TAX, SOCIETY & CULTURE

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Canada implements the MLI on BEPS; Will Parliament Take a Nap?

Published Sep 20, 2018 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

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?
Some Hon. Senators: No.
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."

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 require legislation, for example, the specific commitments to “introduce proactive pay equity legislation for federally-regulated workers"; to modify Canada’s oath of citizenship to reflect Canadian and Indigenous history; to introduce an Indigenous Languages Act; and to reform the Canada Labour Code to help precarious workers.

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.

With all these bills anticipated, and little experience in tax treaties, will the House give the BEPS bill its due? Unlikely. It is more likely that as far as Canada is concerned, C-82 will be a Bill Evading Parliamentary Scrutiny.

Tagged as: BEPS Canada MLI scholarship

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Introduction to Tax Policy Theory

Published Jun 14, 2018 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

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:

I.          Why Do We Tax?        
A.         State Building
B.         Internal Management
C.         Negotiated Expansion
II.         Normative Foundations          
A.         Equity
B.         Economic Efficiency
C.         Administrative Capacity
III.        Conclusion

Input as to what is missing is welcome; this is a work in progress. 

Tagged as: scholarship tax policy theory

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Jensen on the costly politics of tax competition

Published Mar 10, 2018 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

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.

Tagged as: jurisdiction lobbying political malfunction politics scholarship tax competition

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Today at McGill: Brooks on Comparative Tax Law: Development of the Discipline

Published Dec 04, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Today at McGill, Professor Kim Brooks will present her current work in progress as the final speaker of the 2017 tax policy colloquium at McGill Law. Here is the abstract:

The new millennium has inspired renewed interest in comparative law generally and comparative tax law in particular, with practitioners and scholars rapidly building the literature that defines the modern field. Despite the increase in authors undertaking comparative tax work, however, the contours of the theoretical and methodological debates lack definition; despite several leading articles that call on scholars to actively engage with each other on matters of approach, most scholars continue to “write alone”; and despite the increasing availability of thoughtful comparative law textbooks and monographs, tax scholars do not connect their work with debates in comparative law generally.

In this paper, I provide a foundation for future comparative tax law research. Part 1 reviews the major debates and theoretical directions in comparative law scholarship, focusing on the recent work in the field. Part 2 offers an intellectual history of comparative tax law scholarship, identifying the major contributors to the discipline of comparative tax law and conceptualizing the field’s development in five stages. Finally, Part 3 generates a taxonomy of modern comparative tax law research based on its
underlying purpose, explores how that work connects to the comparative law field, and identifies approaches to comparative tax law method, in the light of the work to date, that best advance tax knowledge.

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, in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the introduction of federal income taxation in Canada, the Colloquium focuses on the historical significance and development, as well as the most recent challenges, of the modern tax system in Canada and around the world. 

The Colloquium is convened by Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Taxation Law. 

Prof. Brooks' talk will take place from 2:35-5:35pm in the newly renovated Chancellor Day Hall Room 101, 3644 Peel Ave, Montreal. All are welcome to attend.

Tagged as: colloquium comparative law history international law McGill tax policy

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Today at McGill: Mehrotra on value added taxation

Published Nov 20, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Today, Ajay Mehrotra, Northwestern University and the American Bar Foundation, will present "The VAT Laggard: A Comparative History of U.S. Resistance to the Value-Added Tax, as part of the annual Spiegel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium at McGill Law. This is a fascinating topic as the United States considers major tax reform without explicitly embracing VAT as much of the rest of the world has done. Prof. Mehrotra's new project will explore the U.S. position in light of how Canada, Japan, and other jurisdictions were able to overcome historical resistance to a national VAT by adopting a Goods and Services Tax (GST).

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, in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the introduction of federal income taxation in Canada, the Colloquium focuses on the historical significance and development, as well as the most recent challenges, of the modern tax system in Canada and around the world. The complete colloquium schedule is here.

The Colloquium is convened by Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Taxation Law. 

Ajay Mehrotra's talk will take place from 2:35-5:35pm in New Chancellor Day Hall Room 101, 3644 Peel Ave, Montreal. All are welcome to attend.

Tagged as: colloquium history McGill tax policy

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Today at McGill: Tillotson on the Citizen-Taxpayer and the Rise of Canadian Democracy

Published Nov 06, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

On Monday November 6, Shirley Tillotson of Dalhousie University will present her new book,  Give and Take: The Citizen-Taxpayer and the Rise of Canadian Democracy, as part of the annual Spiegel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium at McGill Law.

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, in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the introduction of federal income taxation in Canada, the Colloquium focuses on the historical significance and development, as well as the most recent challenges, of the modern tax system in Canada and around the world. The complete colloquium schedule is here.

The Colloquium is convened by Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Taxation Law. 

Shirley Tillotson's talk will take place from 2:35-5:35pm in New Chancellor Day Hall Room 101, 3644 Peel Ave, Montreal. All are welcome to attend.

Tagged as: colloquium history McGill tax policy

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Monday at McGill: Pichhadze on Transfer Pricing and GAAR in Canada

Published Oct 21, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

On Monday October 23, Amir Pichhadze, Lecturer at Deakin University, Australia, will present his work in progress, entitled "Canada’s Federal Income Tax Act: the need for a principle (policy) based approach to legislative (re)drafting of Canada’s transfer pricing rule" as part of the annual Spiegel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium at McGill Law.

Pichhadze's new paper builds on his prior work with Reuven Avi-Yonah on GAARs and the nexus between statutory interpretation and legislative drafting and draws on insights from Judith Freedman's work on the topic of legislative intention in statutory interpretation. The working draft explores the evolution of arm's length transfer pricing in Canada and makes the case for Canada’s parliament to adopt and apply a more explicit principle/policy-based approach to legislative drafting. It argues that Canada’s courts cannot effectively distill relevant policies and principles unless they are clearly conveyed by parliament, using Australia's experience as relevant and constructive.

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, in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the introduction of federal income taxation in Canada, the Colloquium focuses on the historical significance and development, as well as the most recent challenges, of the modern tax system in Canada and around the world. The complete colloquium schedule is here.

The Colloquium is convened by Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Taxation Law. 

Amir Pichhadze's talk will take place from 2:35-5:35pm in New Chancellor Day Hall Room 101, 3644 Peel Ave, Montreal. All are welcome to attend.

Tagged as: Canada colloquium McGill scholarship tax policy transfer pricing

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100 Years of Tax Law in Canada

Published Sep 17, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink


2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Canada’s federal income tax. In commemoration of this milestone, a half-day symposium will be conducted in conjunction with the Spiegel Sohmer Colloquium on 2 October 2017. The goal of this symposium is to explore the evolution of tax law and policy in Canada over the past century. The symposium will feature a keynote by Kim Brooks followed by two roundtable discussions in which experts confer on some of the key themes of tax law and policy development in Canada. The symposium will conclude with a cocktail reception to celebrate 100 years of federal income tax in Canada.
Symposium Participants:
Kim Brooks, Professor of Law, Dalhousie University. Prof. Brooks is an internationally recognized tax scholar who has written multiple scholarly works on taxation in Canada and beyond.
Jakub Adamski, lecturer in business associations and contract law at McGill Faculty of Law. He runs a seminar on the history and development of corporate law with Marc Barbeau, with whom he is co-authoring a text on the subject.
Marc Barbeau, adjunct professor of corporate and securities law at McGill Faculty of Law and partner, Stikeman Elliott. Me. Barbeau practices in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, complex reorganizations and corporate governance. He runs a seminar on the history and development of corporate law with Jakub Adamski, with whom he is co-authoring a text on the subject.
Scott Wilkie, partner, Blake’s, and Distinguished Professor of Practice at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. Mr. Wilkie is recognized as a leading corporate tax lawyer in Canada and has extensive experience in national and international corporate tax practice.
Colin Campbell, Associate Professor, University of Western Ontario. Prof. Campbell was a senior partner in the Toronto office of Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP until mid-2010 when he took up a position at UWO to teach and undertake research on Canadian tax history.
Lyne Latulippe, Professeure agrégée, École de gestion, Université de Sherbrooke. Prof. Latulippe’s work on the institutional aspects of international taxation development and the conduct of professional tax advisors is widely recognized and influential.

Robert Raizenne, adjunct professor of tax law at McGill Faculty of Law and partner, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. Me. Raizenne has extensive experience in a wide variety of tax matters and is a sought-after speaker and writer on national and international tax topics.

This event is free and open to the public.

Tagged as: conference history McGill Tax law

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Burgers & Mosquera on Corporate Tax, BEPS, and Developing Countries

Published Sep 06, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Irene Burgers (University of Groningen - Faculty of Economics and Business) and  Irma Mosquera Valderrama (IBFD) recently posted Corporate Taxation and BEPS: A Fair Slice for Developing Countries?, which explores the link between perceptions of fairness in the allocation of international tax revenues and buy-in to the BEPS framework by developing countries. Here is the abstract:
The aim of this article is to examine the differences in perception of ‘fairness’ between developing and developed countries, which influence developing countries’ willingness to embrace the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) proposals and to recommend as to how to overcome these differences. The article provides an introduction to the background of the OECD’s BEPS initiatives (Action Plan, Low Income Countries Report, Multilateral Framework, Inclusive Framework) and the concerns of developing countries about their ability to implement BEPS (Section 1); a non-exhaustive overview of the shortcomings of the BEPS Project and its Action Plan in respect of developing countries (Section 2); arguments on why developing countries might perceive fairness in relation to corporate income taxes differently from developed countries (Section 3); and recommendations for international organisations, governments and academic researchers on where fairness in respect of developing countries should be more properly addressed (Section 4). 
This is an important analysis because it is clear that the meaningful participation of non-OECD countries in the development of international tax norms going forward is both difficult and imperative in terms of both legitimacy and effectiveness of the evolving international tax order.

Tagged as: BEPS development fairness scholarship tax competition tax policy

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100 Years of Tax in Canada: McGill Tax Policy Colloquium 2017

Published Sep 05, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

2017 marks the centennial of Canada's federal income tax, so it is appropriate that this year’s tax policy colloquium at McGill Law will focus on the theme of 100 Years of Tax Law in Canada. 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:

  • Kim BrooksProfessor of Law, Dalhousie University. Former Dean, Dalhousie Law, Prof. Brooks is an internationally recognized tax scholar. On October 2, she will present a keynote and take part in a half-day symposium on the history of tax law in Canada.
  • Amir Pichhadze Lecturer, Deakin University, Australia. Prof. Pichhadze is an emerging scholar who studied comparative tax law in the U.S. and U.K. and completed a Judicial Clerkship at the Tax Court of Canada. On October 23, he will present work in progress on the development of value added taxes in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.
  •  Ajay MehrotraExecutive Director and Research Professor, American Bar Foundation, and Professor of Law, Northwestern University. Professor Mehrotra is a leading voice on tax history in North America who has studied various aspects of interrelationships and influences in Canadian and U.S. tax law history. On November 20, he will present a work in progress on intersecting developments in Canadian and U.S. tax law history. 
  • Ashley StaceyAssociate, Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend. Ms. Stacey is a junior associate whose practice is focused on advising First Nations and First Nation-owned businesses on corporate and commercial transactions and who blogs at oktlaw.com on tax and governance issues relevant to First Nations communities. On December 4, Ms. Stacey will present her work in progress on historical and contemporary intersections of taxation, sovereignty, and autonomy of First Nations in Canada.


The colloquium is open to all.



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Tagged as: colloquium McGill scholarship tax policy

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