Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I thank the members for the invitation to speak before the finance committee today.
I would like to confine my remarks to the small business job credit as proposed in the omnibus bill under discussion. I'm concerned that the credit is not optimally structured for the desired result. If the desired result is incentivizing small business toward job creation, the credit could actually be much better designed, and I'd like to suggest some changes to that credit today that would make it much more targeted so that hopefully it would have a much greater impact.
As presently constructed, the cost per job of this credit is quite high. In 2016 the cost per job created will be $500,000 per job created. In 2015 it will be much higher, at $1.4 million per job created, as estimated using the multipliers from Finance Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Office.
The cost per job is high for three reasons. First, the incentives are too small. Second, the targeting is poor, and third, there is a harsh cut-off at $15,000 in EI contributions for businesses. These can be modified to better target the small business job credit such that it does create jobs.
First of all, the incentive for job creation is vanishingly small. Imagine a store, if you will, at your local mall that is running a winter promotion. If you spend $100 on a winter coat, they will give you 39¢ back. This is an incredibly small incentive. It is an incentive but an incredibly small one. The reason it is so small, despite the fact the program is expensive at $550 million over two years, is that the deadweight loss in the program is incredibly large. The credit is received by all small businesses, irrespective of action. Whether they hire employees, fire employees, or remain at the same employment levels, they still get the credit.
A better approach, I would suggest to members, is that businesses only receive this credit if their EI deductions and therefore their payroll is increased by some figure, say more than 2% from the previous year. That is to say businesses would explicitly have to take action to receive the credit. That is to say they would have to increase their payrolls, hire more people, or pay their present employees more. This could significantly increase the value of the benefit from 39¢ per $100 to probably in the neighbourhood of $20 to $30 per $100, creating a much greater incentive.
The program, as it's currently stated, is poorly targeted, because it is essentially targeted to microbusinesses. Three out of the four top categories of microbusinesses are small offices of professionals, that is to say consultants, other professionals, and doctors' offices, which have limited capacity for more hiring. These one-person firms would receive value under this credit that they would likely not use for new hiring.
My third concern is that there is a cliff created for this credit at $15,000 of EI premiums paid. This, I would argue, is going to have unintended consequences. For instance, if a business has EI deductions of $15,000 in 2015, they would get the maximum credit of $2,200. However, if their have EI deductions of $15,001 in 2015, they will get nothing. So one additional $1 completely eliminates the credit.
This creates unintended consequences. If a business is below the cap, there is an incentive to remain below the cap to retain the credit and not expand. If the business is slightly above the cap, there is a strong incentive to in fact reduce payroll, either by laying employees off, cutting their hours, or cutting their pay in order to get slightly below the cap in order to retain the benefits of the program. This effect is actually seen in the small business tax rate for small corporations in Canada, where you see a higher blip of companies declaring slightly under the line in order to maintain the tax benefits.
I would argue that a better approach instead of a cliff at $15,000 is to have a phase-out, which is common in most benefit programs of this type.
I'd also encourage members to better target this program toward areas of higher unemployment, for instance, toward youth, who have higher unemployment, as well as to encourage businesses to hire employees not exclusively at minimum wage, which is likely what would happen in this case, but instead at those making more than minimum wage.
On a final point, I'd like to remind members that given the economic multipliers, as published by Finance Canada in 2009, support for the unemployed actually has three to four times more job creation impact than decreasing EI premium changes, which is what's proposed for this job credit. Only two in five unemployed Canadians today can access the EI system and retain its benefits, so I would argue that a better use of this money could well be to standardize and decrease the minimum number of hours worked to access the EI system.
Thank you very much, members, for your attention. I look forward to your questions.