Ruth Mason, Class of 1957 Research Professor of Law, University of Virginia, will visit McGill next Monday to give a talk on her forthcoming work with Leopolda Parada on the compatibility of digital services taxes with EU law. In brief Mason and Parada posit that the focus of proposed EU digital services taxes on very large multinationals is intended to target US-based giants (Google, Amazon, etc) but in fact implicate EU treaty-based anti-discrimination provisions applicable to their EU-based subsidiaries. Here is the abstract:
This Article uses the example of company-size classifications to explore the role of disproportionate impact and legislative intent in judicial review of Member State laws for nationality discrimination. Our discussion of disproportionate impact is mostly descriptive—we explore how the Court has resolved questions of quantum and proof in the cases. Our discussion of intent is mostly normative—we argue, contrary to current doctrine, that courts should consider the legislature’s intentions as probative, but not dispositive, of discrimination.
We chose company size for two reasons. First, discussion of company size as covert nationality discrimination is new to the literature. Second, Member States increasingly use company-size classifications in tax laws; Poland and Hungary recently used turnover (as opposed to net income) to determine tax rates; and Spain proposes to use turnover to establish liability for its new digital services tax.
To illustrate how the Court of Justice might apply our approach to size discrimination, we consider whether the company-size thresholds in Spain’s and the EU’s recent proposals for a digital services tax constitute covert nationality discrimination. More generally, cooperative negotiations at the OECD towards reform that would appropriately tax the modern, digital economy must account for limitations imposed by EU law, and in particular its prohibition on nationality discrimination.The tax policy colloquium at McGill is supported by a grant made by the law firm Spiegel Sohmer, Inc., for the purpose of fostering an academic community in which learning and scholarship may flourish. The land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk), a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. This fall the Colloquium explores a range of contemporary tax topics across three disciplines--law, economics, and philosophy. The complete colloquium schedule is below and more information is available here. The Colloquium is convened by Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Taxation Law.
As always, the colloquium is free and open to all. Prof Mason will speak on Monday December 3 at 4-5:30pm, New Chancellor Day Hall, Room 102.
Tagged as: colloquium EU international law McGill tax policy TFEU
Today at McGill Law, Prof. Sam Singer of Thompson Rivers University will present his work in progress, entitled "Evaluating Canadian Tax Remission Orders: A Debt Relief Vehicle for Taxpayers," as part of the annual Spiegel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium at McGill Law.
Here is the abstract:
Remission orders, although rare, serve important functions in the Canadian tax system. This paper draws from a comprehensive study of federal tax remission orders issued between 1998 and 2017. It presents general findings about remission orders in that time period, including the number of remission orders issued, their reported costs, and the number of remission order applications. The paper identifies the five most common categories of reasons cited for granting remission orders. It then applies tax policy analysis to assess the two most frequent reasons for granting remission orders: to provide debt relief for financial hardship and/or extenuating circumstances, and to provide remedies for government errors and delays. This study also highlights concerns about the federal tax remission system, and provides recommendations for improving its fairness, transparency, and accountability.For those not familiar with the practice of remission in tax, this is a regime under which the taxpayer can ask the tax authority to forgive their tax debts, manly due to hardship or extenuating circumstances. This was a new concept to me when I came to McGill in 2012 and learned about a rather generous remission order granted to Blackberry in what I assumed to be a last-ditch effort in the nature of industrial policy and national protectionism--but Prof. Singer's paper makes clear that the remission order is not only (or even primarily) for massive multinational companies. I am bothered by the idea that the tax authority has a more or less obscure power to forgive the tax debts of some taxpayers under unclear circumstances and using criteria that are not transparent or reviewable. This seems to me to be a tool which could create great distrust in the tax system, in terms of both procedural fairness for taxpayers who don't know about or get remission orders but also in terms of the opacity behind which some officials appear to have a tool to help selected individuals at their will. I look forward to the discussion of Prof. Singer's paper and the implications of this research for the big questions of tax governance.
The tax policy colloquium at McGill is supported by a grant made by the law firm Spiegel Sohmer, Inc., for the purpose of fostering an academic community in which learning and scholarship may flourish. The land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk), a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations.
This fall the Colloquium will explore a range of contemporary tax topics across three disciplines--law, economics, and philosophy. The complete colloquium schedule is below and more information is available here. As always, the colloquium is free and open to all.
The Colloquium is convened by Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Taxation Law.
Tagged as: colloquium McGill tax policy
With the return of Canada's Parliament to business this week, debate theoretically should take place on Bill C-82, An Act to implement a multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting, a.k.a. the "Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions Act" (the official short title). But we can call it the BEPS bill since its job is to implement a set of consensus positions the OECD developed to eliminate "Base Erosion and Profit Shifting" by multinational taxpayers.
This BEPS Bill implements the OECD's MLI to Prevent BEPS, which is a multilateral treaty that amends existing bilateral tax treaties. The rationale is that countries were engaging in or at least facilitating BEPS, and they were often doing so through tax treaties, so a blanket change to a few thousand of these treaties was needed to prevent ongoing tax avoidance.
Given that the BEPS bill adopts one treaty to rule them all, Parliament might be expected to undertake careful scrutiny of its terms, but these expectations are not likely to be met. A study I completed with help from a very adept graduate student in 2016, entitled “While Parliament Sleeps: Tax Treaty Practice in Canada,” (published in the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law / Revue de droit parlementaire et politique 10 (1) : 15-38, March / mars 2016 and available in draft form here), found that over a fifteen year period, Parliament has adopted legislation implementing 32 international tax agreements without a single standing vote occurring in the House of Commons at any point in the legislative process.
These 32 agreements collectively form over 750 pages of binding law in Canada, none of which was considered for more than two sittings at any stage of consideration in either the Senate or House of Commons.
In Canada, tax-treaty implementing legislation is generally introduced in the Senate, studied very little there, and then sent to the House of Commons where it receives even less attention. Although tax scholars focus, rightfully, on scrutinizing the substance of tax treaties, we should not be lulled into ignoring the process by which Parliament discharges its role in legislating tax treaty implementation. To that end, some of the debate in Parliament is downright disappointing.
For example, consider the most recent exercise (written after my study), when the Senate was seized with Bill S-4, whose official summary reads:
This enactment implements a convention between the Government of Canada and the Government of the State of Israel for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and an arrangement between the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income. It also amends the Canada–Hong Kong Tax Agreement Act, 2013 to add to it, for greater certainty, an interpretation provision.In a speech of only a few minutes on the bill, the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate stated:
It is urgent that we move forward with the study of this bill because if we want the agreements on double taxation to go into effect in 2017, the bill must receive Royal Assent by the end of 2016. Therefore, I invite all honourable Senators who wish to speak to this bill to do so as quickly as possible so that the bill may be referred to a committee as soon as possible.In total, the entire House Finance Committee's study took less than 15 minutes. The third reading debate in the Senate lasted less than 10 minutes and, after calling the bill a "no-brainer," a "marvellous bill," and "a continuity-of-government bill" that "does wonderful things for Canadian industry and consumers alike," the Senators continued with this exchange:
Senator Day: Should I tell anybody what this bill is about?Then followed a dubiously notable comment by Senator Plett that "I'd like to add my voice and simply say that this, again, is clear evidence that occasionally a good biscuit can be found in a garbage can."
Some Hon. Senators: No.
The idea that Parliament should rush to meet the government’s preferred timetable in what the Senate characterizes as a "garbage can" of a bill (or of a government--I am not sure which) is highly problematic. If it takes longer to scrutinize a bill, so be it. The government – for its part – didn’t leave Parliament much time in this case, having only introduced S-4 in the Senate on November 1st, 2016. By the time the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate got to make her speech on November 24th, the clock was ticking quickly toward the MPs' and Senators' winter break.
I single out this debate not only for the unprincipled concession to expedited timing, but particularly for the exchange that followed. A Senator asked the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate “In your opinion, does the bill before us pertain to our participation in the WTO?” The response: “I do not know much about this bill. However, I do know that it is important, that it is urgent that we move it along, and that it has significant consequences.”
Putting aside the carefree decision to speak to a bill one “does not know much about” and the apparent confusion about how the bill relates to the WTO (did the Senator mistake a tax treaty for a trade agreement?), it would be hard to characterize the limited early Senate Chamber debate as well-informed or thoughtful in any way. On the House side, the bill was fast-tracked – a motion passed by unanimous consent stipulated that “when the House begins debate on the third reading motion of the Bill, a Member from each recognized party, as well as a Member from the Bloc Québécois, may speak for not more than five minutes, with no question and comment period, after which the Bill shall be deemed read a third time and passed."
As such, in its last debate, the bill received less than 20 minutes of attention in the House with no questions –that is, each party spoke but there was no dialogue in substance. The bill received Royal Assent on December 15th, 2016.
This brings me back to the BEPS Bill, which actually bucks the trend by being introduced in the House of Commons instead of the Senate. This is important because even though Senate debates on tax treaty implementing legislation are limited (as evidenced above), the Senate is still the body that generally studies these matters and has nominally built up expertise. Because the general trend in Parliament is that the Chamber that receives a tax bill second is the one that studies it less, one is left to hope without confidence that the House will undertake its due diligence.
There is cause for concern with C-82. Unlike the other tax treaty implementing bills I studied, this was preceded by a ways and means motion that provided the text of the bill in advance. In other words, the Minister of Finance tabled a notice on May 28th that contained essentially what would become C-82. But, rather than debate the Notice, the House on June 19th deemed that motion agreed to and further deemed the BEPS bill formally introduced.
Without venturing too far into the procedural weeds, it is perhaps sufficient to observe that there could have been a debate on that ways and means motion. Instead, the decision in June deemed this motion adopted ‘on division’ – that is, dissent is indicated for the record but we don’t know who disagreed or on what basis because there was no actual debate on the record.
This leads me to wonder whether we’ll see an actual debate occur on the merits of C-82 if even its introduction was fast-tracked through deeming. I doubt it. After all, MPs (and Senators alike) often find tax matters confusing and technical. Maybe in this case especially, the whole things seems like a foregone conclusion since we are talking about an OECD initiative in which Canada has been involved over many years. Moreover, Canada's undertakings in the MLI are modest to say the least. Even so, that doesn’t mean these bills don’t deserve careful study since it is agreed that certain tax arrangements erode Canada’s tax base (cf: the recently decided Alta Energy case). It is much harder (and more costly) to re-negotiate and re-legislate (if need be) a treaty than to get things right the first time (for a discussion, see See Charlie Feldman, “Parliamentary Practice and Treaties” (2015) 9 J. Parliamentary & Pol. L. 585). Adopt in haste, repent at leisure ought to be a mantra for tax treaties.
Unfortunately, Canada's Parliament has limited involvement in the treaty process and only so much influence over treaty-implementing legislation. An additional concern is that there is only so much time left in the legislative calendar with an election a year away. The government has important pieces of legislation moving – including implementing the TPP, adopting the first-ever national legislation on accessibility, and an election law overhaul that the government has already tried to fast-track. Moreover, of the 366 commitments the Trudeau government has made, the government’s own analysis indicates that just 96 have thus far been met. Many others also
Moreover, Parliament already has many bills to consider which have yet to complete the legislative process. Parliament's Legislation-at-a-glance page shows just how much each House has before it already, including criminal justice and family law reforms, firearms regulation, and military justice changes remaining in the House, and many big legislative matters before the Senate including bills on sustainable development, access to information, and fisheries reform. While the BEPS bill could be a step ahead of bills yet to come, it is easy to imagine easier-to-debate matters (such as labour reforms) getting much more debate in the House and, if and when it does get to the Senate, that body will be even more pressed for time given all the other items from the House being added to its plate.
Tagged as: BEPS Canada MLI scholarship
I'm very happy to announce the 2018 McGill Tax Policy Colloquium, which will take an interdisciplinary approach to tax policy analysis. The colloquium is made possible by a grant from Spiegel Sohmer. The land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk), a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. The distinguished speakers who will contribute to this year’s colloquium include:
- Oct 22: Sam Singer, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Thompson Rivers University. Prof. Singer's research focuses on tax dispute resolution, the policy rationales underlying tax measures, and the regulation of charities and charitable giving.
- Nov 12: Lindsay Tedds, Scientific Director of Fiscal and Economic Policy and Associate Professor, Department of Economics, University of Calgary. Dr. Tedds’ research focuses on tax policy and she has done extensive work with the Government of Canada in the areas of public economics and policy implementation.
- Nov 19: Laurens van Apeldoorn, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Leiden University. Prof. Van Apeldoorn’s research examines the nature and prospects of the sovereign state, with a special focus on the normative aspects of international taxation rules in relation to the global justice.
- Nov 26: Frances Woolley, Full Professor, Department of Economics, Carleton University and President, Canadian Economics Association. Prof. Wooley’s expertise and research focus on economics of the family, gender and intra-house inequality, taxation and benefits for and of families, and feminist economics.
- Dec 3: Ruth Mason, Full Professor, School of Law, University of Virginia. Prof. Mason’s research focuses on international, comparative, and state taxation. Her work on tax non-discrimination laws’ effect on cross-border commerce has been cited extensively, including by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tagged as: colloquium McGill scholarship tax policy
Every year I make this primer, an Introduction to Tax Policy Theory, available to my tax policy students (and otherwise send it whenever I'm asked for an overview look at tax policy basics), so I decided to post it on SSRN. It is not a published piece but may be some day. Here is the description:
Taxation involves the compulsory transfer of resources among members of society. Tax policy is concerned with how societies carry out taxation. That is a technical and legal question, but it is inescapably a political, social, and cultural one as well. To study tax policy is to engage simultaneously with the existential philosophical foundations of taxation: why and how societies tax. This introduction to tax policy theory presents an overview of tax policy discourse. The goal is to outline a working framework for reflection and analysis to examine the ways in which current assumptions and approaches require further development.
Part I asks why we tax, and posits state-building, internal management, and negotiated expansion as three broad goals. Part II asks how we should tax, and examines the conventional frameworks of equity, efficiency, and administrative capacity as the three guiding principles for most tax policy analysis. Part III concludes.And here is the brief TOC:
Tagged as: scholarship tax policy theory
Subscribing to the core idea that income should be taxed where value is created, the international community has devised a set of tax base protecting rules to counter a world in which highly profitable multinational companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon pay very little in taxation. But these rules rely on assumptions about value that tend to allocate most revenues from international trade and commerce to rich countries while, whether intentionally or not, depriving poorer countries of their proper share. This article argues that a rigorous examination of what we mean by value would prompt changes in this allocation. To demonstrate with a concrete example, the article examines wages paid to workers in low income countries and reveals a clear and well-documented gap between market price and fair market value resulting from labor exploitation. It then demonstrates how to apply this knowledge to existing international tax rule sets to reallocate profits to align more closely to the value-based ideal. If accepted in principle, the proposed approach could be expanded beyond wages to consider other areas in which prices do not align with value creation. Ultimately this could provide a more detailed template to reallocate multinational revenues in a way that does not inappropriately benefit richer countries at the expense of poorer ones.My powerpoint presentation of the paper is available in PPT here and in PDF here. I have used various versions of this powerpoint in presenting this paper a couple of times now, with (hopefully) some improvements in each presentation.
As depicted in one of my slides, I have encountered a perplexing mix of reactions to the ideas presented in this paper. Feedback ranges from "will make administration and compliance impossible for tax authorities and taxpayers alike" to "won't change anything, profit shifters gonna profit shift" to "great idea; doesn't go far enough." I wonder if a competent authority faced with a price adjusted per our proposal would see it as a position reasonable and consistent with the ALTP as we do, and whether it actually matters to the competent authority whether it is reasonable or consistent or not (I will admit that I am skeptical that competent authorities work out disputes among themselves on the merits: see this paper for why).
Tagged as: corporate tax economics scholarship tax policy transfer pricing
For female law students: 5 warning signs your important interview with that law firm won't yield you a job offer
[Update: I understand that some find this post to be (1) making a causal claim that is (2) sexist or misses sexism as a main causal factor of an unsuccessful job interview. I can see that I used the word "reasons" in the title, and that isn't right. As the blog post makes clear, I offered these as warning signs, not reasons: as I say below, "I have no way to know any more than they did who got the job or why they didn't get the job." The idea of this post is to explore some of the flags that might indicate an interview is not going as well as it seems on the surface. The reasons for which the interview might not be going well are many, and among them are pernicious behaviours and expectations. I revised the title to better reflect the content of the blog post but have not revised the text of the post below.]
I hear from law students all the time that an interview they thought went very very well didn't land them the job. A lot of the time (not always) these are female students. A lot of the time (not always) they were perfectly qualified and very capable. A lot of the time (not always) I think they probably would have done very well in a law firm job. I have no way to know any more than they did who got the job or why they didn't get the job.
However, I can identify some warning signs from my own experiences (not all horrible) and through countless conversations with my students over the years. In the hopes that this will help someone in some future interview, I offer five signs things didn't go as well as you thought they did:
1) You were wearing something uncomfortable. Believe me, it showed. If something is itchy or your feet hurt or whatever, if you thought for even one nanosecond about anything you were wearing, the interview was over that moment. Doubly over if you happened to inspect any part of yourself at any time. You were distracted, and your distress was noticeable. You did not go to this interview to impress someone with your impeccable taste in fashion. Be professional yes but be comfortable and laser focused at all times on why you are there.
2) The interviewer at any time looked at any piece of paper or a phone or iPad or anything but you. Clearly whatever was on the paper or the screen was more more important than you. You were supposed to be the star of this show, and you didn't command the full attention of your audience. Why is that? Are you waiting for the interviewer to ask you a good question, hopefully one that you meticulously prepared to answer? Why are you waiting for that? Your job in the interview is to actively engage the interviewer. Not the other way around.
3) There was more than one interviewer, and at some point they looked at or talked to one another instead of you. These interviewers are tired and they sat through a lot of interviewees today, making constant, mostly negative, judgments and decisions about a lot of people they don't know. They are looking for a way to take a mental pause during your interview. When you got lulled into that energy, you gave them the excuse; this is not a serious candidate, so we are on break now. If you don't wake them up, get them sitting straight in their chairs and laser focused on you, you will not get the job.
4) The interview mainly focused on your hobbies/other interests/places you've traveled; the firm's pro bono work; or its strong commitment to work-life balance. This is a job interview. You are being inspected for signs that you might not be 100% committed to living out your full life within the four walls of your office, serving the firm's paying clients with selfless dedication. You don't have any hobbies that don't involve reading the business section of the newspaper. (Note: take the hobbies or outside interests etc section off your resume and if anyone asks you what your hobbies are, they are: reading the business section of the newspaper, e.g., to see what new deals are unfolding. And then steer the conversation back to the job).
5) A day or a week after the interview, the thing you recollect the most is that the interview seemed pleasant and easy, and everyone was nice. You got a few minutes to make an impression that you are serious, capable, and a boss, and instead, you spent your time trying to be pleasant and unobtrusive. Stop trying to make people like you: you need to think about what you are doing that makes people not take you seriously. Is it your passive or deferential behaviour? Why do you think any law firm would want to hire a lawyer with those characteristics? They don't want to. So stop it.
You can commit a lot of perception errors in an interview. These are only five of the ones I note on an annual basis. If you notice them happening, realizing you are in a hole could be the first step to changing the conversation.
Tagged as: general life advice for law students
Nate Jensen recently published an op-ed of note, asking "Why Are Your State Tax Dollars Subsidizing Corporations?" Nate has studied tax and corporate decision making for some time, and recently published "Incentives to Pander: How Politicians Use Corporate Welfare for Political Gain", which is on my reading list. This is, of course, a favourite topic of mine. A few excerpts from the op-ed:
Politicians are using public policies, from renaming a city to offering billions of dollars in grants, infrastructure improvements and tax abatements, to take credit for companies’ location decisions. ...
In all likelihood, incentives are overpaying firms, leading to lost resources that could be used for other purposes. If the incentives don’t pay for themselves, they must be paid for by either higher taxes or decreases on government spending. Local school districts are vocal opponents of incentives; they see their tax base being given away in the name of economic development.
But in fact it is most likely the quality of the work force that will be the deciding factor for Amazon, not the billions in incentives. Proponents of incentives often claim that these subsidies pay for themselves, and voters often support these efforts, believing the promises of good jobs. But this is possible only if governments perfectly target the companies that require incentives and pay just enough, and not a penny more, to sway a company’s decision.
...Political pandering is behind this explosion. But there is also some of what Brink Lindsey of the Niskanen Center and the political scientist Steven Teles call the “captured economy.” In between these politicians and corporations are economic incentive consultants, tax professionals and lobbyists all providing ways for businesses to maximize their take, and getting a percentage of these incentives in return.
There is a role for government in economic development. State and local governments can help businesses without access to finance survive and expand, provide worker training that is valuable to residents and companies, and invest in traditional education from pre-K to college. There are certainly worthy investments that can be made. But $7 million for Carrier, $3 billion for Foxconn and billions for Amazon is just using the public coffers for political theater.Highly recommended reading in full for anyone interested in tax competition.
A full house expected for today's event, but it's not too late to join us if you're in Montreal!
Tagged as: conference McGill tax technology
The latest edition of the Canadian Tax Journal [gated] has a nice article by Daria Crisan and Kenneth J McKenzie that documents Canada's relatively generous tax subsidies for R&D spending, yet relatively underwhelming investment by large corporations, over the period 1981-2016. The article briefly summarizes the chronology of federal R&D programs and gives an overview of provincial policies. It finds that while Canada's spending on R&D is high relative to peer countries, the amount of R&D being undertaken relative to GDP consistently underperforms these peers and continues to decline. The bulk of the article is a presentation of data showing these trends. The conclusion is intriguing, positing three possible explanations for the puzzle of high spending but low investment:
The first is the rather obvious point that it may well be that Canada’s r&d performance would have been even worse in the absence of the subsidies. Of course we don’t observe this counterfactual, but it is consistent with the above observations.
The second comment is more speculative ... Canada relies much more than
other countries on the type of “indirect” tax subsidies that we consider here, which
are generally available to all companies, as opposed to “direct” subsidies, such as
targeted grants. It could be that the nature of r&d subsidies in Canada—the reliance
on indirect tax incentives rather than direct grants—is the problem. ...
This leads to our third, and final, observation. To our knowledge, there is in factThe authors conclude that their own ongoing research involves an empirical investigation of the effectiveness of direct and indirect incentives in promoting business r&d investment in Canadian
very little rigorous empirical evidence regarding the efficacy of direct versus
indirect government subsidies for r&d. Moving in this direction may well be the
right thing to do, but this seems to us to be based more on faith, and perhaps some
frustration with the Canadian “r&d policy puzzle,” than on solid empirical evidence.
Our hope is that the data presented here provide, at least in part, the basis
for additional research in this regard in a Canadian context.
I don't know whether the type of spending matters in terms of investment incentives. I would think that it matters what the spending is related to. For example, does spending a lot of money on companies to patent things actually lead to "innovation," whatever that word means? What I have read to date suggests not. There seems to be a strong connection of innovation spending toward traditional legal rights in copyright and patent, but these rights seem decreasingly relevant to many contemporary innovative business models.
Despite a general lack of empirical evidence that taxpayer dollars are well spent on R&D subsidies, governments everywhere spend and spend and spend to spur innovation. As a result empirical studies that shed light on the efficacy of this spending will always be welcome. If the studies show that traditional modes of subsidizing R&D do not provide the intended results, the question is whether governments themselves will be willing and able to innovate in terms of how they support innovation. From the chronology presented herein and my own research on the topic, the prospects seem dim. I look forward to seeing more of this important research.