Ottawa estimates corporations dodged up to $11.4 billion in 2014 tax payments

Very interesting article published on June 18th, 2019 via the Canadian Press, regarding what appears to be Canadian Corporations avoiding the payment of $11.4 billion dollars in taxes owing to the CRA.

My initial reaction to that headline was likely similar to what others who saw this headline probably felt – that corporations are not paying their fair share of taxes, that corporations get all these tax breaks and that the government allows corporations to not pay taxes.

But before I would be able to properly comment on this, I would have to read the article a few times to figure out what the actual story is.

According to the article, the issues are these;
“Corporations avoided paying Ottawa between $9.4 billion and $11.4 billion in taxes in 2014″, according to a new federal report created by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which estimated these figures.

The report estimates the “tax gap”, or the difference between what is owed to the government and what was collected by the CRA — for small and medium enterprises is between $2.7 billion and $3.5 billion and for large corporations, between $6.7 billion and $7.9 billion.

“The corporate figures bring the total estimated 2014 tax gap from a series of studies by a dedicated CRA unit to between $21.8 billion and $26 billion — or 10.6% to 12.6% of revenues — not including funds recovered or lost due to audits.”

By not including funds recovered or lost during audits, and not going into detail as to what “audit” specifically means, it could represent the amount of taxes assessed during an audit (where the CRA found additional taxes owing), or lost (where the CRA had assessed a corporation, only to find out during an audit that the assessment was inaccurate or invalid, and thus reversed, revised or reduced).

Taking a closer look at the figures, might be a huge shock to anyone who feels that corporations get it easy in Canada.

In 2014, Corporate tax filers reported approximately $298 billion in taxable income and $40.9 billion in total federal tax payable. Even though they made up only about 1% of the 2.1 million corporate tax filers, large corporations reported about 52% of the total corporate taxable income and contributed about 54% of the federal tax.

More than half the taxes collected in this country come from large corporations!

After being fed data which explained that the corporate tax gap for 2014 was between $9.4 billion and $11.4 billion, then the government goes on to mention that the “total” estimated 2014 tax gap is $21.8 billion and $26 billion, meaning between $12.4 billion and $14.6 billion is taxes owed by individuals who are not paying their taxes…

Then the government explains that after the audits, which were left out of the equation, are finalized, the corporate tax gap will actually be reduced by between 31-40% for small enterprises and between 64-75% for large corporations, which means overall, the corporate tax gap for 2014 is actually somewhere between $3.3 billion and $5.3 billion and not $9.4 billion to $11.4 billion.

Clear, right?

So that means the actual tax gap, taking into consideration the post-audit figures that the CRA anticipates, is actually between $15.7 billion to $19.9 billion, and of those taxes owing, most of it is owing from individual Canadians who are not paying.

Meanwhile, large corporations pay 54% of the total taxes paid to this country to fund services, roads, healthcare, and the many benefits that we have all come to appreciate.

Why is this article geared towards corporations? Shouldn’t it be thanking the corporations and pointing fingers at the Canadians who are not paying their fair share? Why was it positioned this way?

Since that answer could be anything, ranging from inaccurate reporting to political manoeuvring, then the only question that remains from this article surrounds what constitutes “taxes owing”? Is that figure based on amounts reported by Canadians who just never paid the taxes, or does that figure include assessed amounts owing that the CRA created, and which may or may not be owing? If it’s the latter then it’s highly likely that the tax gap is even smaller.

NOTE

Ask me one day to tell the story about the notional assessments that I raised while working at the CRA at the request of my team leader to “get the attention” of the business… It got the attention of more than the business! It got the attention of the Minister of Finance. Lesson learned.

So, to conclude, there is a tax gap. There will always be a tax gap because not every Canadian has the ability to pay their taxes in full and on time, each and every year. As well, not every Canadian files their taxes on time, or are required to file on time, which means the full picture will never be forthcoming because of all the moving parts.

The timing and content of this article leads me to believe that the Federal government and the CRA going to come after corporations.  They shouldn’t, based on the actual figures, but corporations do not vote in elections – people do.

What the true intent of this article is, however, is very unclear to me.

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CRA Helping Small and Medium Sized Canadian Businesses

On June 27th, 2017 The Government of Canada announced that they are committed to ensuring tax fairness for all Canadians, as they recognize the importance of small and medium businesses in creating jobs and growing the economy.

As a result, they made a commitment to overhaul its service model so that people who interact with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) feel like valued clients, not just taxpayers.

Today, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue, unveiled the CRA’s actions for the next two years to make its services for small and medium businesses more helpful and easier to use.

The Report on the Canada Revenue Agency’s 2016 Serving You Better consultations with small and medium businesses contained concrete commitments based on feedback shared by small and medium businesses and chartered professional accountants in the fall of 2016.

The CRA’s 2017-2019 Serving You Better action plan contains over 50 action items that will improve services for small and medium businesses.

Top 10

Here are the top ten service improvements for businesses, which will allow them to:

  1. Receive a CRA security code by email rather than mail
  2. Call a new dedicated telephone service for tax preparers that helps with more complex technical issues
  3. Request a Liaison Officer visit
  4. Provide T4 information slips to their employees in electronic format
  5. Use T2 Auto-fill through commercial software
  6. Create their own filing and balance confirmation letters online
  7. Create short “how-to” videos that explain the services on My Business Account
  8. Experience telephone service improvements
  9. Share feedback about their audit experience in a new post-audit survey
  10. Help Canadians have their objections resolved faster

To find out more about the CRA’s action plans to serve small and medium businesses, go to canada.ca/cra-serving-you-better.

Quick Facts

During the 2016 Serving You Better Consultations, the CRA and their senior officials met with over 300 participants face-to-face to discuss what the CRA could do better.  Approximately 135 of these participants sent their views online or in writing.   All in all, the CRA received over 1,500 comments and suggestions for improvements to their services.

Who was consulted?

The CRA partnered with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada to host a total of 21 sessions with small and medium business and accountants in cities across Canada.