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.
- 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.
- 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.
Spending sprees by governments across Canada help fuel inflation and high interest rates
From the Fraser Institute
While the prime minister and many premiers justified their high spending levels during the pandemic as merely a temporary development, the federal government and seven provincial governments still plan to run budget deficits this year
Earlier this year, premiers in Ontario, British Columbia, and Newfoundland and Labrador wrote letters to Tiff Macklem, Governor of the Bank of Canada, cautioning against further interest rate hikes, citing the potential negative effects on residents including homeowners with mortgages. But instead of blaming the central bank, Canadian premiers—and the prime minister—should stop their spending sprees, which help fuel inflation and increase interest rates.
Indeed, when governments increase spending, particularly when financed by debt, they add more money to the economy and can help fuel inflation. And high rates of government spending put pressure on the Bank of Canada to maintain interest rates at current levels, or even hike the rate further, to counteract inflation. According to a recent report from Scotiabank, government spending has contributed significantly to higher interest rates in Canada, accounting for an estimated 42 per cent of the increase in the Bank of Canada’s rate since the first quarter of 2022.
Yet the spending sprees continue.
While the prime minister and many premiers justified their high spending levels during the pandemic as merely a temporary development, the federal government and seven provincial governments still plan to run budget deficits this year. Government spending across the country remains at elevated levels or, in some cases, even increased beyond pandemic levels.
Ontario is a prime example. Provincial program spending (total spending minus interest costs) will reach an estimated $193.0 billion in 2023/24—$24.0 billion more than at the peak of COVID. Debt interest costs have also grown due to debt accumulation and rising interest rates.
Despite a considerable increase in revenue over recent years, the Ford government had planned for a $1.3 billion deficit in its spring budget. By November, the government increased spending again and quadrupled the projected deficit to $5.6 billion.
Similarly, British Columbia outlined plans in February to increase program spending and run a $4.2 billion deficit while adding $13.1 billion in debt to the books this year. Just over a half-year later, the B.C. government increased spending again and the deficit was revised to $5.6 billion with debt rising by $14.0 billion instead of $13.1 billion.
Prime Minister Trudeau and his government followed a similar path. According to the recent federal fiscal update, between 2024/25 and 2027/28, the government has increased projected spending by $30.7 billion more than previously forecasted.
According to projections, only two provinces (Alberta and New Brunswick) will run budget surpluses this year, but in Alberta this is largely due to elevated resource revenues stemming from high commodity prices rather than any significant spending restraint. If resource revenues declined to historical average levels, the Smith government in Alberta would likely run deficits similar to other provinces.
Simply put, the excessive spending habits of many premiers and the prime minister are a big reason why interest rates have climbed and inflation remains sticky.
If Canadian politicians want to help tame inflation and bring down interest rates, they should look in the mirror for solutions and show leadership. Complaining about elevated interest rates helps no one, but ensuring fiscal policy is rowing in the same direction as monetary policy would be a good start.
Council boosting budget for Downtown Business Association
Council approves 2024 DBA budget, increased investment in events
“The DBA remains steadfast in its objective to build on the growth seen in 2023. The collaboration between The City of Red and the DBA is at all time high and with the pending actions set to be delivered through the Downtown Activation Playbook, I know there are many great things to come that will support our business community and create the thriving downtown we all want to experience,” said Amanda Gould, DBA Executive Director.
“Today Council demonstrated their commitment to their strategic priorities with the support shown to the DBA through unanimous support of the 2024 budget. This mighty Association continues to do great work on a shoestring budget and the 2024 Board of Directors are keen to lend their expertise and entrepreneurial skills to benefit the downtown in its entirety.”
Brandon Bouchard, DBA Board Chair
The DBA’s budget is partially funded through the BIA tax levy, which is collected by The City of Red Deer. Each year, the DBA presents its proposed budget to Council for their consideration. When reviewing the budget, Council considers alignment between the DBA’s downtown priorities and City’s community priorities.
“DBA has constantly hit far above its weight in our downtown, I can’t think of a more supportive messenger of promotion than the team at the DBA, it’s so encouraging to see this strong support for our downtown,” said Mayor Ken Johnston. “I’m encouraged by the leadership and direction of the DBA and look forward to what they have in store for 2024. They continually bring positive initiatives to the downtown even with the constraint on finances.”
The DBA’s total approved budget for 2024 is $775,160, with $277,725 funded through the BIA with the remaining amount funded through items such as grants and contracts. The BIA portion for 2024 is an increase of five per cent from 2023.
The Downtown Business Association has been operating in Red Deer for more than 30 years, serving approximately 350 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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