Report on Federal Tax Expenditures - Concepts, Estimates and Evaluations 2017

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Preface

This document reports on the estimated fiscal cost of federal tax expenditures, sets out the approach used in developing these estimates and projections, and provides detailed information on each tax expenditure. The Department of Finance Canada first reported on federal tax expenditures in 1979, and has published estimates of tax expenditures for personal and corporate income taxes as well as for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) since 1994. Over the years, this report has become a key component of the Government’s reporting on the federal tax system, and has contributed significantly to the public dialogue on federal tax policies—a role it continues to play today.

As of last year’s edition, the design and contents of this report were updated and improved to enhance its accessibility and utility to readers. The presentation of the tax expenditures was changed to facilitate analysis of the tax expenditures and better indicate their role in the tax system, and cost estimates are provided for eight years (2011 to 2018 in this year’s report). Also, the methodological and reference information that was previously published periodically in the companion document Tax Expenditures: Notes to the Estimates/Projections has been integrated into this report and complemented with additional information on each tax expenditure. In addition to a brief description of each measure and of its objectives, information now being provided includes legal references, historical information, as well as references to key federal government spending programs that are relevant to the policy area of the tax expenditure to better inform Canadians and Parliamentarians about related programs. This information will continue to be updated every year and will provide a convenient, easily accessible point of reference for information on federal tax expenditures.

Evaluations and analytical papers addressing specific tax measures or aspects of the tax system will continue to be published every year as part of this report. This year’s edition includes a statistical profile of federal tax expenditures over the period 1991 to 2015, as well as evaluations of the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, Children’s Arts Tax Credit and Goods and Services Tax Credit.

Finally, in order to provide Canadians and Parliamentarians with a broader perspective on government expenditures, the publication of this report will continue to be coordinated with the tabling of the Main Estimates in the House of Commons by the President of the Treasury Board.

Disclaimer

The descriptions of tax measures contained in this document are intended to provide only a general understanding of how each of the tax measures operates. These descriptions do not replace the relevant legislation or regulations and should not be relied upon by taxpayers in arranging their tax affairs. Taxpayers are invited to contact the Canada Revenue Agency or consult the Agency’s website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca for additional information on the administration of the federal tax system.

Introduction

The principal function of the tax system is to raise the revenues necessary to fund government expenditures. The tax system can also be used to achieve public policy objectives through the application of specific measures such as preferential tax rates, exemptions, deductions, deferrals and tax credits. These measures are often described as “tax expenditures” because they are used to achieve a policy objective that deviates from the core function of the tax system, at the cost of lower tax revenues.

Tax expenditure reporting is considered an international best practice to foster government budgetary and fiscal transparency. The International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have both issued guidelines that provide for the annual reporting of the cost of tax expenditures.[1]

This report adopts a broad definition of the concept of tax expenditures and provides information on a wide range of federal tax measures that are considered to depart from a “benchmark” tax structure that is characterized only by the most fundamental aspects of a tax system—for instance, the application of a general tax rate to a broadly defined tax base. This broad approach provides greater transparency by ensuring that information is being disclosed on a wide range of tax measures, including measures that may not be considered tax preferences. In addition to providing information on tax expenditures, this report provides information on a number of measures that may be considered part of the benchmark tax system and that are of particular interest from a tax policy perspective. Overall, this report provides information on some 209 different income tax and GST measures.

This report is divided into four parts:

  • Part 1 introduces the concepts of “tax expenditure” and “benchmark tax system”, sets out the approach used in estimating and projecting the fiscal cost of federal tax expenditures, and discusses the interpretation of the estimates and projections.
  • Part 2 presents the estimates of the fiscal cost of federal tax expenditures for the years 2011 to 2018 and describes changes that have been made to tax expenditures since the last edition.
  • Part 3 provides detailed descriptions of the tax expenditures, including their objectives.
  • Part 4 presents tax evaluations and research reports.

Part 1 – Tax Expenditures and the Benchmark Tax System: Concepts and Estimation Methodologies

Introduction

Part 1 provides methodological information on the tax expenditures and the calculation of their fiscal cost in order to facilitate the understanding of the estimates presented in Part 2. It is divided into three sections:

  • The first section discusses the concepts of “tax expenditure” and “benchmark tax system” and presents the key features of the benchmark tax system that have been retained for the purpose of this report.
  • The second section provides methodological information on the calculation of the cost estimates and projections.
  • The third section discusses how to interpret the cost estimates and identifies some caveats in that respect.

Tax Expenditures and the Benchmark Tax System

Tax expenditure reporting is considered an international best practice in terms of government budgetary and fiscal transparency, and an increasing number of countries are adopting this practice. The scope and coverage of tax expenditure reporting vary among countries. Some countries provide information only for narrowly defined categories of tax measures, such as “tax preferences” or “tax subsidies”. Most countries, however, have adopted the practice of reporting information on a larger number of tax measures that they consider to be departures from a “benchmark” tax system. This practice, which has been retained for the purpose of this report, contributes to transparency by providing an objective basis for selecting which tax measures to include in the report.

The definition of “tax expenditure” thus depends on how the benchmark tax system is defined. This report takes a broad approach in which the benchmark tax structure is characterized by only the most fundamental aspects of the tax system. This approach ensures that information is reported on a wide range of tax measures, including measures that may not be considered tax preferences or substitutes to direct program spending. This approach is also simpler and less subject to interpretation than the alternative approach of defining tax expenditures in reference to a “normative” tax system that is considered optimal from an economic and tax policy perspective.

The following two sections describe the features of the personal and corporate income tax system and of the GST that are considered to be part of the federal benchmark tax system for the purpose of identifying the tax expenditures included in this report. The elements of the benchmark tax system include the benchmark unit of taxation, taxation period, tax base and tax rate structure, among other features. Certain tax arrangements with provincial and territorial governments are also reflected in the benchmark tax system.

Benchmark Tax System for the Personal and Corporate Income Tax

The benchmark for the personal and corporate income tax system, as defined for the purpose of this report, has the following characteristics:

Unit of Taxation
  • The benchmark unit of taxation for the personal income tax is the individual, while the benchmark unit of taxation for the corporate income tax is the single corporation as a separate legal entity.
Taxation Period
  • The benchmark taxation period is the calendar year for individuals and the fiscal period for corporations.[2] Income is taxed as earned, on an accrual basis.
  • Under the benchmark, business and capital losses not deducted in the taxation period in which these losses arose can be carried over to prior or subsequent taxation periods in recognition of the cyclical nature of business activity and investment.
Tax Base
  • The benchmark personal and corporate income tax base comprises income from most sources, including income from employment, pension income, profits from a business and from investment, capital gains, and government transfers.[3] However, the following are considered not to be income subject to tax under the benchmark tax system:
    • Non-market transfers of money and property between taxpayers, such as gifts, inheritances and spousal and child support payments, since such amounts are generally paid out of income previously subject to tax.
    • The benefits derived from non-market household services, such as those provided by homemakers.
    • Imputed rents on owner-occupied dwellings (i.e., the benefits derived by homeowners from occupying their homes).
  • Taxpayers resident in Canada are subject to tax on their worldwide income, while non-residents are taxable in Canada on their income from Canadian sources only.
  • Current expenses incurred to earn taxable business or property income are deductible in the year incurred. In contrast, expenses incurred to earn employment income are not deductible. Accounting or financial reserves claimed in respect of contingent liabilities are not deductible.
  • The cost of a capital asset that contributes to earnings beyond the year in which the cost is incurred is deductible, once the asset is first used for the purpose of earning business income, at a rate that allocates the cost over the period during which the capital asset contributes to earnings—generally, the useful life of the asset. It is presumed that the capital cost allowance rates that are prescribed in the Income Tax Regulations permit the deductibility of the costs of depreciable capital assets over the useful lives of these assets, with the exception of the specific accelerated rates that are applicable to certain classes of assets.
  • Losses can be deducted against income, but the excess of losses over income in a given taxation period is not refundable (as noted, unused losses can be carried over to prior or subsequent taxation periods). Losses can be deducted against income from any source, except for capital losses, which are only deductible against capital gains.
Tax Rates and Income Brackets
  • The benchmark personal income tax rate and bracket structure is the rate and bracket structure as it exists at any given time. The credit for the Basic Personal Amount is viewed as being part of the existing rate structure, because this credit is universal in its application and effectively provides a zero rate of tax up to an initial level of income.
  • The benchmark corporate income tax rate is the statutory general corporate income tax rate in effect at any given time.[4]
Treatment of Inflation
  • The benchmark personal and corporate income tax base considers income on a nominal basis. The indexation of the personal income tax brackets and the Basic Personal Amount to inflation is considered to be part of the benchmark.
Avoidance of Double Taxation
  • Measures that provide relief from double taxation are considered part of the benchmark income tax system. Examples of relief from double taxation include:
    • Individuals and corporations are taxed separately; however, recognition is given for taxes presumed to have been paid on a corporation’s income when it is subsequently distributed and subject to tax at the individual level.
    • Double taxation is also avoided in situations where an amount on which a corporation has paid tax is transferred to another corporation, for instance when a taxable Canadian corporation pays a dividend to another Canadian corporation.
    • Relief from double taxation in the international context is provided in Canada in respect of income from foreign sources earned by Canadians and Canadian corporations.[5]
Taxation of Governments and Governmental Entities
  • Constitutional immunity from taxation by virtue of section 125 of the Constitution Act, 1867 is recognized as part of the benchmark income tax system. Accordingly, neither the federal nor the provincial governments (nor their Crown agents) are liable to taxation by the other.
  • Federal Crown corporations and other federal government entities are not subject to federal income tax.
  • Arrangements between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments to share tax bases among the two levels of government are reflected in the benchmark tax system.
Other Features
  • Provisions exist to prevent certain forms of tax planning, such as the use of a holding corporation to defer tax on income from portfolio investment. These provisions are considered to be part of the benchmark as they are intended to improve the functioning of the tax system rather than to achieve other non-tax objectives.
  • Non-resident withholding tax is imposed on payments to non-residents at the statutory rate of 25% or at the general rate provided for the particular type of payments under the applicable treaty.[6]
  • Branch tax is imposed on the income derived by non-resident corporations from a business carried on in Canada and that is not reinvested in Canada, at the statutory rate of 25% or at the applicable treaty rate.

Benchmark Tax System for the Goods and Services Tax

The benchmark for the GST, as defined for the purpose of this report, has the following characteristics.[7]

Unit of Taxation
  • The GST is intended to be borne by final consumers—in general, households.
Taxation Period
  • There is no specific benchmark taxation period relevant to the determination of GST liabilities—GST is generally payable when a taxable supply is made or imported and remitted in accordance with the supplier’s required filing frequency, whether it be monthly, quarterly or annual.
Tax Base
  • The benchmark GST base is consumption broadly defined and comprises all goods and services consumed in Canada. As such, the benchmark for the GST provides that the tax applies on a “destination basis”—that is, at the point of consumption in Canada—and that it applies to goods and services imported into Canada, but not to goods and services exported from Canada.
Multi-Stage System
  • The benchmark for the GST provides that the tax is imposed using a multi-stage system under which tax is applied to the sales of goods and services at all stages of the production and marketing chain. At each stage of production, businesses can claim tax credits to recover the GST paid on their business inputs, so that the GST effectively applies only to the value added at each stage. Since the only tax that is not refunded is the tax collected on sales to final consumers, the GST is effectively imposed on final consumption.
  • The fact that certain entities, such as governments and non-profit organizations, cannot claim input tax credits to recover the GST paid on inputs used to supply goods and services that are not subject to the GST is also treated as part of the benchmark. This results in the GST being effectively imposed on these entities in respect of the value added at earlier stages in the supply of such goods and services, unless these entities continue to exercise their Crown immunity either through the use of tax exemption certificates or by paying the GST upfront and subsequently claiming a rebate in respect of the GST paid. In certain situations, as described below, such rebates are also considered part of the GST benchmark system.
Tax Rate
  • The benchmark rate structure for the GST is the GST rate that applies in any given year (5% since January 1, 2008).
Taxation of Governments and Governmental Entities
  • As with the income tax benchmark, constitutional immunity from taxation by virtue of section 125 of the Constitution Act, 1867 is recognized as part of the benchmark GST system. Accordingly, neither the federal nor the provincial governments (nor their Crown agents) are liable to taxation by the other.
  • However, to simplify the operation of the GST for transactions involving governments and their agents, the GST applies to purchases by all federal entities (e.g., federal departments and Crown corporations). Federal Crown corporations are therefore subject to the GST in the same manner as any other business entity; however, the rebating of the GST paid by those entities under a federal remission order is also considered part of the benchmark.
  • Furthermore, reciprocal tax agreements signed between the federal government and most provincial and territorial governments are recognized in the GST benchmark system. Under these agreements, governments agree to pay each other’s general sales taxes and specific taxes on goods and services under certain circumstances. As a result, many provincial Crown corporations are also subject to the GST in the same manner as business entities. Provincial and territorial governments and certain of their agents identified in the reciprocal tax agreements continue to exercise their Crown immunity from GST, either through the use of exemption certificates or through GST rebates. Rebates claimed as per these agreements are also viewed as part of the GST benchmark system.
  • Most supplies made by public service bodies (municipalities, universities and public colleges, schools, and public hospitals) are exempt. That is, supplies such as educational or health services are generally not taxed, but public service bodies cannot claim input tax credits to recover the GST paid on their inputs in the way businesses can. Instead, they are generally entitled to claim full or partial rebates of the GST paid on the inputs used to provide their exempt supplies. The non-taxation of the outputs and the rebates paid to public service bodies are not part of the GST benchmark system.

Main Types of Tax Expenditures

On the basis of the benchmark tax system so defined, it is possible to identify eight main types of tax expenditures:

Main Types of Tax Expenditures
Type of Tax Expenditures Examples
The exemption from tax of certain taxpayers. Registered charities and non-profit organizations are exempt from income tax.

Transportation, communications and iron ore mining corporations are exempt from branch tax.
The exemption from income tax of certain items of income or gains. Capital gains realized on certain donated assets are not subject to income tax.
The exemption from GST or zero-rating of certain supplies of goods or services.[8] GST is not charged on basic groceries, health services and financial services.
Tax rates that depart from the benchmark tax rates. The income of small incorporated businesses is taxed at a preferential tax rate.
Tax credits, rebates and refunds. A credit can be claimed against income tax payable in respect of above-average medical expenses incurred by individuals.

A rebate is available in respect of the GST paid by public sector bodies (e.g., schools, hospitals) on purchases related to their supply of GST-exempt goods and services.
Provisions that permit the transfer of tax attributes among taxpayers or otherwise extend the unit of taxation. Couples are allowed to split pension income for income tax purposes.

Assets can be transferred between spouses or related corporations on a rollover basis.
Provisions that permit the deferral of tax or the depreciation of a capital asset faster than its useful life. Taxation of contributions to a Registered Retirement Savings Plan and investment income earned within such a plan is deferred until these amounts are withdrawn from the plan.

The cost of certain vessels can be depreciated at an accelerated rate.
Recognition is given for income tax purposes to expenses incurred to earn employment income or income that is not subject to income tax. Employed artists can deduct certain costs related to their employment.

Charitable donations made by corporations are deductible in determining taxable income.

Calculation of the Tax Expenditure Estimates and Projections

The value of a tax expenditure is calculated by estimating the revenues that the federal government forgoes as a result of the measure. This involves comparing the amount of revenues actually collected with the amount of revenues that would be collected in the absence of the measure, accounting for any changes in income-tested entitlements and assuming all else is unchanged. The method used to derive cost projections, as well as the period over which these projections are to be derived, vary depending on how the cost estimates are obtained. The cost of federal tax expenditures is projected up to 2018; as a result of delays in the availability of data, however, some of the values developed for the historical period are also projections.

The following describes how the estimates and projections presented in Part 2 and Part 3 are generally calculated. Specific information on the estimation and projection methods used for each tax expenditure can be found in the descriptions of the tax expenditures presented in Part 3 of this report. The estimation of the value of tax expenditures that are timing preferences, such as tax deferrals and provisions that accelerate the deductibility of capital costs, raises particular issues that are discussed in the Annex to this part. The inclusion in the report of items for which estimates and projections are not available reflects the intention to provide information on measures that are part of the tax system even if it is not always possible to determine their fiscal impact.

Personal Income Tax Expenditures

For most income tax expenditures, the forgone revenues are estimated using micro-simulation models that calculate tax revenues and income-tested entitlements (in the case of individuals) with and without a given tax expenditure for each taxpayer. These models generally optimize the tax situation of each taxpayer in the counterfactual scenario where the measure under consideration is not in place by assuming that the taxpayer would use all available deductions or credits to offset a potential increase in taxes payable.

The majority of the personal income tax expenditure estimates are calculated using the Department of Finance Canada’s personal income tax micro-simulation model (known as the T1 micro-simulation model), which relies on a stratified sample of approximately 700,000 individual tax returns provided by the Canada Revenue Agency. Each tax expenditure accounts for changes in federal personal income tax as well as changes in income-tested entitlements delivered by the Canada Revenue Agency (e.g., child benefits and the GST/HST Credit). Tax expenditures whose costs cannot be estimated using this model due to the complexity of these measures or the absence of individual tax return data are estimated using supplementary data obtained from the Canada Revenue Agency, Statistics Canada and a number of other sources (e.g., other government departments and industry associations).

There is a two-year lag in the availability of the income tax return data used in the T1 model, and the value of personal income tax expenditures presented in this edition are therefore typically estimated using observed data up to 2014. Projections of personal income tax expenditures for subsequent years are calculated using the T1 model, which grows population, income and tax parameters to future years. Population growth is assumed to follow Statistics Canada’s medium-growth population forecast by age, gender and province. Income growth assumptions, which vary by main sources of income, are consistent with the underlying forecasts used in the Department of Finance Canada’s 2016 Fall Economic Statement. In addition, the projected costs of personal income tax expenditures account for future changes to tax parameters, such as legislated changes and the indexation of tax parameters. Assumptions related to indexation are consistent with the observed Consumer Price Index and forecasts used in the Fall Economic Statement. In many cases, projections derived using the T1 model are also complemented by comprehensive aggregate statistics for the most recent taxation year available.

Projections for personal income tax expenditures that are not calculated using the T1 model are either based on forecast changes in underlying economic variables or on historical trends. The projection periods for these tax expenditures will vary depending on the data sources used; exact projection periods are indicated in the descriptions of the tax expenditures found in Part 3.

Corporate Income Tax Expenditures

Similar to personal income tax expenditures, forgone revenues for many corporate income tax expenditures are estimated using the Department of Finance Canada’s corporate income tax micro-simulation model (the T2 micro-simulation model). This model simulates changes to corporate income taxes using corporation tax return data for the entire population of tax-filing corporations. The T2 model calculates taxes payable on the basis of adjusted tax provisions, and takes into account the availability of unused tax credits, tax reductions, tax deductions and losses that would be used by corporations to minimize their tax liability. Other corporate income tax expenditures are estimated using supplementary data obtained from the Canada Revenue Agency, Statistics Canada and a number of other sources (e.g., other government departments and industry associations).

The value of corporate income tax expenditures that are calculated using the T2 model must be projected for years beyond 2014. Projections are not derived from the T2 model, but rather are mainly based on the Department of Finance Canada’s forecast of total corporate taxable income in the 2016 Fall Economic Statement and on legislative changes to corporate tax parameters. In many cases, preliminary aggregate data from the most recent income tax returns are also used to inform the projections. Projections for other corporate income tax expenditures are based on forecast changes in underlying economic variables (again relying on the Fall Economic Statement) or on historical trends. The years of the projections are indicated in the descriptions of the tax expenditures found in Part 3.

GST Expenditures

The value of GST expenditures cannot be estimated using a tax micro-simulation model, as sufficient micro-data on the amounts of GST paid on most transactions are unavailable. Rather, the value of most GST rebates is estimated using administrative data obtained from the Canada Revenue Agency, and the value of GST exemptions and zero-rating provisions is estimated using the Department of Finance Canada’s Goods and Services Tax Model. This simulation model makes use of product-level and industry-level data from Statistics Canada’s Canadian System of National Accounts (more specifically from the Supply and Use Tables and National Income and Expenditure Accounts) to estimate the amount of GST payable on finely defined expenditure categories. The value of other GST expenditures is derived either from administrative data or other supplementary data from a variety of sources (e.g., Public Accounts of Canada).

There is a one- to two-year lag in the availability of complete administrative data used to estimate the tax expenditures associated with most GST rebates and certain other measures. Projections for years beyond 2014 are derived from the most recent complete administrative data and forecasts of related economic variables provided in the Department of Finance Canada’s 2016 Fall Economic Statement or by third parties. As for GST expenditures estimated using the Goods and Services Tax Model, the values shown for 2011 and 2012 for these tax expenditures are based on the most recent Supply and Use Tables (which are available with a three-year lag) and projected for the following years. Projections are derived from forecasts of related economic variables provided in the Fall Economic Statement or by third parties. In many cases, preliminary aggregate data for 2014 and 2015 are also used to inform the projections.

Interpretation of the Estimates and Projections

A number of caveats apply to the interpretation of the tax expenditure estimates and projections, which reflect the methods and data used to calculate these estimates and projections. These caveats are discussed in the following sections.

Federal-Provincial Interaction

The forgone revenue estimates presented in this report relate to federal revenues only. The federal and provincial tax and benefit systems interact with each other to varying degrees, and as a result changes to tax expenditures in the federal system may have consequences for provincial revenues. Any such provincial revenue effects are not taken into account in this publication. Information on provincial tax expenditures can be obtained by consulting the tax expenditure reports that are produced by certain provinces (see references at the end of this part).

Static Estimates and Projections

The estimates and projections presented in this report represent the amounts by which federal revenues are reduced due to the existence of each tax expenditure, assuming all other factors remain unchanged. More specifically, the estimates and projections reflect the following three assumptions:

Absence of Behavioural Responses

It is assumed that the existence of a tax expenditure does not affect taxpayer behaviour. This omission of behavioural responses in the calculation methodology generates cost estimates and projections that may exceed the revenue gains that would result if a particular provision were eliminated, since in many instances the removal of a tax expenditure would cause taxpayers to change their behaviour to minimize the amount of tax they would have to pay.

The effects of this assumption can be illustrated for the income tax by considering the taxation of capital gains. The cost of the partial inclusion of capital gains is estimated on the basis of the amount of capital gains realized by taxpayers. However, should the inclusion rate for capital gains be increased, it is likely that taxpayers would react by postponing certain transactions on capital assets in order to reduce the burden of the resulting tax increase. This would reduce the expected revenue gains for the government of increasing the inclusion rate, an effect that is not taken into account when estimating this tax expenditure. Thus, the value of the tax expenditure can be considerably different from the estimated revenue gain that the government would project if it were to eliminate the measure.

No Impact on Economic Activity

Similarly, the estimates and projections do not take into account the potential impact of a particular tax expenditure on the overall level of economic activity, and thus on aggregate tax revenues. This could also mean that the estimate of the revenue that is forgone by the government because of a tax expenditure may not correspond to the increase in revenues that would result from repealing the tax expenditure. For example, eliminating a particular tax expenditure may affect the level of consumption or economic activity, which in turn could cause a further change in the amount of tax revenue collected. Eliminating a tax expenditure would also mean that the government would have more funds available to increase spending, reduce taxes or pay down debt—actions that could have additional dynamic effects on the economy and on tax revenues.

Consequential Government Policy Changes

A third reason for differences between the estimates of forgone revenues and the revenue impact of eliminating a tax expenditure is that the former ignore potential transitional provisions and other consequential government policy changes that might accompany the elimination of a particular measure. For example, if the government were to eliminate a particular tax deferral, it could require the deferred amount to be brought into income immediately. Alternatively, it might prohibit new deferrals but allow existing amounts to continue to be deferred, perhaps for a specified period of time.

Independent Estimates and Projections

The amounts by which federal revenues are reduced due to the existence of tax expenditures are estimated independently for each tax expenditure, assuming that all other tax provisions remain unchanged. However, aggregating the cost of individual tax expenditures can provide a biased estimate of the total cost of a particular group of tax expenditures or of all tax expenditures combined, which is another reason why the elimination of a tax expenditure would not necessarily yield the full amount of revenues shown in this report.

The value of a group of tax expenditures may not correspond to the sum of the value of each tax expenditure in that group for two main reasons: the income tax rate structure is progressive, and tax measures interact with one another.

Progressive Income Tax Rates

The combined effect of claiming a number of income tax exemptions and deductions may be to move an individual to a lower tax bracket than would have applied had none of the tax measures existed. To the extent that this occurs, aggregation of the individual estimates may understate the true cost to the federal government of maintaining all tax measures. For example, consider an individual whose taxable income was $1,000 below the level at which he or she would move from the 15% into the 20.5% tax bracket. Imagine that this taxpayer arrives at this level of taxable income by using two tax deductions of $1,000 each (e.g., the deductions for child care expenses and for Registered Retirement Savings Plan contributions). Eliminating either deduction by itself would increase taxable income by $1,000 and the taxpayer’s federal tax liability by $150. Eliminating both measures simultaneously, however, would not raise the tax liability by $300 ($150 + $150), but rather by $355 ($150 + $205), given the higher tax rate that would then apply to the second tranche of $1,000 that is added to the individual’s income.

While there is only one statutory tax rate for corporations, the preferential tax rate for small businesses creates a de facto progressive tax rate schedule for some corporations. In this way, the above argument is valid for the corporate income tax system as well.

Interaction of Tax Expenditures

Tax expenditures may interact, and some of these interactions may not be reflected when calculating the cost of each tax expenditure separately. Adding the fiscal cost of several tax expenditures without properly adjusting for such interactions may therefore provide an inaccurate measure of the total cost of these tax expenditures.

For instance, there may be interactions between deductions and between non-refundable income tax credits in situations where a taxpayer has more deductions than needed to reduce his or her taxable income to zero or more non-refundable credits than needed to reduce tax payable to zero. As an illustration, in a situation where a taxpayer has $1,000 in income and claims two deductions of $600 each, eliminating each deduction independently would only increase the taxpayer’s taxable income by $400 (since the other $600 deduction would still be claimed), but the combined impact of simultaneously eliminating the two deductions would be to increase taxable income to $1,000. Similarly, some taxpayers may need to use only one of several non-refundable credits available to reduce their tax liability to zero. As a result, in some cases, the revenue gain obtained from eliminating such credits one by one would be zero but their combined effect would be positive.

Another example is the interaction between pension income splitting and the Pension Income Credit, which potentially allows couples that split pension income to increase the combined amount of Pension Income Credit they can claim. For instance, a one-earner couple with total pension income of $60,000 and no other income could split income equally between the two spouses to allow the spouse with no income to claim the full value of the Pension Income Credit. The tax expenditure associated with the increased amount of Pension Income Credit being claimed is captured in the forgone revenue estimates of both pension income splitting and the Pension Income Credit. Therefore, adding the costs of these two tax expenditures would mean counting twice the tax expenditure that is attributable to the interaction between these two measures, resulting in the overestimation of the total cost of these two measures.

A similar example is the interaction between GST exemptions and GST rebates. A number of services that are provided in a non-commercial context are exempt from GST, and institutions that provide these services are generally eligible for rebates on GST paid on their purchases. Although the exemptions and rebates are presented as two different tax expenditures, they are not independent. If one of these exemptions were repealed, the institutions providing the exempt services would begin charging GST on their supplies and receive input tax credits. The institutions would no longer require rebates since the GST paid on their purchases would be relieved by the input tax credits, effectively repealing the related rebate as well. In this report, the value of GST exemptions is calculated as the tax revenues the government would raise by taxing exempt services, net of the input tax credits that providers would then receive. However, the value of GST exemptions does not account for the portion of the GST paid by the providers that would be received as input tax credits should the services become taxable, but that are currently claimed as rebates. The value of GST rebates is presented separately, and should be netted out of the value of GST exemptions in order to obtain a closer approximation of the revenue impact of eliminating these measures.

Changes in the Estimates and Projections

The estimated and projected costs of a tax expenditure may vary from year to year or may be revised in a subsequent edition for any particular year. Variations and revisions may be attributable to a number of factors, including the following:

Legislative Changes

Changes may have been announced to a tax expenditure that increase or reduce its estimated or projected cost. Announced changes that have a coming-into-force date in the 2017 taxation year or earlier, even if the enacting legislation has not received Royal Assent by the time of production of this report, are taken into account for the purpose of estimating the cost of a measure. Information on legislative changes to tax expenditures since the last edition of this report is provided in Part 2, while important historical changes are noted in the descriptions of the tax expenditures in Part 3.

Broad-based changes to the tax system may affect tax expenditure estimates and projections to the extent that these changes modify the effective tax rates otherwise faced by taxpayers under the benchmark tax system, including because the changes would affect the number of individuals who do not pay tax. Specifically, a reduction (increase) in the effective tax rate under the benchmark tax system will generally result in lower (higher) tax expenditure estimates and projections. For instance, during the period covered by this publication, the reduction in the general corporate income tax rate from 16.5% to 15% on January 1, 2012 had the effect of reducing the estimates and projections for most corporate income tax expenditures. Also, many personal income tax expenditures are affected by the reduction in the second personal income tax rate to 20.5% from 22% and the introduction of a personal income tax rate of 33% on taxable income in excess of $200,000 that were announced on December 7, 2015 and came into effect for 2016 and subsequent taxation years.

Revisions to the Projections

As with any other projections, the projections of tax expenditures are inherently subject to forecast errors as they are based on historical data and expected economic outcomes. As a result, the projected values of tax expenditures may be revised substantially as more recent forecasts and data become available, and actual values may differ significantly from projected values. More important revisions can be expected for tax expenditures that are particularly sensitive to business or market cycles or to other economic parameters that are difficult to forecast.

Changes in Data and Methodology

Revisions to past estimates and projections may reflect the availability of new or improved data as well as changes to the estimation or projection methodology. In particular, updated corporate tax data for historical years may show substantial changes to the tax position of certain corporations due to the impact of loss carrybacks or tax reassessments. Significant changes to the methodology are mentioned in the descriptions of the tax expenditures in Part 3.

Additional Resources

For additional information on tax expenditures and the Canadian tax system, readers are invited to consult the following resources:

Department of Finance

Canada Revenue Agency website

Statistics Canada website

Provincial tax expenditure reports:

Annex—Estimating the Value of Tax Deferrals, Accelerated Depreciation Provisions and Other Timing Preferences

Certain tax measures defer income taxes from the current taxation year to a later one—for example, by accelerating deductions or by deferring income inclusions. Estimating the cost of tax deferrals presents a number of methodological challenges since, even though the tax is not currently received, it may be collected at some point in the future.

The cost of timing preferences such as these (with the exception of accelerated deductibility provisions—see explanation below) is presented in this report on a nominal cash-flow basis. On that basis, deferred income taxes from current-year activities represent a cost to the government while income taxes on prior-year activities for which the deferral has been completed are a revenue gain. Thus, if the level of activity in question were constant from year to year—that is, in a steady state—the two amounts would cancel each other out and the tax expenditure would be zero. An increase over time in the level of activity would tend to produce a positive tax expenditure, while a decrease would tend to produce a negative tax expenditure.

The cost of timing preferences could also be presented on a net present-value basis to emphasize the cost to the government that relates to the time value of money. There can be a cost to the government and a benefit to the taxpayer when tax deferrals are considered on a present-value basis, even when the cash-flow basis of measurement suggests that, in a steady state, there is no overall cost to the government. Because of the time value of money, a reduction in tax of a given amount today more than offsets a tax increase of the same nominal amount in a future period. This can be demonstrated with a calculation of the value of the implicit interest-free loan that is provided to the taxpayer when taxes are deferred to a later year. For example, if a taxpayer is able to defer $100 in income tax for one year, and the discount rate is 8%, then the present value of the future obligation is $92.59 and the taxpayer has received a benefit of $7.41 in today’s dollars. There is an equivalent implicit interest cost to the government. On a present-value basis, unlike the cash-flow basis, a tax deferral would result in a positive tax expenditure in the steady state. The net present value of the tax expenditure associated with a tax deferral can also be affected by tax rates, for instance when a deduction is accelerated while tax rates are decreasing. 

Estimating the net present value of the tax expenditure associated with a tax deferral with a reasonable degree of accuracy is very challenging when activities are not in a steady state and when precise projections cannot be derived over a relatively long horizon. For instance, estimating the net present value of the tax expenditures associated with the accelerated deductibility of capital costs and flow-through share deductions would require estimating future business cycles and economic conditions in the mining and oil and gas sectors, while estimating the net present value of the tax expenditures associated with Registered Pension Plans and Registered Retirement Savings Plans would require robust long-term projections of contributions and withdrawals. Given these challenges, this publication does not report on the present value of tax expenditures associated with tax deferrals.

The following section provides four examples of the calculation of the cost of timing preferences.

Registered Pension Plans, Pooled Registered Pension Plans and Registered Retirement Savings Plans

The cost of Registered Pension Plans, Pooled Registered Pension Plans and Registered Retirement Savings Plans presented in Part 2 and Part 3 is estimated on a cash-flow basis. The net cost of these plans in a given year is the revenue forgone associated with the deductibility of contributions to the plans made during the year and the non-taxation of investment income earned within these plans during the year, minus the taxes collected on withdrawals from these plans made in the year. The cost of these plans on a net present-value basis would be a measure of the net revenue forgone in today’s dollars due to the contributions made in a given year, taking into account the fact that the deferred tax will be collected in the future when the contributions and investment income earned on them are withdrawn.

Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance

Where a tax deduction is allowed for the cost of capital investments, the deduction is normally required to be spread over a number of years. This is based on the principle that capital assets are not consumed in the period in which they are acquired, but instead contribute to earnings over several years. Therefore, the deduction is normally allowed at a rate which allocates the cost of the asset over the period that the asset contributes to earnings—the asset’s useful life. Allocating the deduction for capital costs over the useful life of assets ensures that the tax system is neutral in its treatment of assets with different useful lives.[9]

For tax purposes, firms calculate their deductions for depreciable capital assets under the rules set out in the Income Tax Act and Income Tax Regulations. The allowable deduction rates for depreciable capital assets are set out in the capital cost allowance (CCA) system. This system generally allows for a portion of the original capital cost of an asset or group of assets to be deducted each year. In most cases, each successive year, a fixed percentage is applied to the declining balance of undeducted costs remaining. A similar system applies to deductions for intangible expenses in the natural resource sectors that are capital in nature, such as the costs of exploration and development.

The rate at which certain capital costs can be deducted for tax purposes is, in some cases, more rapid than would be permitted under the useful life benchmark. Examples are the provision of accelerated CCA for certain tangible capital assets (e.g., machinery and equipment used in manufacturing and processing, Canadian vessels) and of the immediate deduction of certain intangible expenses that are capital in nature in that they contribute to earnings over several years (e.g., advertising costs, expenditures on research and development).

These provisions result in tax deductions that are higher (as compared with the useful life benchmark) in the initial years of the life of an asset and lower in later years. While the total amount deducted over the life of the asset (equal to the original cost) is not affected, the acceleration in the deduction results in a deferral of tax. Given the time value of money, this can be an important financial benefit to firms. Changes in the timing of tax receipts can also have an important impact on the government’s fiscal position in the short term.

The cost for a given year of the accelerated deductibility of capital costs, measured on a cash-flow basis, equals the revenue forgone as a result of the additional capital costs being deducted in the year relative to the amounts that would have been deducted in absence of the measure. Accelerated deductions imply a larger cost in the early years and a smaller cost in the later years in comparison to the situation with no accelerated deductions. The cash-flow cost for a given year accounts for the fiscal impact of investments made in that year, but also of investments made in earlier years. For that reason, the net cash-flow cost could be positive or negative depending on past, current and projected investments, and is not necessarily equal to the amount of revenue that would be gained in the short run if the accelerated deductibility were to be eliminated for new investments.

The cost of accelerating the deductibility of capital costs, measured on a present-value basis, would reflect the expected stream of deductions in the future in respect of an investment or a group of investments made at a particular time. Under this approach, the tax expenditure would be estimated by comparing the discounted present value of tax payments associated with a given investment or group of investments made at a particular point in time over the life of those investments, with and without the accelerated deduction in place.

Notwithstanding the different methodologies available, annual tax expenditure estimates are not provided for accelerated deductibility provisions because adequate data are not generally available to calculate them with a reasonable degree of accuracy, and because many simplifying assumptions would be required to model the pattern of deductions that would be claimed in the absence of these provisions. More information on the estimation of the tax expenditures associated with the accelerated deductibility of capital costs can be found in the study “Tax Expenditures for Accelerated Deductions of Capital Costs” that was published in the 2012 edition of this report.

Flow-Through Share Deductions

An investor buying a flow-through share, in addition to receiving an equity interest in the issuing corporation, is also entitled to claim deductions on account of Canadian Exploration Expenses, Canadian Development Expenses and Canadian Renewable and Conservation Expenses transferred to the investor by the corporation.[10] On a cash-flow basis, the cost of this tax expenditure, for a given year, is equal to the amount of revenue forgone as a result of the transferred deductions claimed by investors in that year less the estimated incremental revenue gain associated with the zero cost base for flow-through shares sold by investors in that year. The transfer of unused deductions from the issuing corporations to the investors entails a cost to the government when the deductions are claimed by the investors earlier than they would have been claimed by the corporations or where the investors face higher tax rates than the issuing corporations. The fact that flow-through shares are deemed to have a zero cost base for tax purposes means that the gains realized by investors when the shares are sold will be larger than they would otherwise have been, resulting in more taxes being paid on the incremental capital gains.[11] On a present-value basis, the cost of this tax expenditure would be calculated by comparing the discounted present value of the deductions and capital gains, with and without the flow-through mechanism.

The estimates and projections of the cost of this tax expenditure presented in this report are on a cash-flow basis and represent an upper-bound of the cost, since it is effectively assumed that the issuing corporations would never have been able to deduct the transferred expenses.[12]

Deductibility of Contributions to a Qualifying Environmental Trust

A qualifying environmental trust is an arm’s length trust to which companies operating certain sites like mines and waste disposal sites are required by law to make contributions in order to pre-fund site reclamation costs. Since general income tax rules do not permit a deduction for contingent expenses, a deduction for prepaying such costs would normally only be allowed when the reclamation costs are actually incurred. In the absence of relief, this could give rise to cash-flow issues since no tax recognition would be provided when the contributions are made. Further, since reclamation expenses are normally paid after the closure of a site when it is no longer producing revenues, the company (particularly if it is a single-site company) may not have any taxable income against which to claim the expenses.

In response to these issues, it is possible to deduct a contribution made to a qualifying environmental trust in the year the contribution is made, provided that the contributor is a beneficiary under the trust. Income earned in the trust is subject to tax each year under Part XII.4 of the Income Tax Act. The income taxed in the trust is also considered taxable income of the corporation that established it, but the corporation receives a refundable tax credit equal to its share of the tax paid by the trust. The net result is that trust income is effectively taxed at the marginal tax rate applicable to the corporation, rather than the rate applicable to the trust. Amounts withdrawn from the trust to fund reclamation costs—both the original capital and income earned on it—are included in the recipient’s income when withdrawn. As a result, the investment income is included in taxable income twice. Typically, however, the recipient will be able to deduct the reclamation costs incurred against the above income inclusion, resulting in no net tax cost at the time of withdrawal.

The inclusion of trust income in taxable income twice—once when earned and a second time when withdrawn—offsets in whole or in part (depending on whether the corporation’s discount rate equals or exceeds the net rate of return earned by the capital invested in the trust) the present value benefit to the corporation of bringing forward the deduction for reclamation costs to the time when the funds are first contributed.The nominal value (ignoring the time value of money) of this tax expenditure over the life of a particular project may be negative as a result of the double inclusion in taxable income of the trust earnings. It will tend to be positive, however, if the company is taxable at the time of the contribution to the trust (so that the upfront deduction is available), but not taxable at the time of withdrawal (which could well be the case for a single-mine operation once the mine ceases to operate).


1 International Monetary Fund, Manual on Fiscal Transparency, Fiscal Affairs Department, 2007; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency, 2002.

2 A corporation’s fiscal period is any period of 53 weeks or less.

3 The benchmark income tax base can be considered a variant of the comprehensive income tax base as was first defined by economists Robert M. Haig and Henry C. Simons. The comprehensive income tax base would require the taxation of real current additions to purchasing power, or real increases in wealth, which would cover worldwide income from all sources—labour income, rents, dividends, interest and capital gains (adjusted for inflation), transfers, imputed rent on owner-occupied dwellings, the imputed value of household services, and gifts and inheritances. A strict application of the Haig-Simons base would make corporate income tax redundant since income earned at the corporate level would be taxed as it accrues to individuals.

4 It represents the statutory rate after the federal abatement and general rate reduction. As such, over the period covered by this report, the benchmark corporate income tax rate was 16.5% in 2011 and has been 15% since 2012.

5 There are three possible benchmarks for taxing the active business income of foreign affiliates of Canadian corporations: (i) that income could be taxable in Canada as it accrues, with relief provided to the extent foreign taxes were paid on the income, consistent with a pure worldwide taxation approach whereby Canadian resident taxpayers are taxed on their worldwide income as it is earned; (ii) that income could be taxable in Canada at the time it is paid out as a dividend to the Canadian corporation; or (iii) that income could be exempt from tax in Canada, both when that income is earned and at the time it is paid out as a dividend to the Canadian corporation, consistent with a territorial approach whereby only Canadian-source business income is taxed in Canada. The three possible benchmarks would have different implications for measuring tax expenditures—see the description of the measure “Tax treatment of active business income of foreign affiliates of Canadian corporations and deductibility of expenses incurred to invest in foreign affiliates” in Part 3 of this report.

6 Non-resident withholding tax is often considered to act as a proxy for the income tax that would be payable had the payments been made to Canadian residents; hence the inclusion of this tax in the scope of this report.

7 A number of provinces have replaced their retail sales taxes with the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). The base of the HST is virtually identical to that of the GST, and the HST is applied at a rate equal to the rate of the GST plus a provincial component that varies by province and is determined by each province. Sections of this report that refer to the GST/HST apply to both the federal and provincial portions of the tax whereas references to the GST apply only to the federal portion.

8 No GST is charged on exempt goods and services, while the GST applies on zero-rated goods and services, but at a zero GST rate. Vendors of zero-rated goods and services are entitled to claim input tax credits to recover the full amount of GST they paid on inputs used to produce zero-rated products; in contrast, vendors of exempt goods and services are not entitled to claim input tax credits to recover the GST they paid on their inputs.

9 The determination of the useful life of an asset involves the assessment of a variety of factors, including statistical estimates of the rate of economic depreciation applying to the asset, industry data on the engineering life of the asset and the repairs needed to keep it operating, and the treatment accorded to the asset for financial accounting purposes.

10 For additional information on flow-through shares, see the study “Flow-Through Shares: A Statistical Perspective” published in the 2013 edition of this report.

11 The incremental portion of the gain is the difference between the zero cost base and the price at which the company would have been able to issue regular common shares.

12 Limited data is available to determine when, if ever, the expenses being flowed through would otherwise have been deducted by the issuing corporations. Available data indicates, for example, that 96% of corporations that flowed through expenses to investors for the 2013 taxation year were not taxable in that year and thus not in a position to immediately deduct the expenses themselves. Many junior exploration corporations in Canada, particularly in the mining sector, never become taxable entities. It is a common business model that once an exploitable resource is found, the resource will be sold to a larger corporation or group with more experience developing and operating extraction projects.