Madam Speaker, today I am speaking on behalf of the government about Bill C-274.
We all agree that small businesses are key to our prosperous communities. They provide important goods and services, create jobs, and weave themselves into the fabric of our communities, in which they have a genuine interest.
The Government of Canada wants the small business sector to remain stable and dynamic. Is Bill C-274 in the best interest of small businesses? The government's position, which I support, is this: the bill is well-intentioned, but the government is very concerned about its unintended consequences and whether it will really work.
The main problem is that it will open the door to tax avoidance. The Government of Canada cannot allow that possibility. The stated purpose of this bill is to amend the Income Tax Act to facilitate the transfer of small businesses and family farm and fishing corporations among family members.
To that end, the bill would dilute two longstanding anti-avoidance rules found in the Income Tax Act. First, we must answer the following important question: why are these anti-avoidance rules in place? Their objective is certainly not to discourage the transfer of small businesses to family members. These rules exist because without them certain individuals would have greater opportunities to engage in inappropriate tax avoidance.
Measures that would introduce tax loopholes would not be consistent with the principles of fairness, economic efficiency, and responsible fiscal management.
As I mentioned, the bill would dilute two longstanding anti-avoidance rules found in the Income Tax Act; specifically, it would amend sections 55 and 84.1 of the act.
I would now like to focus on section 84.1. This anti-avoidance rule may apply when an individual sells shares of one corporation to another corporation that is linked to the individual. When an individual sells shares of a Canadian corporation to a linked corporation, section 84.1 of the Income Tax Act deems that the individual has received a taxable dividend from the linked corporation rather than a capital gain, which is taxed at a lower rate in certain circumstances. Why? It is because the linked corporation could use the proceeds of the dividend paid by the Canadian corporation and give it to the individual in exchange for shares.
In other words, the individual is taxed based on the principle whereby dividends can be extracted from the Canadian corporation in order to be paid to the individual and should be taxable in his or her hands as dividends. Without this rule, such sales between related parties could be used to convert dividends for an individual into capital gains that are taxed at a lower rate, including gains eligible for a lifetime capital gains exemption.
Bill C-274 proposes narrowing the scope of section 84.1 by removing the sale of shares of certain companies from its application. These companies include eligible small businesses and family farm or fishing corporations sold by an individual to another firm owned by an adult child or grandchild of that individual.
This change will allow the owner-operator of a family business to convert the dividends of the corporation into taxable capital gains at a lower tax rate. Such conversions of corporate dividends into capital gains taxed at a lower rate could be done as often as the owner-operator wants to extract the corporation's surpluses and receive a fiscal benefit.
While the main purpose of section 84.1 is to limit the application of the lifetime capital gains exemption, there are similar concerns regarding cases where no exemption is requested because of different personal income tax rates that apply to taxable dividends and capital gains.
In 2017, the highest combined federal-provincial personal income tax rate on capital gains is roughly 17.8 percentage points lower than the rate applicable to dividends.
This difference in personal income tax rates means that for every extra $100,000 that is converted into a taxable capital gain, the federal-provincial savings can be as high as $17,800.
It is important to note that there is nothing stopping a parent from selling their shares of the family business directly to their child or grandchild and claiming the lifetime capital gains exemption on the capital gains, and then claiming as taxable capital gains any other gains from the sale of the shares that are not eligible for the lifetime capital gains exemption.
The anti-avoidance rule set out in section 84.1 applies when the shares are sold to a company owned by the child or grandchild of that taxpayer. The tax rules already allow for the intergenerational transfer of a business directly to a child or a grandchild.
Adopting the proposed changes to section 84.1 would open the door to new avoidance possibilities. This would unfairly benefit wealthy individuals instead of members of the broader middle class.
Based on a series of reasonable assumptions on how Canadians would react to this measure, the Minister of Finance believes that the proposed amendment would cost the federal government between $350 million and $1.2 billion a year. This clearly goes against the government's overall objective to strengthen support for the middle class and those working hard to join it.
It is also important to point out that, according to analyses conducted by third parties, Canada has a good tax system and is an excellent place to do business. According to a KPMG study, total business tax costs in Canada are the lowest in the G7 and 48% lower than those in the United States.
The government is currently making unprecedented investments in infrastructure and innovation that will expand opportunities in the country and result in stronger and more inclusive growth. What is more, the government has lowered taxes for nearly nine million Canadians, and 9 out of 10 families with children now receive higher benefits through our new Canada child benefit program.
That means more disposable income for middle-class Canadians and a stronger economy, which will benefit small businesses.
In closing, I understand the reasons behind Bill C-274. We all want the tax rules to be simple, fair, and conducive to small business growth. However, ultimately, the opportunities for tax avoidance that would arise from the passing of Bill C-274 far outweigh any possible benefit.
Bill C-274 would not make the tax system any fairer. On the contrary, it would give wealthy individuals the opportunity to use private corporations for tax planning purposes. It would result in pressure to weaken other anti-avoidance rules.
For these reasons, I urge the members of this House to vote against Bill C-274.