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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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Alberta

Enbridge wins approval to restart east leg of Line 5 pipeline through Great Lakes

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CALGARY — Enbridge Inc. says it will restart the east segment of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac after winning approval from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Michigan Circuit Court.

The Calgary-based company shut down both legs of the pipeline in June after noticing a disturbance to an underwater anchor supporting the eastern line.

The west leg was restarted, then ordered shut down by a judge at the request of Michigan state Attorney General Dana Nessel, then started again, but the east leg has remained closed.

Line 5 moves crude oil and propane from Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ont., passing through parts of Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. A 6.4-kilometre-long segment divides into two pipes that cross the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Great Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Vern Yu, Enbridge vice-president of liquids pipelines, says the decision to allow the restart is good news for Michigan residents who depend on the energy Line 5 delivers.

Enbridge says it has been assured by the pipeline administration that there are no integrity issues with Line 5.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:ENB)

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Suncor shares fall on lower oilsands guidance after mine fire repairs wrap up

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CALGARY — Shares in Suncor Energy Inc. are trading sharply lower on 2020 production guidance cuts as it restarts its Base Plant oilsands mining operation following a fire in the extraction area in mid-August.

In Toronto, the shares fell by as much as $1.80 or 8.9 per cent to $18.44.

Suncor says Base Plant production was restored to 165,000 barrels per day of mined bitumen by the end of August following repairs but said it would restrict output to manage bitumen quality, meaning full rates of 300,000 bpd won’t be achieved until the middle of the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, it says it is working to restart the second extraction train at its Fort Hills oilsands mine this month, with initial production of 120,000 to 130,000 bpd. It was shut down early this year because of low oil prices.

Suncor adds it will reduce production at its Firebag thermal oilsands project, which produces bitumen by injecting steam through wells, to 110,000 bpd for four weeks as it performs maintenance originally scheduled for 2022 and does work designed to expand capacity by 12,000 bpd to 215,000 bpd.

Full year corporate production is now estimated at between 680,000 and 710,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, down from between 800,000 and 840,000 boe/d in the original guidance last December.

“Despite the operational incident and all the challenges of 2020 — unprecedented drop in oil prices, global pandemic and economic slowdown — Suncor has continued to focus on safety and maximizing value through enhanced performance and lowering costs,” said CEO Mark Little in a statement.

“We’re pleased to be making progress on lowering costs at Fort Hills and Syncrude; we’ve opportunistically advanced maintenance at Base Plant and Firebag, brought on additional capacity at Firebag, and we believe this disciplined and strategic approach lays the foundation for strong performance in 2021.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:SU)

The Canadian Press

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