Cut Corporate Income Taxes Massively to Increase Growth, Prosperity

Increasing income tax on businesses and investment will not increase prosperity and personal income.
Published on June 26, 2024

Business groups are justifiably opposed to the federal government’s June 25 increase of the inclusion rate for capital gains tax. But there is another corporate income tax increase looming. It will come in the form of a 2018 corporate tax reduction that is set to expire starting this year. Ottawa ironically intended it to make Canada more competitive amid the 2018 tax reform and cut in the United States.

According to a study by Trevor Tombe at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, Canada’s corporate income tax rate on new investments will jump from 13.7 percent to 17 percent by 2027. Even worse, for Canada’s high-value-added manufacturing sector, taxation will triple. Higher corporate income taxes, in a nation experiencing difficulties in encouraging domestic or foreign investment in new plant equipment, will struggle to reverse meagre productivity growth—a problem noted by the Bank of Canada.

Heavier taxation will hinder future improvement in incomes and the standard of living, making it a serious issue. Increasing income tax on businesses and investment will not increase prosperity and personal income. The legislation to make the 2018 provisions permanent is, alarmingly, not urgent to politicians.

At least one policy could make Canada more attractive to business, investors, and hard-pressed ordinary citizens. It would be to slash corporate income taxes substantially.  Another is to make paying taxes easier, as Magna Corporation founder Frank Stronach suggested. It may surprise some Canadians, but Ottawa’s take from corporate income taxes is a relatively small. However, it is a fast-rising proportion of federal overall revenue: 21 percent in fiscal 2022–23, according to the government, up from 13 percent in fiscal 2000–21, notes the OECD.

Letting companies pay taxes and reducing the tax burden on ordinary people might seem OK to some. However, what happens is that every corporate expense, including taxes, reduces cash flow that reaches individuals. The money remaining in the hands of businesses could either be reinvested or paid out as dividends to owners. Let’s remember that owners are founding families, pension fund beneficiaries (employees, citizens), and ordinary individuals.

As there are fewer available funds, there will be a reduced capacity for capital investment. Investment is required to replace existing equipment, or add new equipment, devices, software, and vehicles for businesses. It only keeps companies competitive and makes employees more productive. This, in turn, makes the whole economy more profitable, thereby increasing taxes paid to governments.

As for the questionable reason for the tax increase, aiming to generate more revenue, recent experience in the United States is informative. The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act reduced corporate income tax from 39 percent of pre-tax income to 21 percent. It resulted in U.S. federal corporate income tax revenue rising 25 percent from 2017 to  2021. Capital investment rose dramatically too, by 20 percent, a key goal of many Canadian policymakers.

Until recently, the Republic of Ireland had a corporate income tax rate of 12.5 percent, a key selling point in its successful efforts to attract foreign investment over the past several decades. Ireland, with few natural resources, is one of the richest and fastest-growing of the OECD nations, despite a bad real estate crash 15 years ago. Near the lowest in the OECD in tax burden, it nevertheless has a high quality of life and services.

If anything, Canada should cut corporate income taxes to below the levels of its main trading partners and rivals. To do so, it will have to extricate itself from the ill-conceived international treaty that compels signatory nations and territories to have a floor rate of at least 15 percent of pre-tax income.   Ottawa seems enamoured of multinational agreements and organizations, so it may be highly reluctant to abrogate membership in this growth-dampening arrangement. The statutory federal corporate income tax rate in Canada is 15 percent, but all provincial governments impose their own levies on top of that, ranging from 8 percent in Alberta to 16 percent in Prince Edward Island.

By cutting taxes, we can pave the way for a brighter economic future, marked by increased productivity and the prosperity we all yearn for. This move will also ensure our international competitiveness, a goal we are currently struggling to achieve with our current 25 percent rate (OECD).  Canada has a hard time attracting investors. Raising taxes will neither attract more of them nor encourage more investment from existing Canada-domiciled entrepreneurs and companies.

 

Ian Madsen is Senior Policy Analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

 

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