Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Seeking Some Substance - Part 1

In yesterday's Star, Christopher Hume had occasion to call Prime Minister Trudeau the princeling practitioner of the politics of appearance. In light of an alarming shortfall in revenues that is crippling our services thanks to the government's anemic corporate tax policies, that struck me as a particularly apt description.

Indeed, that element of his persona was very much on display for the world to see last week at Davos, where Mr. Trudeau had some stirring words :
"Too many corporations have put the pursuit of profit before the well-being of their workers … but that approach won't cut it any more," Mr. Trudeau told the elite gathering at the chic ski resort of Davos. "We are in a new age of doing business – you need to give back."
Apparently, however, that sternness of tone seemed more designed for public consumption than real-world application. If that is not the case, one has to wonder why Canada appears to be very soft in the corporate taxation department:
In a joint investigation with Corporate Knights magazine, the Star last month revealed the government has never collected a lower proportion of its taxes from corporations than it does now.

In 2016, Ottawa collected $3.50 in income tax from individuals for every $1 it collected from businesses.
The foregone tax revenue is significant:
The Star/Corporate Knights investigation revealed that Canada’s 102 largest corporations collectively avoided $62.9 billion in income taxes over the past six years. On average, that’s $10.5 billion less per year than if they paid the official corporate tax rate.

It’s also an average of $100 million missing from the public purse per company, per year.
So what is to be done about it?

Well, first off, they can start by emulating other countries that have thus far recovered $500 million in unpaid taxes thanks to revelations from the Panama Papers.
The Panama Papers have proved a treasure trove for some countries, with Spain recovering the most unpaid tax so far. Its national revenue agency announced in November a $156-million windfall from taxpayers with hidden funds. Most of that — $128.4 million — came from voluntary disclosures, where the taxpayers came forward themselves following the leak to declare previously unreported income.

The Australian Tax Office said last month it has collected $49 million thus far as a result of the Panama Papers revelations. Australian tax officials snapped to action following the leak, executing 18 search warrants in just a one-week span in September 2016, at one point seizing 170 kilograms of silver bullion and coins.

Even Ecuador, which historically has had problems collecting tax from its citizens, says it has recouped $82.6 million.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, Canada has recovered nothing:
The Canada Revenue Agency maintains it will be at least another 2½ years before it will have an idea of how much it might recoup.

The stark contrast is fuelling criticism of the CRA's effectiveness at catching offshore tax cheats, and comes in the wake of a CBC investigation last month that found few, if any, of the criminal convictions the agency cites in defence of its record actually have anything to do with offshore tax evasion.
In fact, that investigation revealed that small businesses are the most likely targets of CRA wrath:
... Canadians convicted of tax evasion over the past two years are far more likely to be tax protesters or small business people who failed to declare all of their income.
And to make their statistics look better than they are, the CRA
counted each article of the law as a separate conviction.

For example, in the case of New Brunswick-based George's Heating and Plumbing, the agency counted two charges against the business as separate convictions, in addition to the convictions of five employees for having treated personal expenses as business expenses. While they were all part of the same case with the same court file number, on the CRA's list they counted as seven of the 78 convictions.
There is every reason to believe that the hands-off approach to corporate malfeasance, perfected during the Harper years and instilled as an operating ethos in the CRA, is alive and well; the current government apparently has no intention of changing that.

More evidence of this mindset, as well as the ongoing offshore tax evasion being widely practised by Canadian corporations, and what can be done about it, will be addressed in Part 2 of this post.


  1. Trump drove home the message: deeds, not words. The two rarely comport. Time and again Trudeau has demonstrated the folly of taking his words at face value. We could write some of it off to the exigencies of politics but we've gone well past that point a long time ago.

    1. The sad thing is, Mound, far too many are confusing the promise with the reality.