The federal government’s new tax system will allow companies to pay for research they don’t need, as long as they have a “reasonable” business case for doing so, according to tax lawyers.
The change is the latest in a series of attempts to rein in the soaring costs of research by firms, with one major new bill hitting the books in the past week.
But while it’s the first such law to be rolled out in the country, it comes with a caveat: it only applies to firms with a profit of $1.9 million or more.
“We believe this legislation provides a fair and reasonable approach to tax compliance,” the federal government said in a statement on Thursday.
“As this bill provides no financial incentive for firms, it will be a useful tool for many of our taxpayers.”
What’s in the bill?
In the meantime, there are some key points to note:While companies will still have to file tax returns for each employee they pay, the new tax regime allows them to use a “provisional tax credit” for expenses paid to staff.
This is a perk, which allows companies to claim deductions if they pay less than the maximum allowed under the tax system, based on the amount they spent on their own research.
The new tax provision also means firms will be able to pay their employees a small fee to do work for them, for a total of $25 a day.
The legislation is being introduced as part of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in January.
It will allow firms to deduct expenses that aren’t directly related to their businesses, such as research expenses.
According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, some of the biggest expenses were those of the pharmaceutical and insurance industry, which were able to claim a small $2.5 million in credits.
In a press release, the federal Liberal government called the new measure a “transformational step in Canada’s ongoing effort to encourage companies to engage in productive research and innovation.”
But some tax experts question the value of the new provision.
“The [new] provision has no discernible impact on the overall size of the [companies] business, but it does seem to allow for a significant increase in the amount of expenses paid by the companies in the new regime,” said Bruce Bartlett, a senior tax partner at Macquarie Capital Markets.
It also adds to the “huge costs” firms face, Bartlett said.
“There’s going to be huge cost overruns, the huge costs of litigation, the massive costs of staff attrition,” he said.
A new ‘tax credit’ is also part of the plan.
Under the new system, businesses will only be able a maximum of $50,000 in expenses that are not related to the company.
For example, a firm could claim up to $1 million in expenses for a research project that is unrelated to the business.
In addition, a company can’t claim an expense as “reasonable and necessary” for the purpose of complying with the tax code, but must still provide evidence of its business case.
“It’s not really a ‘tax’ but a ‘consultation tax,'” said Bartlett.
As a result, businesses won’t be able take advantage of the “consultancy tax credit.”
The new bill has already been debated in the House of Commons.
For now, the government says it is focused on helping businesses reduce their overall costs, rather than increasing the tax bill.