Outrage directed at the federal government by the business community over proposed tax changes are pulling attention away from Ottawa’s inaction on bigger tax avoiders, says New Democrat finance critic Alexandre Boulerice.
Boulerice said the federal government could take other measures to make the tax system fairer, but those actions would hit too close to home for the Liberal government’s allies.
“What is more interesting is what is not on the table right now,” Boulerice said.
The federal government announced July 18 it will close loopholes available to those who incorporate their businesses. The government insists the plan is part of a strategy to grow the middle class and institute a better taxation system.
“The government is taking action to improve the fairness of Canada’s tax system by closing tax loopholes and amending existing rules to ensure that the richest Canadians pay their fair share of taxes and that people in similar circumstances pay similar amounts of tax,” read a statement from the Department of Finance.
Business and professional groups have reacted quickly. Doctors have been particularly vocal about the tax changes, especially in provinces where they were given the right to incorporate in lieu of higher rates charged to provincial health systems.
Business organizations have loudly condemned the changes. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business delivered a petition with nearly 14,700 signatures to Ottawa Tuesday declaring their opposition.
The CFIB calls the plan a “threat” to independent business and argued business owners don’t have the “huge” salaries and pensions enjoyed by civil servants to rely on for retirement.
CFIB vice-president and chief economist Ted Mallett said the organization is just starting to put on the pressure.
“Our real concern is many lower income businesses will be caught up in these new rules and will be worse off,” Mallett said.
Mallett said two thirds of business owners are making less than $73,000 per year and would suffer if the changes go through.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau stands by the proposed changes.
Boulerice said the continued uproar is helping the Liberals to avoid dealing with tax havens, questionable deals for tax cheats and the government’s broken promise to close stock option tax loopholes for CEOs.
Those issues are a far greater burden on tax revenue, he said. “Mr. Morneau is coming from Bay Street. Those CEOs cashing in millions of dollars because of the stock loophole are his friends. Maybe he doesn’t want to hurt them.”
Boulerice said tax regulations affecting small business could be improved but are not the biggest contributor to lost revenue. He said the plan to close tax loopholes stemming from incorporation needs to be studied more before any decision is made.
The number of small businesses taking advantage of incorporation loopholes to save money is unknown, he added. He suspects in many cases bigger businesses are far more likely to use tax loopholes than are smaller family-owned operations.
Independent senator Tony Dean said business groups lobbying against the proposed changes don’t represent all Canadian businesses. Dean, a former University of Toronto professor, has openly sparred with businesses groups on social media over the loophole changes.
“The associations representing small business though for whatever reason seem to be captive of a different point of view, if not interested in driving a different point of view, which is that they alone are the sole motivators of Canada’s economy,” Dean said.
He said that belief leads them to support regulations that keep their costs as low as possible. Better wages and improved pensions are bad for business in their view, Dean said, while tax loopholes are necessary.
The CFIB has opposed both $15-dollar minimum wages and campaigned against reforms to the Canada Pension Plan last year.
The shots taken at civil servants in the most recent campaign bother Dean the most. The campaign includes allegations that civil servants have cushy jobs that Canadian businesses sustain through heavy taxes. Such campaign strategies are particularly agitating when businesses take advantage of government grants or other incentives paid for by taxpayers, Dean said.
“Public servants add social and economic value for Canadians in just about everything they do every day. They’re at work and they don’t have any tax advantages,” he said. “They in fact are paying their full, fair share. Every week, every month, every year.”
The same can’t be said for what he argued was a small part of the business community opposed to the tax changes, he said.