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CEWS 2.0 – Why I see it as another attack on the small business owner

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July 18, 2017 – The Minister of Finance announces draft legislation of the Tax on Split Income (TOSI) rule changes that would have far reaching impact into the small business community and although some changes were made, the rules have negatively impacted small businesses ever since and will continue for years to come.

Three years later, July 17, 2020 – The same Minister of Finance tables legislation of the changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), what I like to call CEWS 2.0 which will also continue for years to come.

Before you try to correct me and say that the subsidy is only for 2020, please read on.

While many media and politician soundbites like to give the impression of how CEWS 2.0 will help small business, I cannot help but see this as an opposite approach.

Do not get me wrong, money is money, and businesses will take all the help they can get, and if my business qualifies, I will take full advantage of it, but I personally don’t have to pay a tax specialist to figure it out.

There are two new calculations to CEWS 2.0.

  1. a baseline amount based on the percentage of revenue decline in the month compared to either the same month in 2019, or the January-February 2020 average revenue amount.
  2. a top-up amount based on the three-previous month revenue decline where it exceeds 50%.

Instead of an all or nothing at a 30% decline, even a 1% decline will get you a pro-rated payout, although the costs of figuring out your eligible amount might outweigh the benefit.

In fact, you could have an increase in revenue compared to this time last year and still get a payout. Make sense?

If the previous three months were greater than a 50% decline you qualify for the top-up amount regardless of the result for the current month.

The complexity of the CEWS design will reward those that have experts in their corner compared to those that do not.

Consider the following scenario:

A large public corporation that has employees making more than $1,129 a week will be able to not only have a simple calculation, they will not have anyone “related” to the corporation that they have to do extra baseline remuneration calculations for. Just like CEWS 1.0, in CEWS 2.0 every employee including the CEO will be subsidized in a public corporation, with no clawback mechanism (as recommended in my earlier article, the Keep it Simple S…ubsidy).

In the large public corporation, the bookkeeping, payroll, and accounting function will be up to date and (I would hope) accurate because of internal controls. They also frequently have large accounting and I.T. departments to easily calculate the eligibility and amounts for such a subsidy.

But let us compare this to a small owner-managed business like a restaurant for example. The profit margins in restaurants are already sliced thinner than the meat on a charcuterie board. Add to this the extra costs of social distancing and safety precautions, as well as the inconsistency of regulations for being closed, re-opened, and closed again as we navigate the pandemic and restaurants seem like a lost cause for a business owner.

Assuming they are able to still successfully navigate the minefield that COVID19 has placed on their livelihoods, many restaurants have dozens of part-time staff, including family members.

So right away we have a glaring difference: relatives.

The rules in CEWS 2.0 has not reduced any of the requirements for calculations to be made with respect to relatives working in the business. Relatives must have been being paid as a wage employee during one of a few optional calculation periods prior to March 15, 2020 to be eligible for any of the CEWS.

Do you remember TOSI?

TOSI basically was designed so you could only income split dividends with related persons under a complex set of strict rules.  Even though restaurants are considered “food services”, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Finance have in Example 4B of their TOSI explanatory notes an example of a restaurant which would not be considered a service. In doing so, they sent the message to continue to pay yourselves in dividends if you run a family owned restaurant.

As a result, family owned restaurants continued to do just that.

Fast forward to 2020 and you now have family members working in a low margin business, with no support for their dividend remuneration under CEWS 1.0 or CEWS 2.0.

Even if the small business owner was one of the lucky fortune tellers that decided to pay themselves wages, they still have to do a baseline calculation (two different ways – weekly or bi-weekly – for each claim period) just to figure out how much they might be able to get.

Keep in mind the bi-weekly periods are the periods that were set by finance, not the period you may already be using for your payroll cutoff.

Now we have the part-time restaurant staff in my example. The family business now must calculate the average weekly earnings of each individual staff member during the claim period to figure out what the maximum amount of benefit is.

To make it better, the bookkeeping records better be pristine and accurate on a month to month basis, rather than on an annual basis like many, if not most, small businesses do.

Enter in that sale on the 1st of this month instead of the 31st of last month, and you could be looked at as “gaming the system”.

If you are a late-night pub restaurant, make sure that you are closing out the tills at 11:59pm on the 31st of the month – or your numbers would be inaccurate and you could be called a “tax cheat.”

I can’t wait for the Halloween pub crawls this year, when the weekly earnings of those late-night pub staff will have to also be cut off at midnight Saturday, October 31st. At least there will be plenty of mask wearing that night.

So, we now have increased the compliance costs for the small restaurants for monthly reporting, weekly payroll calculations, overnight cutoffs on month-ends, and special treatment for relatives of the business.

It doesn’t take a tax specialist, a cost-accounting CPA, or a PhD in mathematics to figure out that this is going to cost more per employee in overhead costs to the small family business in comparison to the large public corporation.

While I am more than happy to receive money from my clients for doing the immense research and calculations that will be required, the fact remains for the small business owner, is all of this extra work and compliance cost worth it in the end?

Sadly, you will not know if it is worth it, until after you have put in the work to calculate it.

If you happen to be one of the lucky ones that qualifies, you will then have to track the amount of CEWS you received for each employee separately.

This is because the CRA in question 29 of their Frequently Asked Questions on CEWS said that there will be a new box at the bottom of the T4 required to be filled in for the amount of CEWS received for that employee.

But what about my earlier statement that CEWS will impact businesses for years to come? With your calculation and compliance is going on until the end of February 2021 with the addition of the T4 box, does it end there?

February 2021 will just be the beginning. This will begin the audits of the CEWS claims (if they have not already started).

Since the CEWS is required to be reported on the 2020 T4 slips filed by the business in February 2021, would it be fair to say that the three-year tax compliance clock only begins at that time?

This means from now until February of 2024 you can expect to have a call from (likely the payroll audit division of) the CRA to take a look at:

  • your weekly employee wage calculations;
  • the monthly revenue calculations;
  • the monthly cut-offs;
  • the timing of your invoices;
  • the CEWS amounts allocated to individual staff members; and
  • the scrutiny of amounts paid to relatives;

All while you have the joy of having an internal debate with yourself on whether to pay your tax specialist to deal with them, or to try and go at it alone and confused.

July 2017 – TOSI

July 2020 – CEWS 2.0

I wonder what July 2023 will bring.

This article was originally published on July 23, 2020.

Cory G. Litzenberger, CPA, CMA, CFP, C.Mgr is the founder of CGL Strategic Business & Tax Advisors (CGLtax.ca). Cory is an advocate for small business in his role as Alberta Governor for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB); converts legislation into layman terms for fun; and provides Canadian tax advisory services to other CPA firms across Canada; opinions are his own.

Biography of Cory G. Litzenberger, CPA, CMA, CFP, C.Mgr can be found here.

CEO | Director, Canadian Tax Advisory CGL Strategic Business & Tax Advisors With the Income Tax Act always by his side on his smart-phone, Cory has taken tax-nerd to a whole other level. His background in strategic planning, tax-efficient corporate reorganizations, business management, and financial planning bring a well-rounded approach to assist private corporations and their owners increase their wealth through the strategies that work best for them. An entrepreneur himself, Cory started CGL with the idea that he wanted to help clients adapt to the ever-changing tax and economic environment and increase their wealth through optimizing the use of tax legislation coupled with strategic business planning and financial analysis. His relaxed blue-collar approach in a traditionally white-collar industry can raise a few eyebrows, but in his own words: “People don’t pay me for my looks. My modeling career ended at birth.” More info: https://www.CGLtax.ca/Litzenberger-Cory.html

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Red Deer Brewery to hold Beer Tasting on the Ross Street Patio

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Sawback Beer Tasting on the Ross Street Patio

The Ross Street Patio is celebrating its 10th summer and Sawback Brewing Co. is releasing a new Raspberry Ale named after the Downtown’s most loved feature – The Ross Street Patio!

On Friday, May 27th, the Downtown Business Association and Sawback Brewing will host a free tasting from 5-8PM, complete with live music from Paeton Cameron and James Adams and a light snack from Chubby’s Jerk BBQ & Kitchen! Visitors can then grab a seat on one of the adjacent restaurant patios for a full-sized Ross Street Patio Beer and enjoy the show. This event is free and open to the public.

Amanda Gould, Executive Director of the DBA says, “This is such an exciting time for the Ross Street Patio and Downtown.  We have so much planned over the summer and the next natural step is to license the entire patio through council deeming it an Entertainment District. We will find out in the beginning of June if council approve the bylaw and, straight after that, you can start enjoying full-sized beverages right on the patio while enjoying the summer entertainment!”

The Ross Street Patio is the hub of downtown entertainment, and the DBA is proud to be programming it for the summer season – summer activities include art installations, live music and family fun activities. “Follow us on Facebook to keep updated on what’s going on and when.  If you are a community group or an event organizer wishing to bring some activity to Ross Street Patio, please direct message or call the DBA to find out about the support, including financial support, that we can provide to help your event or activity come to life.”

The Downtown Business Association has been operating in Red Deer for over 30 years, serving approximately five-hundred business owners in the Downtown area. Through partnerships and leadership in advocacy and promotion, the DBA is the catalyst for a vibrant and prosperous downtown that is the place to live, work, play and do business.

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Downtown Red Deer: safe, fun and open for business!

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By Mark Weber

With summer just around the corner, downtown Red Deer is all the more bustling with fun events and even more local businesses to check out. But there are a few misconceptions about the area that persist, and that can even prevent some folks from visiting the city’s increasingly vibrant core. “Downtown Red Deer has an always lot of good things going for it,” explained Amanda Gould, executive director of the Downtown Business Association. “Sometimes, that is outweighed by the perception people have of downtown. “What we need to remember is all that has been happening downtown, what with the murals, the events, the alley upgrades – there are a lot of good things happening. And it’s making it such a great destination to come and visit and to also set up your business,” she added.

“We have seen, over the last year, an increase of 50 new businesses downtown. It’s great news, and the downtown is a great place to go.” As mentioned, however, certain misconceptions about the downtown area persist including that
there is a significant parking problem. “We absolutely do not have a parking issue,” noted Gould. Visitors may not always be able to park directly in front of their destinations, particularly if they are in a facility with lots of other businesses and agencies, but there are typically plenty of places to park nearby if you are prepared for a short jaunt. “If you were to travel just a half a block down the street, or even a block down, you will find there are usually plenty of spaces. We are lucky that our downtown is walkable as well.”

She also mentioned that some residents believe that downtown Red Deer is unsafe. “Again, this is a misperception – it’s not the reality of it,” she said. “We are so lucky as a neighbourhood downtown to have our own RCMP policing unit everyday – they chat with business owners and help them solve any safety issues they may come into contact with,” she said. “There is a team of seven on that unit, and surely that makes downtown one of the safest places to be.”

As to the surge in businesses, Gould noted that reasonable rents attract local entrepreneurs to launch ventures there as well – nicely adding to the growing variety of businesses in the area. It’s yet another plus for Red Deer residents.

In the meantime, one of downtown’s most prominent features – the Ross Street Patio – is really starting to liven up these days with the warmer weather and regularly scheduled musical performances. ‘Music on the Ross Street Patio’ is a free event and is open to all ages. Performances run from 4:30 –7:30 p.m. on show nights. Another annual favourite, the Downtown Market, kicks off on Wednesday, May 25. An accredited farmers’ market, visitors are invited to come down and purchase all their fresh fruits and veggies between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday. Live music on the Ross Street Patio is also a key feature on Wednesdays.

Gould added that Friday, May 27, is the official kick-off to summer on the Ross Street Patio. To celebrate, they have partnered with Sawback Brewing to introduce a limited-edition Ross Street Patio beer which is super exciting, she explained. “Free samples will be available at 5 p.m. that day (May 27). There will also be music and other activities. The special beer, featured at several downtown restaurants, will be available through the summer.

Looking into June, performances on the Patio will run on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. “Businesses are now opening up their patios – and we’ve got the music happening on the Patio, so we are really starting to see a lot more people coming down, spending some time outside and enjoying the live music that we are putting on,” she said.

For more about the Downtown Business Association and all that is planned for the Ross Street Patio, find them on Facebook or visit www.downtownreddeer.com.

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