The changes announced on July 18, 2017, are the most significant change to the private corporation tax structure in 45 years and will have a negative impact on doctors and also convenience store operators, electrical contractors and family farmers. In short, these proposals will negatively affect all small business owners, most of whom are squarely in the middle class and are the engine of the Canadian economy.
We believe a 75-day consultation is inadequate to assess the scope of these changes and the ramifications for not only our members but also the 1.1 million other small business operators as well as the impacts of the proposals on Canada's prospects for future economic growth.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) strongly urges the federal government to:
1) suspend the current proposals;
2) conduct a comprehensive review of these proposals to ensure that legislation can meet policy objectives without significant unintended consequences; and
3) engage all Canadians in a comprehensive review of the tax system considering unique aspects of all sectors, including safety net provisions.
Economic considerations of the tax proposals:
Small business in Canada
Most Canadian businesses are small. As of December 2015, there were 1.17 million employer businesses in the Canadian economy. Of these, 1.14 million (97.9%) were small-sized businesses, 21,415 (1.8%) were medium-sized businesses and 2,933 (0.3%) were large-sized businesses.
Small- and medium-sized enterprise
s (SMEs) are critical contributors to the Canadian economy. They generate the majority of Canadian jobs. Across the country, an estimated 10.6 million people (66.8% of the labour force) work in small-sized businesses and another 3.3 million (20.4%) are employed in medium-sized businesses. Only 2.0 million (12.8%) work in large-sized businesses.
In addition to generating jobs, SMEs make a significant contribution to gross domestic product (GDP). Notably, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees will contribute on average 30% to national GDP. SMEs also make sizable contributions to research and development. Between 2011 and 2013, SMEs accounted for 27% of the research and development expenditures in this country.
Physicians' offices are an important component of the Canadian economy, employing people and supporting suppliers in their communities. The majority of physicians (66% or 54,000) own and operate a private corporation.
The direct GDP contribution produced by physicians' offices in Canada in 2016 was $22.3 billion. They paid $6.2 billion in wages and salaries, employed 137,000 people and contributed $643 million in tax revenues to governments. Including the supply chain and induced effects of this economic activity, the total GDP supported by the economic footprint of physicians' offices was $33.4 billion and the total number of jobs supported was 250,000.
Physicians' medical practices, in addition to providing essential health care services to Canadians, also provide a noticeable contribution to Canada's economy. The total economic footprint of physicians' practices in 2016 - directly, through their supply chain and through induced effects - accounted for 1.6% of Canada's total GDP in 2016.
Making Canada an attractive place to practise medicine
Physicians and small business owners across the country believe that the proposals are complex and will ultimately lead to unintended consequences that will affect all Canadians. With so many underserviced regions of Canada and 5.3 million orphan patients, it behooves government to establish conditions that facilitate recruitment and retention of highly skilled professionals, such as physicians.
Physicians are more mobile than many other small business owners. Between 2014 and 2015, for instance, approximately 740 physicians (about 1% of all physicians) moved from one province or territory to another. In the CMA's recent member survey, 22% of practising physicians stated they would consider relocating their practice to another country as a result of the proposed federal tax changes. Of the medical residents who participated in the survey, 39% would consider moving their practice to another country if the proposed federal tax changes are implemented.
The experience of the 1990s provides evidence that this is a real possibility. In 1992, health ministers agreed to reduce medical school enrolment, and shortly afterward provincial governments began to put restrictions in place, such as a two-year moratorium on new billing numbers in Ontario for physicians who had not completed their undergraduate or postgraduate training there. These measures sent a clear message that doctors were not welcome in Canada and it was no surprise that they left in large numbers. From 1995 to 1997 Canada experienced an annual average net loss of 454 physicians to migration, the equivalent of four medical school classes. The United States continues to face a shortage of physicians, and it may be an attractive alternative for Canadian physicians to practise. Projections released earlier this year for the American Association of Medical Colleges indicate that the United States will have a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030.
The path to becoming a physician is a long one, which includes 10 or more years of postsecondary education. As a result, physicians start their careers later than other workers. Average student debt ranges from $160,000 to $180,000. This represents a large personal investment of time and money. We want to ensure that Canada establishes the public policy conditions necessary to retain and attract the next generation of physicians.
Thriving medical practices are the best medicine for patients
Public policy should strive to promote economic growth, innovation and quality of life for all Canadians. Thriving medical practices are a key ingredient in ensuring that Canadians have access to medical care when and where they need it. Any changes to the existing tax regimen can have the unintended consequences of forcing owners of medical practices to curtail their operations, reduce availability of care and stifle expansions of much-needed medical services.
The CMA asked physicians whether they would consider reducing the number of hours they worked if the government eliminated any or all of the benefits of incorporation. Over half of the practising physicians who responded to the survey (54%) indicated they would consider reducing their number of hours worked, and 24% indicated they would consider retirement. In addition, 31% of the respondents stated they would consider closing their practice and moving to another practice setting (such as a hospital-based or salaried position). Of particular note, 64% of the medical residents who responded to the survey indicated that they would avoid independent practice.
If fewer physicians opt to stay in or enter into independent practice there could be important implications for physician supply and patient accessibility. This may be particularly important in rural and remote regions, where independent practice is the most common means for delivery of physician services.
In some rural and remote communities across Canada, there is already a shortage of physicians. According to Statistics Canada, about 19% of the Canadian population lives in rural and remote communities, but only about 14% of family physicians and 2% of specialists practise in such communities. The ratio of physicians to patients is also much lower in rural than in urban Canada (0.8 versus 2.1 per 1,000 in 2013).
Some of the challenges in recruiting and retaining physicians to rural and especially to remote communities include the reality that physicians in these regions often have to work long hours, have a high level of on-call responsibilities and need additional competencies to meet their community's needs. Unlike most physicians working in urban environments, they may also experience insufficient backup or a total absence of backup from other physicians, nurses and complementary services. There are typically fewer professional education opportunities in rural and remote communities. Finally, physicians sometimes find it difficult to travel long distances to visit their families in urban regions or to convince their spouses and children to relocate from urban to rural and remote communities because of limited job prospects and educational opportunities for their families.
Promoting gender equality in small- and medium-sized businesses and in medical practices
The current federal government has advanced a feminist agenda with a view to ensuring that all public policy aligns with and supports gender equality. It is therefore perplexing to see the tax proposals being considered, as these may further deter women from entering the medical profession.
It is worth noting that female physicians now account for 40% of all Canadian physicians and they represent 60% of physicians under the age of 35. This statistic represents a significant achievement in promoting gender equality in the profession. While the potential indirect effects of the federal tax proposals apply to all physicians regardless of gender, female physicians will likely see an incrementally larger decrease in income at all career stages and particularly as they start a family. This is coupled with the fact that there are already fewer female physicians over the age of 50. Many female physicians may choose to stay at home if the current financial and entrepreneurial incentives are no longer available.
In addition to the direct impact of the proposed tax measures on female physicians, any practice consolidations or closures resulting from these measures will also impact women currently employed in physician practices, including nurses and administrative support staff. This is significant for occupations such as medical administrative assistants and other health services support staff; 98% and 80% of total employees in these occupations are women, respectively.
Inspiring innovation as the cornerstone of Canada's future
A significant portion of medical research in Canada is funded by physician donations of cash and unpaid physician labour. This is especially true for physicians working in academic health science centres (AHSCs). AHSCs are vital to ensuring that leading-edge medical research continues in Canada. Since most AHSCs are structured as partnerships of incorporated physicians, they will also be affected by the federal tax proposals, and donations to fund medical research will be compromised as physicians make financial decisions to reduce their spending to make up for their increased tax burden. This is significant, as the CMA estimates that physicians provide $340 million from their gross earnings to fund medical research and teaching in AHSCs.
Furthermore, if physicians are facing a reduction in after-tax income from their practices, they will likely favour paid labour over unpaid labour to offset the reduction, which would result in fewer physician hours spent on medical research. There would be little financial incentive for physicians to continue with medical research, which would significantly impede medical innovation in Canada.
Technical considerations of the proposals:
In reviewing the specifics of the proposals, the CMA wishes to provide its perspective on several of the elements being considered, including fairness, complexity, passive income of a small business corporation, anti-avoidance rules and income splitting.
The tax rules for private corporations are available to everyone should they wish to start and run their own business. They have been supported and even promoted by various governments to encourage entrepreneurship and those who are willing to take the risk of starting up a small business, entering independent practice or taking over the family business.
Seeking to compare a salaried employee to someone who works through a private corporation where the corporation earns an equivalent amount of income fails to take into account all the factors necessary to operate a successful business through a corporate structure. For example, private corporations reinvest in the business and save funds to weather adverse economic events and to offset the lack of employment provisions and benefits. Physicians start their medical practice with significant debt and enter their career in their 30s. Private corporations in different sectors face their own unique set of challenges and the existing policies provide certainty that enables them to make plans.
The CMA is aware that in 2011 an Employment Insurance (EI) program was established for self-employed individuals whereby they could register and pay for benefits including maternity and parental leave. We understand that there has been low uptake; we suspect that is because many self-employed people cannot take a full year off for maternity/parental leave and therefore do not receive the full value of what they put into the program. Other considerations include the fact that the program is not topped up by an employer, the program does not factor in expenses related to replacement costs, and there is loss of flexibility to cover lifestyle costs.
Although well-intentioned, it seems that the enhancements to the EI program may not address the realities of running a business (regardless of incorporation) and that is why we need a more comprehensive review of the tax system that considers unique sector conditions and safety net provisions.
Corporations are legitimate business vehicles that facilitate compliance and administration, and they have been sanctioned and encouraged by successive governments for decades. Changing the rules now will be highly destabilizing for small business owners who have chosen to organize their affairs in this way, many of whom also do not have the resources to adjust to these changes.
In some cases, provisions for physician incorporation have been part of a negotiated settlement with provincial governments. The proposed changes will drive up medical costs, increase pressure on provincial and territorial governments and worsen fee-schedule negotiations between physicians and their provincial and territorial governments, causing yet more unnecessary disruption.
The use of corporations has to a certain extent kept the underground economy at bay because of mandatory reporting requirements and registration both for income tax and GST/HST purposes and for corporate governance.
The Canadian tax system and in particular the rules governing both big and small corporations are complex, and successive governments have strived to simplify them over time. The proposed tax changes have a level of complexity that is counter to what the present government has been promoting by eliminating boutique tax provisions.
The proposals create a bigger disparity between small business corporations eligible for the small business deduction and small public corporations that provide many of the same benefits to family shareholders.
Passive income is already taxed at higher levels than active business income. Working capital is just as necessary in a small business corporation as it is in a public corporation.
Investing passively in a private corporation has been a legitimate practice for many generations of Canadian business owners. The method of taxing passive income has been in effect since 1972. Investing passively within a corporation accommodates business owners who assume risk and responsibility not otherwise assumed by employees. A few important accommodations are noted below:
* Investing passively provides a business owner with efficient access to capital so that opportunities can be seized, creating growth and employment for our economy.
* Business owners are more likely to accept the risk associated with making investments if they have access to more capital.
* Investing passively allows a business owner to manage risks assumed when one goes into business for oneself. These risks are not otherwise assumed by employees.
* Investing passively allows a business owner to diversify risk by investing in assets that are very different than private corporation shares.
* Investing passively allows a business owner to provide for retirement and unforeseen circumstances that may need to be self-funded.
Physicians, like other small business owners, retain capital in their corporations to weather the financial ups and downs that are inherent in self-employment. Because physicians do not have employer-sponsored pension plans or health, disability or maternity benefits or statutory vacation leave, they rely on retained earnings and make passive investments to build up the capital to fund these eventualities. Similar to other businesses, medical practices have to respond to the ups and downs of the business cycle - in the medical practice context, provincial and territorial governments will implement expenditure caps and cuts that will affect the medical practice's bottom line.
Fair, simple and efficient tax system
As noted by CPA Canada, fairness in our tax system is an essential principle and it is doubtful that the recent proposals will improve this. Investing passively in a private corporation has in some cases been a mechanism available to business owners of all sizes since 1972.
It will be important to consider the fact that many small business owners have legitimately organized their affairs by investing passively in their corporation and have not contributed to registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs), tax free savings accounts (TFSAs) and registered education savings plans (RESPs). Fundamentally changing the tax system will in some cases require physicians to:
* work for more years to save for retirement with after tax dollars;
* evaluate whether Canada's tax system is competitive with that of other economies; and
* alter practice decisions, such as opting to retire completely versus easing into retirement or reducing hours of work in favour of other career pursuits.
Applying a 50% permanent income tax rate in the corporation to passive income assumes that all small business owners are high-rate taxpayers. This is not the case, and this assumption would inadvertently punish many small business owners who are not subject to the highest rates of income tax. In some cases, applying a high rate of personal income tax to corporate income that has already been subject to tax at 50% will result in a combined income tax rate of approximately 71%.
Canada's tax system is already complex and the proposed methods of accounting for passive income will in all cases add further complexity, reducing taxpayer compliance. Tracking and pooling sources of income to account for investments will be both time consuming and costly. There will need to be simple mechanisms for both grandfathered investments and those impacted by the new rules.
Lastly, making significant changes to legitimate tax structures that have been in use for 45 years requires careful consideration, material stakeholder involvement, carefully considered grandfathering provisions and the appropriate amount of time to plan and implement.
The proposals concerning passive income in a private corporation represent a significant change in tax policy. If implemented as proposed by the government, the changes could act as a disincentive for those looking to invest in small business, decreasing job creation. Furthermore, the tax policy changes as proposed could make it difficult for Canada to attract, recruit and retain highly skilled professionals, which will significantly impact the quality and availability of health care in the short and long term.
For consideration - prescribed allowable assets for passive investment
A fair tax system accommodates taxpayers who assume different levels of risk and is flexible enough to allow taxpayers to manage various circumstances. From a policy perspective, there are many examples of accommodation or incentive, such as the lifetime capital gains exemption (LCGE) and the small business deduction (SBD), which accommodate a self-employed individual's realities when compared with an employee. In the CMA's view, passive income is already taxed at rates of almost 50% to discourage investing passively in a corporation, and when passive income is distributed to individual shareholders, investment income is appropriately taxed.
Existing passive assets and any income or related capital gain thereon should not be impacted by any new system that is implemented. Regarding a transition, a taxpayer should have the ability to elect to have existing or substituted assets and the related income or capital gains taxed under the current regime resulting in no change.
On a prospective basis, passive assets accumulated over and above a prescribed threshold could be subject to new investment income rules. The prescribed threshold would allow business owners to accumulate passive assets commensurate with the amount of risk they accept or assume. Alternatively, the prescribed threshold would allow a taxpayer to opt out of the onerous and costly rules that are not conducive to small business.
Business owners have raised the concern that they need to retain capital in their corporations for valid business purposes. These include saving for economic downturns, future growth and contingencies such as an illness of the principal business owner. Allowing a prescribed amount of passive investments to be held by private corporations will permit them to save for these valid business reasons without facing excessive tax rates, while still meeting the government's policy objective of preventing individuals from using corporations to save beyond government tolerance. A prescribed threshold provides greater certainty for planning and ease of administration.
These ideas are worth exploring but require time and the engagement of small businesses to ensure that the changes do not produce unintended consequences while meeting public policy objectives.
Converting income to capital
Anti-tax avoidance rules
We are in support of targeted measures to curtail abuse. Non-arm's length manipulations of cost base to reduce or eliminate capital gains are not appropriate, and such abuses should be curtailed.
Use of mechanisms to avoid double taxation such as the so-called pipeline strategy that has been accepted by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to avoid double taxation should be encouraged, not legislated against.
CRA has issued numerous favourable advanced income tax rulings with respect to pipeline planning. The proposed changes in ITA section 84.1 are especially troublesome for those nearing retirement and those who have planned for their final estate tax liability under the current income tax regime.
For example, assume an owner of a private corporation dies in Ontario and the shares are not inherited by a spouse. If the private company shares have a fair market value of $2,000,000 with minimal adjusted cost base, the estate's final income tax liability will increase by approximately $360,000 if the fair market value of the private corporation must be realized as a dividend rather than as a capital gain, as contemplated by proposed subsection 84.1(2).
In addition, there would be limited opportunities for retired or near-retirement business owners to acquire life insurance or otherwise reorganize their affairs.
Lastly, the proposed changes would effectively require each estate to wind up the affairs of a private corporation within a very short period of time (12 months) to avoid double taxation.
Subsection 164(6) of the Act should be extended to coincide with the graduated rate estate rules that were recently introduced. On this basis, an estate would have three years to properly wind up the affairs of a private company, realize a capital loss and carry it back to the terminal return of the shareholder to avoid paying income tax twice.
The practice of income sprinkling within the use of a professional corporation has been supported by judgments issued by the Supreme Court of Canada. It is also true that in some cases provincial governments have amended legislation governing professionals to allow a professional to introduce family members as shareholders of their professional corporations. Such amendments were made in the context of negotiating contracts for service deliverables and remuneration and in recognition of the family involvement in running a small business, such as a medical office in the case of physicians.
Upon incorporation the entity that has been created in support of a specific business activity has nominal value. The corporation builds and expands through bank borrowing, expenditures and the sweat capital of spouses/partners. The value of that sweat capital is difficult to quantify but in many respects is no different than the sweat capital provided by unrelated entrepreneurs in developing a high technology idea into a working venture.
The proposed changes could result in more stringent requirements for a family shareholder to demonstrate their contribution of capital or value to an entity than would be required of a non-family member shareholder. Spouses/partners are integral to the risk and development of a business enterprise that, as a family, they have an interest in: pension income splitting recognizes the family unit and similar considerations apply here.
Tax policy reflected in the ITA has always permitted a certain level of income based on the personal amount and the dividend tax credit to be received without tax cost. In 2017 the amount was approximately $32,000.00. There is no abuse in using those provisions just as there is no abuse in pension income splitting to share the tax obligation within a family.
Subjectivity of reasonability criteria
Regarding the application of tax on split income (TOSI) and the "reasonableness test," the CMA is concerned that in practice, the proposed rules will result in inconsistent application, as the reasonableness test requires a subjective self-assessment after considering labour and capital contributions.
Consider the practical difficulties that will arise in the following situations:
* Both spouses are involved in the business on a regular and continuous basis. However, at different points during their life, their involvement is limited because of health or maternity reasons.
* All family members (adult children and parents) are involved on a regular and continuous basis in the business. Similar to the example above, each family member has differing levels of involvement at different times and each family member makes unique contributions.
* In some cases, a household will be required to decide on the division of labour. The division of labour would consider both inside and outside duties, resulting in one family member being less active in the business for a period of time or permanently because he/she is directly supporting inside duties so that the other spouse's involvement can exceed what would normally be required of an employee.
When assessing the reasonability of a dividend paid, both the taxpayer and CRA are required to evaluate a proper rate of return and assess the risk assumed. Independent data or proxies are not readily available when assessing risk assumed with respect to a private company investment.
In the case where a spouse and/or all family members are involved with the business on a regular and continuous basis, practical difficulty will constantly arise when attempting to ascertain with any degree of precision or certainty reasonable compensation in the circumstances.
In some cases, a physician's spouse will deliberately choose not to enter the workforce as a second income earner because it is not economically viable to do so given the day-to-day realities of managing a business, raising a family and planning for the future. Constraining income splitting will in some cases cause hardship for families who have organized their division of labour so that the family can fully support the professional's activities. This translates into physicians being more available to grow their practice and to care for patients. If the economics concerning the division of labour within and outside of the household are seriously altered, many small business owners could be motivated to work less and refocus their division of labour.
For consideration - prescribed threshold on income sprinkling
Dividends are paid to shareholders as a return on their investment in the corporation. Since the distribution of the dividend is not determined by the quantum of a shareholder's contribution to the corporation, it is illogical to use contribution or labour as the criterion that determines when dividend income will be subject to TOSI. A small business is dynamic, and contributions to a family business are required at different times by different people and entail different amounts of effort. Documenting and measuring the many different contributions will undoubtedly create problems because a business owner and their spouse are often inextricably linked when it comes to valuing their contributions to a business.
Because of the complexity that the proposed changes would cause, the TOSI income rules should not consider a small business owner's spouse or common-law partner. In the alternative, a threshold should be contemplated that would recognize various contributions and eliminate the uncertainty and judgment required when applying the proposed rules.
The implementation of a prescribed threshold of allowable dividends to be paid to family members would alleviate many of the issues with the current reasonableness test. The primary concern with the current wording of the reasonableness tests is the inherent uncertainty because of the difficulty in determining the value of contributions made by family members. A threshold of allowable dividends would inherently acknowledge that family members contribute value and assume risk with respect to a family business.
This would eliminate the uncertainty about these amounts paid to family members, allowing small businesses to recognize the contributions of family members without fear of future reassessments at the top marginal rate of tax. This would also shift the focus of the proposals to higher income earners. Dividends above the prescribed threshold would still be subject to the proposed reasonableness test, preventing excessive amounts from being paid to family members where their contributions do not warrant these distributions.
These ideas are worthy of consideration but require the engagement of the small business community to ensure that the changes do not produce unintended consequences while achieving their public policy objectives.
Canada's doctors are fully committed to improving health and health care by helping families, youth and women, growing the economy and ensuring we have thriving communities from coast to coast to coast. We know that these values are shared by governments. As health care providers and as owners of small businesses, Canada's doctors have been committed to these goals for decades. While the full impact of the proposed taxation changes is currently being assessed, every indication points to significant negative ramifications for frontline health care workers and the Canadian economy.
Physician medical practices contribute significantly to the local and national economy by directly employing 137,000 Canadians and providing needed medical infrastructure. These entrepreneurs are also responsible for providing a self-funded safety net.
These factors have, to a significant degree, been taken into account in settling fee structures for the medical professional on an overall after-tax basis. If those provisions cannot be relied on in the future, fairness would dictate that time be given for those in the relevant provinces to renegotiate their fee structures so that new factors can be taken into account. Fairness would also dictate that other self-funded safety net provisions, such as retirement savings vehicles, be adjusted or created to cover planned and unplanned events.
The July 18, 2017, proposals represent the most significant tax changes since 1972. The CMA is concerned that the government may not be aware of the potential for far-reaching unintended consequences of the proposals and therefore strongly urges the government to:
1. suspend the current proposals;
2. conduct a comprehensive review of these proposals to ensure that legislation can meet policy objectives without significant unintended consequences; and
3. engage all Canadians in a comprehensive review of the tax system considering unique aspects of all sectors, including safety net provisions.
There are several potential mitigating measures physicians may apply to offset reductions in net revenue, including the following:
* Physicians may decide to operate their practices on a leaner basis, offsetting their loss in net income by reducing practice spending. They may reduce their individual spending on staff and other costs, or they may elect to consolidate several practices into one.
* Physicians may decide to reduce their hours worked, or change their practice setting in response to the reduction in net income.
Scenario 1 provides an example.
Scenario 1: Private practice
Dr. Johns operates a private practice in rural Ontario. Understanding that there is a significant shortage of physicians in rural communities across Canada, Dr. Johns and her husband moved to their current rural community 10 years ago. Dr. Johns' husband, a teacher by trade, has been unable to secure full-time employment because of the limited number of jobs available in their community. Instead, he helps Dr. Johns by dealing with all operational matters for her clinics. This includes negotiating leases, buying equipment and hiring staff so that Dr. Johns can focus on delivering medical services. The children are involved too; they developed and maintain the clinic website.
Over the last 10 years, he has also handled all matters related to the household, including raising their two children. Dr. Johns' children are now 18 and 19 years old and are both starting university in 2018. Dr. Johns, Mr. Johns and their children are shareholders of the medical professional corporation.
Because of the new changes, Dr. Johns worries that she will not be able to help her children pay for university. Dr. and Mr. Johns are now trying to decide if they should close the rural practice and move back to the city, where Mr. Johns could find employment to help pay for their children's education.
Scenario 2 illustrates how the proposed tax changes would affect a female pediatrician operating her practice through a corporation.
Scenario 2: Retirement
Dr. Grey is a 55-year-old pediatrician who operates her practice through a corporation. She is married and has two adult children. Her husband is a shareholder in the corporation. Her children are not.
After finishing medical school and her residency, she started practising when she was 30. She spent the next three years making minimum payments on her student loans so that she could save enough to finance her maternity leave. Between ages 33 and 35, she had two children and was unable to work. When she returned to work, her husband stopped working to raise the children and manage the household. By age 40 she had finally paid off her medical school debt, but she spent the next 15 years saving to pay for her children's education and supporting the family. As a result, Dr. Grey has not been able to save any money for retirement before now.
Dr. Grey has heard that her plans may be significantly impacted by the changes to both income splitting and passive investments. She has heard that existing portfolios of passive investments will be grandfathered, but she does not see how that will help her because she is only starting to save for retirement now.
As Dr. Grey's fees are set by the province she cannot increase the fees she charges to her patients and will therefore have to reduce costs, including staffing costs. Otherwise, she may never be able to retire comfortably.
Scenario 3: Married physician at an academic health science centre
Dr. Ritchie is an incorporated cardiologist working in an academic health science centre. Because of her sporadic schedule her husband is not able to work a traditional job. Instead, he manages the household, and when needed he helps with any administrative activities required for managing Dr. Ritchie's corporation. As Dr. Ritchie understands that medical research is not well funded in Canada, she donates $25,000 per year to her local research institute.
Dr. Ritchie currently takes an annual dividend of $135,000 out of her corporation and pays a dividend of $35,000 to her husband.
Under the proposed changes to income splitting, it is unclear what would be considered a "reasonable amount" that can be paid to Dr. Ritchie's husband for his contributions; therefore, Dr. Ritchie will have to take out all funds herself.
If the $35,000 typically paid to Dr. Ritchie's husband is now paid to her, the family tax liability will increase by $13,016/year. This means that if the family wants to have the same after-tax cash under the new rules, they will have to draw an additional $23,400 out of the corporation as dividends, increasing total dividends to $193,400.
To fund this additional outflow while still saving for retirement, Dr. Ritchie will have to reduce her practice's expenditures by an amount roughly equal to her annual medical research donation. She is strongly considering not making donations to medical research so that she can support her family.
Millions of Canadians are planning for their retirement relying on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and private pension plans, either as their only future retirement income or to supplement the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Quebec Pension Plan (QPP). Approximately 5 million contribute to RRSPs. Another 3.7 million participate in registered pension plans (RPPs). Some are independent business people, others work in family businesses. Some are self-employed or work for organizations that have opted for RRSPs instead of RPPs. Our Alliance is representative of this Canadian diversity.
The objective of the Alliance is to maintain the current provisions of the Income Tax Act (the Act) and Income Tax Regulations (the Regulations) governing retirement savings. The current system is fundamentally good for the economy of Canada, and any changes made for short term deficit reduction will ultimately harm the economy in general and small and medium-sized business, in particular. Research shows that RRSPs are an important tool for small business retirement planning. Only in recent years have limits been adjusted to bring similar protection to those afforded under RPPs.
We have only just started to achieve a measure of equitable treatment for the retirement savings of the self-employed and employees not protected by employer pension plans. The current system provides for the harmonization of all tax-assisted retirement savings arrangements, which will only be achieved when the limits on money-purchase arrangements (including RRSPs) attain the equivalent limits already set for defined-benefit arrangements, such as employer pension plans.
Changes to RRSPs alone will discriminate against the self-employed and against employees without employer pension plans. These Canadians form the majority of the workforce now and in the future.
Arguments in favour of changes to the current system are based on two assumptions: firstly, that Canadians are saving sufficient income for their retirement and will continue to do so regardless of tax increases; and secondly, that the cost to the Government in lost tax revenues is enormous. Neither of these assumptions is valid.
The fiscal theory underlying retirement savings is decades old. Contributions to registered plans are deductible and all earnings are exempt from tax until benefits are paid out from those plans. In essence the retirement savings system consists of a deferral of tax on contributions and earnings.
The pension tax reform of 1989-1990 does not change the underlying fiscal theory. It aims to achieve equity between the employed and the self-employed and between defined benefit arrangements and money-purchase arrangements (including RRSPs).
That equity was achieved by phasing in a higher contribution limit for money-purchase arrangements so that they could, in the future, provide a retirement income comparable to that furnished by a defined benefit arrangement. This objective of achieving equivalence permeates the Act and the Regulations and has resulted in a substantial and continuing realignment of retirement savings arrangements in Canada. That realignment, with its attendant compliance costs, borne by employers and employees, was based on the acceptance of the premises behind pension tax reform, which acceptance Canadians have demonstrated.
This realignment had a gestation period of over 5 years. 1 From the 1984 federal budget, which sought complete equity but with massive compliance costs, to the 1985 federal budget, which sought lesser compliance costs but with diminished equity, there issued pension tax reform, which yields substantial equity with substantial compliance costs.
The Auditor General, in his 1988 report, estimated that pension tax reform would necessitate $330 million in start-up costs and $15 million in annual reporting costs. The Department of Finance disagreed and estimated that start-up costs would be from $60 to $70 million and that the annual reporting costs would be between $10 and $15 million. The independent consultant's report, upon which the Auditor General's report was based, had said that the start-up costs would be $395 million.
Accordingly, Canadians have already borne many of the costs of retooling the retirement savings system and will continue to do so. Having paid those costs, surely Canadians are entitled to the measure of equity that the system promises.
There are disquieting rumours about possible changes to the current retirement savings system. As yet, the government has said little on this issue, other than to say that the retirement system is not inviolable.
The Alliance seeks to maintain the status quo. We should, therefore, deal with the principles that underlie the current system, and which continue to hold true: internal fairness and the accumulation of sufficient retirement income.
The current system was reformed to deliver internal fairness - if not quite yet, by 1996. It allows individuals to accumulate a pre-determined amount of private retirement savings. Taxpayers may, on a tax-assisted basis, earn a lifetime pension at the rate of $1,722 per year. In other words, an employee with 35 years of service may be entitled, on retirement, to an annual lifetime pension of $60,270. That level of tax assistance has been available to members of defined benefit plans since 1977. It has been frozen at that level since that time and will remain frozen until 1996.
The money purchase limits, including RRSP limits, have been phased in to eventually provide equivalent benefits. Accordingly, the annual RRSP limits, when fully instituted in 1996, will allow the self-employed to accumulate retirement savings equivalent to those of members of defined benefit plans.
Thus, one of the rationales underlying the current retirement savings structure is to eliminate the earlier discrimination against the self-employed. The self-employed will now be allowed to achieve retirement savings equivalent to those available to employees. RRSPs are not an isolated program under the Act, but rather an integral component of an indissoluble whole.
Accumulation of Sufficient Retirement Income
The limits set by pension tax reform are intended to provide a level of retirement income that will allow retired individuals to maintain their standard of living. It is generally felt that a retirement income equal to about 60-70 percent of pre-retirement income should not result in a marked change in one's standard of living.
Increasingly, it appears that individual taxpayers will need to rely more on private retirement savings and less on public programmes. It is important, therefore, that the tax system permit the accumulation of retirement savings sufficient to allow taxpayers to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.
Indeed, it does not appear possible for money-purchase arrangements to reach, in most cases, the replacement ratio of 60 to 70 percent. Consider the following example. 2 Let us consider two taxpayers earning $50,000 and $100,000 respectively, in 1993 who maximize their contributions to RRSPs. What replacement income ratio can these taxpayers attain?
Assume that the taxpayers are married and that the annuity to be purchased from the RRSP, at retirement, has the following characteristics: post-retirement indexation at 3% per annum with a spousal survivor benefit of two-thirds. 3 The results of this hypothetical are:
[TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY]
RRSP as a percentage of final year's salary at a 1993 salary of $50,000 ($100,000)
Savings Start Age
The above table indicates, for example, that a 35-year old earning $50,000 in 1993 can, at most, earn a pension from an RRSP equal to 48.8% of his final year's income, if his retirement commences at age 65. In other words, after 30 years of working and saving, that individual will have a retirement income of less than half of his pre-retirement income. This is below the income replacement threshold assumed by pension tax reform itself. For the taxpayer earning $100,000 in 1993, his RRSP pension will be 37.6% of this pre-retirement income.
The only individual who attains an adequate replacement ratio, on these assumptions, is the 25-year old who saves for 40 years. It follows that, although the pension tax system espouses equivalence with the defined benefit pension plan, it does not attain it in practice.
Inequities in the Current System
In the current North American context, the limits of Canadian tax assistance for retirement savings are not generous. The equivalent money purchase and defined benefit limits for the United States, for example, are more than twice as generous as the Canadian limits. In addition, the Canadian system does not provide for deferrals of salary, as does the United States system.
Furthermore, inequities exist in the provision of supplementary retirement benefits. Supplementary benefits are those in excess of the $60,270 benchmark pension discussed above. They also include benefits that the Regulations, and the Department of National Revenue, do not allow to be paid from a registered pension plan. Servants of the people, such as Members of Parliament and Members of Provincial Legislatures, benefit from the privileged status of the payor of the pension, in that security of the pension promise is not an issue. Self-employed individuals and ordinary employees, on the other hand, must be concerned with the funding of their pension promise.
Requirement for Informed and Thoughtful Debate
In the early 1990s, annual contributions to RRSPs and RPPs exceeded $33 billion. Trusteed pensions, not including consolidated revenue fund plans, held $235 billion in assets at the end of 1992. The book value of the assets of such plans stood at $268 billion at the end of the first quarter of 1994. RRSP assets, not including self-directed plans, totalled $147 billion at the end of 1992.
In his discussion paper entitled Creating a Healthy Fiscal Climate: The Economic and Fiscal Update, released October 18, 1994, the Minister of Finance has indicated that the tax expenditure associated with all retirement savings for 1991 was $14.9 billion.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Department of Finance should cast a covetous eye at the retirement savings system. We are concerned that a search for easy sources of revenue might prompt the government to change the existing rules in the Act governing retirement savings. It is submitted, however, that changes to the system, although fiscally attractive in the short term, would be detrimental to Canadian taxpayers in the long run.
Deficit reduction should not be the sole motivating factor for change to the retirement savings system. The existing complex web of rules governing retirement savings should only be touched if there are compelling reasons, unrelated to immediate deficit reduction, to effect change. This is particularly so given the recent and unfinished reform of retirement savings arrangements in this country.
It is clear that this debate has not yet begun and cannot be completed before the next federal budget. The prudent approach, therefore, is to defer any change to the retirement savings system until that debate has taken its course.
A Framework for the Debate
The following parameters should govern any consideration of the changes to the retirement savings system.
1. The Principle of Even-Handedness
It is clear that all components of the retirement savings structure are interrelated. As a result, it would be unfair to single out RRSPs for detrimental treatment. RRSP savings are no different from other forms of retirement savings.
2. A Tax Increase
According to a recent study of the Canada Tax Foundation, 3.7 million Canadians contributed to RPPs, and 4.8 million Canadians contributed to RRSPs, in the 1992 taxation year. 4 In that year, 69.7 percent of contributors to RPPs and 60.5 percent of contributors to RRSPs were in the middle income range ($25,000 to $60,000).
Obviously, the participation rate by Canadians in retirement savings arrangements is quite high. A change to the retirement savings regime, by limiting deductibility of contributions for example, would be viewed as a tax increase by users of these arrangements. Indeed, for those individuals, any negative change to the retirement savings arrangement will have the same effect as a tax increase.
3. Job Creation
The quest for deficit reduction should not obscure the important role that government can play in creating an environment conducive to increasing employment opportunities. As the government has previously stated, the bulk of job creation must come from small and medium-sized businesses. As a result, the current retirement savings regime, and in particular RRSP investments, should be viewed as an asset, and not a liability.
The ability to deduct savings for retirement has the effect of increasing aggregate private savings as a source of funds for capital investment. 5 Reducing the tax incentive for retirement savings could have the effect of reducing the amount of "pooled" capital funds that could be made available for entrepreneurial activities. It would also add to the cost of doing business in Canada and stifle future employment opportunities.
The rules in the Income Tax Act that permit RRSP contributors to put investments in small businesses are insufficient at present and must be strenghtened if the government wants to encourage job creation. Canada's Economic Challenges 6 shows that small business is playing an increasing role in the economy. Any reduction in the existing schedule of limits will hurt the ability of small business to create jobs.
Indeed, the government should consider measures to increase the access by small and medium businesses to the retirement savings capital pool. The latest report of the House of Commons Industry Committee makes the point well:
Ottawa should use tax incentives to help improve the competitiveness of the Canadian small business sector...One way the government can increase small business access to capital would be to permit owners, operators and other major shareholders to use funds from their registered retirement savings plans to buy equity in their business...that would increase the availability of such "love capital". 7
4. The Tax Expenditure Calculation
As indicated earlier, it is said that the tax expenditure for all retirement savings for 1991 was $14.9 billion. That number suggests that the Government of Canada bears a high cost for its retirement savings system. However, it is our view that the calculation of that cost is not correct, with the result that the number is inflated.
The Department of Finance's calculation of the tax expenditure cost is arrived at by adding the value of deductions associated with contributions and the value of the tax shelter on earnings. From that result is subtracted the revenue generated from withdrawals. For example, for the 1991 taxation year, the $14.9 billion number noted above is calculated as follows:
Tax expenditure (RRSP)
= value of deductions + value of tax shelter - taxes on withdrawals
= $3.310 billion + $2.960 billion - .735 million
= $5.535 billion
Tax expenditure (RPP)
= value of deductions + value of tax shelter - taxes on withdrawals
= $4.460 billion + $8.950 billion - 4.030 billion
= $9.38 billion
Tax expenditure (RRSP + RPP) = $5.535 billion + $9.38 billion = $14.915 billion.
The Government of Canada has itself admitted that its calculation of tax expenditures is subjective. In the case of tax deferrals, it has further stated that:
Estimating the cost of tax deferrals presents a number of methodological difficulties since, even though the tax is not currently received, it may be collected at some point in the future. 8
The government has also specifically commented on tax expenditures associated with retirement savings:
It should be noted that the RRSP/RPP tax expenditure estimates do not reflect a mature system because contributions currently exceed withdrawals. Assuming a constant tax rate, if contributions equalled withdrawals, only the non-taxation of investment would contribute to the net tax expenditure. As time goes by and more retired individuals have had the opportunity to contribute to RRSPs throughout their lifetime, the gap between contributions and withdrawals will shrink and possibly even become negative. An upward bias in the current estimates can therefore be expected to decline. 9
The method used to calculate the tax expenditure costs associated with retirement savings is based on the "current cash-flow" model. In effect, the calculation takes a snapshot of a given year and does not take into account future income flows. As indicated above, the calculation adds the value in a year of tax deductions to the lost tax on earnings, and subtracts the tax generated from withdrawals.
We argue that that model is flawed. Current demographics show that the system is not yet mature since contributions will exceed withdrawals for some time.
Once the baby boom generation begins to retire, withdrawals will exceed contributions. Substantial revenues will be generated for the fisc, revenues necessary to support government programs of the day. The value of the tax on those withdrawals is totally ignored in the static model adopted by the Department of Finance.
Statistics Canada projects that the proportion of the Canadian population aged 70 and over will increase from 7.84% in 1991 to 10.6% in 2010. The numbers of such individuals will increase from 2.102 million in 1991, to 3.355 million in 2010, a 59.6 percent increase. Those individuals will be drawing pensions, both from RRSPs and RPPs. Those pensions will be taxed and will benefit the fisc.
Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the calculation adopted by the Government greatly over-values the cost to the fisc. A US commentator has suggested that government also gains "additional corporate tax revenue on the extra capital stock that results from higher savings. The government's official revenue estimates ignore this increase in corporate tax receipts." 10
To restate the position, the tax expenditure calculation adopts a static approach, both by considering only the current year's cash flows and by ignoring any secondary effects of the retirement savings pool. Until the true cost of the retirement savings system can be ascertained, the current estimates cannot be relied upon to justify change to the tax rules governing retirement savings.
While the Alliance recognizes the need for the Government to get its fiscal house in order, with a particular emphasis on the expenditure side of the equation, a proper balance must be struck between short-term solutions and longer-term consequences.
One important consideration is the long-term pain that would result from Canadians having less financial flexibility to properly plan for their retirement. This long-term consequence must be measured against the short-term gain in revenues that would result from a freeze or reduction in the contributions to RRSPs and RPPs.
At a time when the Government is encouraging greater self-reliance in matters of finance, further limiting Canadians' ability to adequately plan for their retirement would serve to aggravate the public future dependence on government programs. Looking at current demographic trends, it is important to ensure that all Canadians have an opportunity to set aside necessary financial resources that will be drawn upon (and taxed) at the time of retirement. If the government is looking to become more efficient in its delivery of public sector programs, it should also ensure that the private sector is allowed sufficient flexibility to meet its needs. In this context, the current retirement savings plans should be considered an investment in the future and should not be tampered with or diminished.
I THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONSIDER THE TOTAL COST OF THE RETIREMENT SAVINGS SYSTEM BEFORE MAKING ANY CHANGES TO THE INCOME TAX ACT.
II THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE EQUITY ESTABLISHED DURING PENSION REFORM NOT BE DISTURBED BY DISCRIMINATORY CHANGES AND THAT ANY FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES TO THE SYSTEM SHOULD INVOLVE A PROCESS OF INFORMED AND THOUGHTFUL INQUIRY AND DEBATE.
III THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOSTER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BY TREATING RRSP CONTRIBUTIONS AS ASSETS RATHER THAN LIABILITIES AND BY EXPLORING THE REGULATORY CHANGES NECESSARY TO ENSURE INCREASED ACCESS TO SUCH FUNDS BY SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED BUSINESSES.
1 Appendix A to this submission details the historical development of pension tax reform.
2 Taken from Sylvain Parent, FSA, FCIA, RRSP income replacement levels: a case study, 1993 Pension & Tax Reports; 4:93-94.
3 Further assumptions are as follows: rate of return is 7.5% per annum; yearly salary increases are 5.5% per annum; mortality is 80% of the average of the 1983 Group Annuity Mortality rates for males and females.
4 Perry, David B, Everyone's Tax Shelter At Risk, Canadian Tax Highlights, Volume 2, number 10, October 19, 1994; p. 75.
5 Andrews and Bradford, Savings Incentives in a Hybrid Income Tax, Studies of Government and Finance, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC; February, 1988.
6 Department of Finance, January, 1994, p. 30.
7 Special Report, The Public Sector, October 24, 1994.
8 Government of Canada, Personal and corporate income tax expenditures, December 1993, p.4.
9 Ibid., p.53.
10 Feldstein, Martin. The Effects of Tax-Based Incentives on Government Revenue and National Saving, NBER Working Paper #4021, March 1992. This position has been dismissed, out of hand and with no reasons, by two Canadian commentators: Ingerman, Sid and Rowley, Robin, Tax Losses and Retirement Savings, Canadian Business Economics, Vol. 2, No. 4, Summer 1994, pp. 46-54.