2017 Tax Competitiveness Report: The Calm Before the Storm
The School of Public Policy Publications, Vol. 11:7, February 2018
43 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2018
Date Written: February 22, 2018
Canada stands to lose a major competitive edge unless it responds to the challenges of the 2018 U.S. tax reforms by instituting reforms of its own. At 20.9 per cent, Canada’s tax burden on new investment (measured by the marginal effective tax rate or METR), is competitive when compared to countries in the Americas and Asia-Oceania, and it’s the second lowest among the G7 countries. However, the rules of the game are about to change with U.S. tax reform. Among the reforms the U.S. is bringing in are a drop in the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent, a ten-year window for full and partial expensing machinery and equipment, and other various rules that will incent companies to push profits into the U.S. and interest and other expenses into foreign jurisdictions. The result of this and other reforms will be a sharp drop in the U.S. METR by almost half – from 34. 6 per cent to 18.8 per cent. This means Canada will have a higher tax burden on capital than the U.S. Put simply, Canada and other countries will face a drop in revenue while the U.S. gains revenue. Alarm bells should be ringing among public policy-makers in Canada and elsewhere, since research shows that taxes are a significant factor in multinationals’ decisions on where to invest globally and how to finance it. The dramatic U.S. reforms will put Canada at a distinct disadvantage, dragged down further by its small market size, energy levies and regulatory burden. This paper examines the corporate tax-rate situation in 92 countries, with many either having reduced their rates recently or are planning to in the next few years. In Canada, the only movement has been in several provinces, entailing a small increase in British Columbia and small decreases in Saskatchewan and Quebec. And while the average METR among OECD countries has dropped in the past few years, Canada’s in 2017 was approximately the same as it was in 2010, climbing upward from a nadir in 2012 on the backs of provincial corporate tax hikes. Reforms in the U.S. are going to make that country a much more attractive place for investment than Canada because of the new tax advantages. However, Canada doesn’t have to accept this diminished status. Federal and provincial governments can do a number of things to offset the U.S. reforms. Corporate tax rates should be reduced so as to achieve a more neutral corporate tax structure. By doing things like scaling back the small business deduction and accelerated depreciation, Canada can reduce its corporate tax rate to 23 per cent, which would be just a bit below the U.S.’s combined federal-state figure without losing revenue. Sales taxes on capital purchases could be eliminated in some provinces, reforms could be made to the taxation of international income and incentives for debt financing reduced. Carbon revenues could be used to provide an offset for higher energy taxes businesses face in Canada. The U.S.’s tax reforms are going to affect the economies of all 92 countries studied in this report. Global policy-makers will likely respond with lower corporate rates putting even more pressure on Canada to respond if it wishes to continue to attract investment and remain competitive.
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