On April 23rd, 2020, the C.D. Howe Institute released a report which identifies the best and worst major Canadian cities for business investment as measured by overall tax burdens.
The link to the reports is here; “Business Tax Burdens in Canada’s Major Cities: The 2019 Report Card.” Authors Adam Found and Peter Tomlinson compared business tax burdens in 10 Canadian municipalities, the largest in each province.
“Municipalities and provinces would do well to pay attention to business tax burdens, particularly those imposed by business property taxes, since they impede investment and businesses’ ability to survive and invest after the present pandemic,” says Found.
Before a business decides to locate or expand in a given jurisdiction, it must consider the tax implications of such an investment.
Heavy tax burdens reduce potential returns, driving investment away to other jurisdictions and, with it, the associated economic benefits.
Found and Tomlinson estimate the 2019 Marginal Effective Tax Rate (METR) for the largest municipality in each province by aggregating corporate income taxes, retail sales taxes, land transfer taxes and business property taxes. Their findings measure the tax burden on a hypothetical investment that has the same net-of-tax return regardless of where in Canada it is located.
What Did They Find?
That municipal business tax burdens are highest in Montreal, Halifax and St. John’s, while near the group average in Calgary, Charlottetown and Moncton.
The most competitive municipal business tax environments were found in Vancouver, followed by Saskatoon, Toronto and Winnipeg.
I’d be curious to see if there was any consideration given to the associated costs which impact businesses in these markets, such as the cost and availability of parking and ability of the general public to access these businesses. Certainly, an expensive parking rate which is heavily enforced by the parking police would deter customers in certain parts of these cities.
Then again, so does bad signage…
Nonetheless, the bottom line is this. If the cost of investing in a Canadian jurisdiction is higher than the cost of investing elsewhere, then that jurisdiction’s capital stock will be smaller than it otherwise would be, because businesses go where the costs are cheaper so they can try to make more money.
The higher the METR (tax rates), the greater the investment loss and overall economic harm.
Tax dollars are important for budgeting purposes because jurisdictions use those dollars to support expenditures. When the tax base erodes, either taxes are increased, expenditures cut, or debts and deficits increased.
Calgary’s experience with depreciating property values was also discussed in this report, because in that city, as the assessed values of downtown office buildings depreciated rapidly, that caused unmanageable tax shifts onto other businesses in the city, to make up the shortfall.
“Calgary is a cautionary tale for cities across the country,” says Tomlinson. “With the current cash crunch for businesses, provincial property tax cuts – like those just announced in British Columbia – could be key to businesses’ survival.”
The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada’s most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.