countries, only those top rate taxpayers in France pay more than in Canada.

Despite Trudeau’s campaign promises to support the middle class, some of the changes to the structure of the tax system have raised the corporate tax rate for many small and medium businesses by 10%.

This year, Finance Minister Morneau presented a very "ho-hum" Budget. He actually deserves credit. As much as the Liberals need money, it makes perfect sense to delay and significant changes to our tax system until more is known about the tax changes to come in the U.S. Obviously, if taxes drop in the U.S., raising Canadian taxes would be disastrous for the Canadian economy.

What was NOT in the Budget

Taking a page from old Liberal governments, a lot of extremely negative trial balloons were floated and not included in the Budget. This lets taxpayers breathe a sigh of relief and consider this to be a "good" Budget.

Some of the changes that we were expecting included a direct attack on professionals and consultants who operate their businesses through corporations. It was thought that there might be a denial of the low rate of corporate tax for those companies that don't have more than 3 employees.

There was speculation about a challenge to the ability for small business corporations to split income through dividends to family members.

There was also speculation that there would be an increase in the capital gains inclusion rate. Currently only 50% of a capital gain is taxable. In 1990 the inclusion rate increased to 75% and in 2000 it was reduced, first to 2/3 and then back to 50%.

It was also rumoured that there would be an attack on the, relatively, beneficial tax treatment of employee stock options.

These are the tax provisions that were most feared and they were not included in the Budget.

There were also no provisions to hamper real estate speculation in order to cool the market.

This is, as I recall, only the second time, out of the 41 Budgets that I have followed and upon which I have commented, that I am hard-pressed to include any substantive comments.

Topics for Future Discussion

Not surprisingly, the Budget proposes to review the use of private corporations in tax planning and the ability to split income with family members through the use of dividends.

Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion

As in every other Budget, the Government has dedicated itself to cracking down on tax avoidance and tax evasion.

Below, I have set out some of more relevant provisions in today’s Budget.

Canada Savings Bonds

The budget ends the Canada Savings Bonds programme this year.

Created in 1946 to replace a war-bonds program, CSB sales have fallen sharply in recent years as the interest rate earned fell behind the savings rates offered at banks and other private institutions.

The government says it will honour the $5 billion of Canada Savings Bonds that are currently outstanding, but won't sell any more.

Personal Income Tax Measures

Disability Tax Credit – Nurse Practitioners

The disability tax credit is a 15-per-cent non-refundable tax credit that recognizes the impact of non-itemizable disability-related costs on an individual’s ability to pay tax. For 2017, the credit amount is $8,113, which provides a federal tax reduction of up to $1,217.

To be eligible for the disability tax credit, an individual must have a severe and prolonged impairment in physical or mental functions. An eligible medical practitioner must certify that the effects of the impairment result in the individual meeting one of the criteria.

Budget 2017 proposes to add nurse practitioners to the list of medical practitioners that could certify eligibility for the disability tax credit. A nurse practitioner would be permitted to certify for all types of impairments that are within the scope of their practice.

This measure will apply to disability tax credit certifications made on or after Budget Day.

Medical Expense Tax Credit – Eligible Expenditures

The medical expense tax credit is a 15-per-cent non-refundable tax credit that recognizes the effect of above-average medical or disability-related expenses on an individual’s ability to pay tax.

To recognize that some individuals may need to incur costs related to the use of reproductive technologies, even where such treatment is not medically indicated because of a medical infertility condition, Budget 2017 proposes to clarify the application of the medical expense tax credit so that individuals who require medical intervention in order to conceive a child are eligible to claim the same expenses that would generally be eligible for individuals on account of medical infertility.

Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for Flow-Through Share Investors

Flow-through shares allow resource companies to renounce or "flow through" tax expenses associated with their Canadian exploration activities to investors, who can deduct the expenses in calculating their own taxable income. The mineral exploration tax credit provides an additional income tax benefit for individuals who invest in mining flow-through shares equal to 15 per cent of specified mineral exploration expenses incurred in Canada and renounced to flow-through share investors.

In what has become an annual event, this additional credit has been extended for an additional year.

Consolidation of Caregiver Credits

The three tax credits available to caregivers (i.e., infirm dependant credit, caregiver credit and family caregiver credit) are proposed to be consolidated into one credit, the Canada Caregiver Credit. This credit amount will be consistent with the amounts available to under the three former programs. The credit will no longer be available in respect of non-infirm seniors who reside with their adult children.

Tuition Tax Credits

The tuition tax credit is proposed to be available for an expanded range of programs. Occupational skills courses that are offered at a university, college or other post-secondary institution and are not at the post-secondary level will be eligible for the credit for fees for courses taken after 2016.

Students qualifying for the credit due to this change will be considered to be "qualifying students" for the scholarship and bursary income exemption, applicable as of 2017.

Home Relocation Loans

The deduction in respect of eligible home relocation loans (i.e., loans used to a acquire a new residence where an employee starts work at a new location and the residence is at least 40 kilometres closer that the old residence to the new work location) is proposed to be eliminated for benefits arising in the 2018 and subsequent taxation years.

Public Transit Tax Credit

The public transit tax credit is proposed to be eliminated as of July 1, 2017.

Anti-avoidance Rules for Registered Plans

A number of anti-avoidance rules exist for tax-assisted registered plans (i.e., Tax-Free Savings Accounts, Registered Retirement Savings Plans and Registered Retirement Income Funds) to help ensure that the plans do not provide excessive tax advantages unrelated to their respective basic objectives. These include:

  • the advantage rules, which help prevent the exploitation of the tax attributes of a registered plan (e.g., by shifting returns from a taxable investment to a registered plan);

  • the prohibited investment rules, which generally ensure that investments held by a registered plan are arm’s length "portfolio" investments; and

  • the non-qualified investment rules, which restrict the classes of investments that may be held by a registered plan.

Budget 2017 proposes to extend the anti-avoidance rules described above to RESPs and RDSPs.

Allowances for Members of Legislative Assemblies and Certain Municipal Officers

The reimbursement of expenses incurred in the course of carrying out the duties of an office or employment is generally not a taxable benefit to the recipient. By contrast, a non-accountable allowance for which an individual does not have to provide details or submit receipts to justify amounts paid is generally a taxable benefit.

Certain officials may, however, receive non-accountable allowances for work expenses that are not included in computing income for tax purposes. These officials are:

  • elected members of provincial and territorial legislative assemblies and officers of incorporated municipalities;

  • elected officers of municipal utilities boards, commissions, corporations or similar bodies; and

  • members of public or separate school boards or of similar bodies governing a school district.

The excluded amount is limited to half of the official’s salary or other remuneration received in that capacity in the year.

Budget 2017 proposes to require that non-accountable allowances paid to these officials be included in income. The reimbursement of employment expenses will remain a non-taxable benefit to the recipient.

This measure will apply to the 2019 and subsequent taxation years.

Business Tax Measures

There are very few measures in the Budget that affect most of my clients. First and foremost is the proposed review of how private corporations are being used and how income is being split among family members.

Control of Corporations

The Income Tax Act recognizes two forms of control of a corporation: de jure (legal) control and de facto (factual) control. The concept of factual control is broader than legal control and is generally used to ensure that certain corporate tax preferences are not accessed inappropriately. For example, the factual control test is used for the purpose of determining whether two or more Canadian-controlled private corporations are "associated corporations". Associated corporations must be considered together in determining whether certain thresholds are met, such as the $500,000 small business deduction limit and the limit on qualifying expenditures relating to the refundable 35-per-cent scientific research and experimental development tax credit.

A recent court decision ruled against the Canada Revenue Agency and limited the scope of factors that may be taken into consideration in determining whether factual control of a corporation exists.

Budget 2017 proposes that the Income Tax Act be amended to overrule the Court.

This measure will apply in respect of taxation years that begin on or after Budget Day.

Billed-basis Accounting

Taxpayers are generally required to include the value of work in progress in computing their income for tax purposes. However, taxpayers in certain designated professions (i.e., accountants, dentists, lawyers, medical doctors, veterinarians and chiropractors) may elect to exclude the value of work in progress in computing their income. This election effectively allows income to be recognized when the work is billed (billed-basis accounting). Billed-basis accounting enables taxpayers to defer tax by permitting the costs associated with work in progress to be expensed without the matching inclusion of the associated revenues.

Budget 2017 proposes to eliminate the ability for designated professionals to elect to use billed-basis accounting.

This measure will apply to taxation years that begin on or after Budget Day.

To mitigate the effect on taxpayers, a transitional period will be provided to phase in the inclusion of work in progress into income. For the first taxation year that begins on or after Budget Day, 50 per cent of the lesser of the cost and the fair market value of work in progress will be taken into account for the purposes of determining the value of inventory held by the business under the Income Tax Act. For the second, and each successive, taxation year that begins on or after Budget Day, the full amount of the lesser of the cost and the fair market value of work in progress will be taken into account for the purposes of valuing inventory.

Sales and Excise Tax Measures

Taxi and Ride-Sharing Services

Under the GST/HST, all taxi operators are required to register for the GST/HST and charge tax on their fares, regardless of the total amount of sales they make. These rules, which have been in place since the inception of the GST, ensure that all taxi operators are treated in the same way.

Commercial ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft provide passenger transportation services that are similar to taxi services. However, such ride-sharing services may not be subject to the same GST/HST rules that apply to taxi services since they may not meet the GST/HST definition of a taxi business. For example, their fares may not be regulated by a province or municipality.

Budget 2017 proposes to amend the definition of a taxi business to require providers of ride-sharing services to register for the GST/HST and charge tax on their fares in the same manner as taxi operators. These changes will only apply to transportation that is supplied in the course of a commercial activity. These changes will not apply to a school transportation service for elementary or secondary students or a sightseeing service.

The amendment will be effective as of July 1, 2017.

GST/HST Rebate to Non-Residents for Tour Package Accommodations

A rebate is currently available to non-resident individuals and non-resident tour operators for the GST/HST that is payable in respect of the Canadian accommodation portion of eligible tour packages.

Budget 2017 proposes to repeal the GST/HST rebate available to non-residents for the GST/HST that is payable in respect of the accommodation portion of eligible tour packages.

This repeal will generally apply in respect of supplies of tour packages or accommodations made after Budget Day. As a transitional measure, the rebate will continue to be available in respect of a supply of a tour package or accommodations made after Budget Day but before January 1, 2018 if all of the consideration for the supply is paid before January 1, 2018.

"Sin" Taxes

The old standby when the Government needs to raise taxes, is to raise the "sin" taxes on tobacco and alcohol.

The increases the sin taxes come into effect Thursday, adding a penny to the price for a litre of wine, for example, and just over two cents to a litre of spirits.

A 24-pack of beer is going up by five cents, and 200 cigarettes will cost another 53 cents.

I would be pleased to discuss any of these topics with you, but I am pleased that we have no need to scramble to re-do our planning as we did last year.


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