Canada Considers “Netflix Tax” Again

streamingReport: Canadian Government Fails to Collect $169 Million in Sales Taxes Annually on Digital Goods & Services

Canada loses approximately $169 million annually in sales tax revenue, according to a recent report from the nation’s interim auditor general. These losses are the result of Canadians failing to pay taxes on digital purchases from foreign vendors. As a result, the auditor general’s office noted Canadians often pay more for domestic digital goods than their foreign counterparts.

Interim AG: Most Canadians Do Not Pay Their Own Sales Tax on Foreign Purchases

Interim Auditor General Sylvain Ricard submitted a series of five performance audits to the Parliament of Canada on May 7. One of these audits focused on the taxation of e-commerce. The audit noted the rapid rise of e-commerce, particularly with respect to “digital products” for music and video, creates “challenges for assessing” the federal goods and services tax (GST) and the harmonized sales tax (HST).

 

Domestic sellers of digital goods and services are required to collect GST and HST from individual consumers and remit those payments to the government. But foreign vendors with no “permanent establishment” in Canada are not required to make such collections under federal law. This does not mean that foreign sales are exempt from taxation. Rather, if an individual consumer’s total purchases of foreign digital goods results in a GST or HST tax liability of more than $2, it is that consumer’s responsibility to fill out a form and pay the applicable tax.

 

In practice, most Canadian consumers simply ignore this duty. According to Ricard, while approximately two-thirds of Canadian adults “purchased digital products from both foreign and domestic vendors between July 2017 and June 2018,” only 524 people filed GST or HST forms on those purchases. And the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) only has “limited authority” to ensure compliance.

 

For instance, Ricard noted, while the United States government requires all payment processors to provide their financial data to the Internal Revenue Service, the CRA lacks a similar ability to collect such third-party information without first obtaining a court order. This, in turn, reduces the CRA’s ability to “detect and deter non-compliance.”

 

The costs of this non-compliance are not insignificant. Ricard’s office estimated the total GST losses for the 2017 fiscal year alone was $169 million. And given the increasing role of cross-border e-commerce in Canada’s economy, Ricard recommended the CRA “implement mechanisms to track, monitor, and report the number of compliance activities it conducts to manage the risk of non-compliance.”

Cross-Party Opposition to Any “Netflix Tax”

But it may not be that simple. Enforcing sales tax collection on foreign digital goods, especially popular U.S.-based services like Netflix, is unpopular with Canadian politicians. During the 2015 federal election, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper released an ad saying his Conservative Party was “100 per cent against a Netflix tax,” according to a recent report in the Toronto Star. Harper’s rival, Liberal Party leader and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also came out against efforts to require Netflix and other non-Canadian vendors to collect the GST and HST.

province flags

Some Canadian provinces, however, are taking a harder line. The auditor general’s report noted the British Columbia provincial government has independently “reached an agreement with a major foreign accommodation sharing platform” to “voluntarily collect the provincial sales tax (PST) and remit it directly to the government.” Meanwhile, the Quebec National Assembly has passed its own legislation requiring foreign businesses to “register for, collect, and remit sales taxes,” regardless of whether they have a “permanent establishment” in Quebec or Canada.

 

As federal law currently stands, according to Ricard, the CRA lacks the “legislative authority or flexibility” to follow either British Columbia or Quebec’s example. And with the next federal election expected later this year, there may be little incentive for any of the major political parties to pursue the issue in the short-term.


Looking for Canadian Sales Tax Rates for your business?  Zip2Tax has easy, fast downloadable tables.  Or look here for general tax rates by province.


 

Proposed Canadian provincial sales tax increase reversed

provincial sales tax

Many state and local governments have turned to sales tax increases in order to address growing budget deficits. But the newly installed government of one Canadian province has decided to change course and cancel a planned provincial sales tax increase that was scheduled to take effect in 2016. It may be the first and only case in North America of such a reversal.

provincial sales taxIn Canada, unlike the United States, sales taxes is assessed at both the federal and provincial level. The federal portion of the tax, known as the Goods and Services Tax (GST), is 8%. This is added to each province’s sales tax to form what is called the harmonized sales tax (HST). Newfoundland and Labrador currently charges a 5% provincial sales tax, making its HST 13%.

Back in April, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a 2% increase in the provincial sales tax, which would have raised the HST to 15% as of January 1, 2016. Then-Premier Paul Davis and his cabinet said the additional tax revenue was needed to “facilitate a return” to a surplus in the government’s budget by 2021. At the time, the government estimated it would run a deficit of about $1 billion in 2016.

But on November 30, Davis and his Progressive Conservative Party lost their majority in the provincial legislature following a general election. Liberal Party leader Dwight Ball was sworn in as the new premier on December 14. During the provincial election campaign, Ball said his “first order of his business” would be to rescind the 2% sales tax increase. And he kept his word. On December 3, Ball formally asked Bill Morneau, the finance minister for Canada’s federal government, “to take the required measures to ensure the general sales tax rate remain at 13 per cent after December 31, 2015.” Morneau, who recently took office himself, had to sign off on this action because the federal government is actually responsible for collecting the HST.

As of this writing, however, there is still some confusion among local businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador as to what sales tax rate they should charge customers come New Year’s Day. A local business leader told the Canadian Broadcasting Company, “small business owners are being left in the dark, and Canada Revenue Agency needs to make more details available.” After all, the official noted, it is businesses which collect the harmonized sales tax, and “[a]s such, they need to know when to adjust cash registers, accounting software and other details.” However, a press release from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Finance, issued shortly after Premier Ball was sworn in, emphatically stated “the federal government has agreed” to the new government’s request to keep the sales tax at 13%.

S.M. Oliva is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He edits the international legal blog PrivyCouncil.info

 

Feminine hygiene (tampon tax) sales tax exemption debated

“Tampon tax” on feminine hygiene necessities called unfair

tampon taxStarting July 1, Canada will exempt products “marketed exclusively for feminine hygiene purposes” from the federal government’s 5% goods and services tax (GST). Members of Canada’s Parliament had lobbied Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government for years to abolish what they deemed an unfair “tampon tax” that discriminated against women. On May 25, the government responded by presenting a motion to Parliament to formally exclude “sanitary napkins, tampons, sanitary belts, menstrual cups or other similar products” from the GST. Parliament unanimously approved the motion on June 1. Subsequently, at least one Canadian province, Newfoundland and Labrador, announced plans to exempt feminine hygiene products from its provincial sales tax, which is currently 8% and scheduled to rise to 10% next year.

Fighting tampon taxes in the United States and around the world

According to a June 3 article by Taryn Hillin for the website Fusion, only five U.S. states  – Maryland,Massachusetts>, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey – specifically exempt feminine hygiene products from state sales tax. Although most states exempt “necessities” such as toiletry and health care items from sales tax, the majority do not classify tampons as such. But as Hillin observed, “feminine hygiene products are not a choice; they’re a required part of being a woman.”

Canada’s recent action may spur some U.S. states to reconsider their own “tampon taxes.” For instance, on May 21, >New York Assemblyman David I. Weprin introduced a bill to exempt all feminine hygiene products from sales tax, which is as high as 8.875% in some parts of the state. It is unlikely, however, the full legislature will act upon the bill before the scheduled end of its session later this month.

The movement to abolish the “tampon tax” has also spread outside of North America. Joe Hockey, the Treasurer for Australia’s federal government, said in a May 25 interview he would support exempting feminine hygiene products from the country’s 10% goods and services tax. But Hockey’s boss, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, later said his government had no plans to push for an exemption at this time, adding GST rules are largely determined by the individual Australian states.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron said last April he would support exempting feminine hygiene products from the country’s goods and services tax, but his government could not do so unilaterally because of European Union regulations, which sets a minimum 5% tax on “sanitary products.”

S.M. Oliva is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. He edits the international legal blog PrivyCouncil.info