Author: Sabina Han

Proposed Changes to ITC Rules for Holding Corporations

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On July 27, 2018, the Department of Finance announced draft legislation to amend the GST/HST holding corporation rules in section 186 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) (“the ETA”), effective on and after July 27, 2018. This article summarizes the background, the  proposed rules, and related considerations for corporate groups that rely on the rules in section 186 to claim input tax credits (“ITCs”).

Background

For the most part, the proposed changes focus on subsection 186(1) of the ETA, which generally allows a holding corporation to claim ITCs in respect of GST/HST expenses where the holding corporation and another corporation are “related” as defined in subsection 126(1) of the ETA (“the Related Test”), and the GST/HST expenses can reasonably be regarded as having been acquired for consumption or use in relation to shares or debt of the related corporation (“Purpose Test”). All or substantially all of the property of the related corporation must also be for consumption, supply or use exclusively in the course of its commercial activities (“Property Test”). While both the holding corporation and the related corporation must be corporations, only the holding corporation is required to be resident in Canada and registered for GST/HST.

Over the years, the Canada Revenue Agency (“the CRA”) interpreted the Purpose Test in a manner that significantly limited the scope of subsection 186(1). For example, the CRA’s view as expressed in GST/HST New Memorandum 8.6, “Input Tax Credits for Holding Corporations and Corporate Takeovers”, November 2011, example #3, was that if a parent corporation raises capital by issuing its own shares in order finance the purchase of additional shares in a related corporation, related expenses would be “for consumption or use in relation to HoldCo issuing shares of its capital stock (the first order of supply) and not for consumption or shares in relation to the shares of [the related corporation]” as required to claim ITCs under subsection 186(1).

Practitioners and taxpayers generally took a broader view of subsection 186(1) based on the jurisprudence, including the Tax Court of Canada’s informal decision in Stantec Inc. V.R., [2008] G.S.T.C. 137 (TCC). In the absence of a binding decision from the courts on the scope of this provision (the Tax Court of Canada’s Act provides that an informal procedure judgement is not to be treated as precedent in any other case), the scope of subsection 186(1) remained the subject of dispute.

Proposed Rules

While the proposed changes address some of these issues, they go beyond clarifying the scope of the Purpose Test, and essentially replace it with a detailed set of rules. If the proposed legislation is enacted in its current form, ITC eligibility will no longer turn on whether the inputs “can reasonably be regarded” as being in relation to the shares or debt of a related corporation, but on whether the detailed and specific requirements of paragraph 186(1)(a), 186(1)(b) and 186(1)(c) are met.

Operating Corporation Test

In each case, in order for GST/HST expenses incurred by a holding corporation to be recovered under subsection 186(1), the “operating corporation” test must be met. These requirements are also found in the current version of subsection 186(1), but are being moved into a new provision under the proposed rules.

Pursuant to new subsection 186(0.1) of the ETA, a particular corporation (“Subsidiary”) qualifies as an “operating corporation of another corporation” if the following conditions are met:
1. The Subsidiary is “related” as defined in subsection 126(2) of the ETA to another corporation (“ the Parent”), and 2. All or substantially all of the property of the Subsidiary is property that was last manufactured, produced, acquired or imported by the Subsidiary for consumption, use or supply by the Subsidiary exclusively in the course of its commercial activities.

The test for when two corporations are “related” for these purposes is defined in subsection 126(2) and looks to whether the corporations are related pursuant to subsections 251(2) to (6) of the Income Tax Act (Canada). As discussed further before, the Department of Finance has requested comments on whether this test should be changed to a “closely related” test instead.

For purposes of determining whether an input is for consumption, use or supply exclusively in the course of commercial activities, the CRA’s view, as summarized in New Memorandum 8.6, supra, is that “‘exclusively’ generally means 90% or more for non-financial institutions and 100% for financial institutions.”

Purpose Test

Under the proposed rules, the underlying expenses must also fall under one of new paragraphs 186(1)(a), 186(1)(b) or 186(1)(c) in order to qualify for ITCs. In brief, these provisions would allow ITCs to be claimed for expenses incurred in respect of a Subsidiary that meets the above Operating Corporation Test (“Qualifying Subsidiary”) in the following circumstances:

a) Proposed paragraph 186(1)(a) generally provides for ITCs on expenses incurred by the Parent to dispose of, obtain or hold, shares or indebtedness of a Qualifying Subsidiary, or on expenses incurred by a Qualifying Subsidiary to issue, redeem, convert or otherwise modify same.

b) Proposed paragraph 186(1)(b) generally provides for ITCs in relation to expenses incurred by the Parent to raise capital to the extent the proceeds are transferred for shares or debt to a Qualifying Subsidiary for use exclusively in the course of its commercial activities. The amount claimed under this provision would need to be pro-rated as appropriate if only a portion of the proceeds raised are transferred to a Qualifying Subsidiary or the Qualifying Subsidiary does not use the proceeds exclusively in the course of its commercial activities.

c) Proposed paragraph 186(1)(c) generally provides for ITCs in relation to expenses incurred by the Parent for the purpose of carrying on its activities if all or substantially all (generally understood to mean at least 90%) of Parent’s property is shares, or indebtedness of, Qualifying Subsidiaries unless (i) the expenses were incurred for activities that primarily relate to investments in entities other than Qualifying Subsidiaries, or (ii) the expenses relate to the making of an exempt supply by Parent, other than the financial services that are listed in clauses 185(1)(c)(ii) (A) to (E). The enumerated financial services generally include dealings in shares or debt of a Qualifying Subsidiary or Parent, guarantees in respect of same, the payment or receipt of related dividends or similar amounts, as well as underwriting of shares or indebtedness of a Qualifying Subsidiary.

Thoughts/Takeaways

Section 186 is an important provision, as businesses commonly operate through multiple legal entities, and Canada’s GST/HST regime does not have tax grouping or VAT grouping unlike other jurisdictions. In the absence of section 186 (and other relieving provisions), businesses that operates through multiple legal entities (and incur expenses in respect of non-GST/HST registered subsidiaries that engage in commercial activities outside Canada, for example) would routinely incur unrecoverable GST/HST.

The draft amendments are helpful in resolving long-standing disputes on certain types of costs, including expenses incurred by the Parent to raise its own capital to in turn invest in shares or debt of its subsidiary. At the same time, the proposed rules include new Purpose Test requirements, which raise new questions. For example, while proposed paragraph 186(1)(b) allows ITCs in relation to expenses incurred by the Parent to raise capital, this is only to the extent that the proceeds are transferred for shares or debt to a Qualifying Subsidiary for use exclusively in the course of its commercial activities. It is not clear in what timeframe this transfer of proceeds must occur, and what will be sufficient to meet the requirement that the proceeds be for use by the Subsidiary exclusively in the course of commercial activities.

Other Potential Changes to Section 186

Concurrent with the release of the proposed rules, the Department of Finance announced that it is considering whether the long-standing “related” test currently included in proposed subsection 186(0.1) of the ETA should be replaced with a “closely related” test, consistent with other GST/HST rules that require two corporations to be “closely related” to be treated as one person. This change would require 90% common ownership instead of 50% common ownership under the current rules and would significantly reduce the scope of subsection 186(1).

Also, the rules in section 186 currently only apply where both the parent and related person are corporations. The Department of Finance is considering whether these rules should be expanded to partnerships and trusts.

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GST/HST burden, insolvent suppliers, and the pros & cons of credit notes

lab-316553On January 12, 2018, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal (the “FCA”) released its decision in North Shore Power Group Inc. v. Canada, 2018 FCA 9 (“North Shore Decision”), which addressed the tax implications to a purchaser of receiving credit notes from an insolvent supplier.  The FCA’s unanimous decision also sheds light on the scope of a purchaser’s obligation for unremitted goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax (“HST”) and illustrates how the textual, contextual and purposive approach to statutory interpretation is applied by Canadian courts.  The decision also serves as a useful reminder of the practical considerations for purchasers, as well as suppliers, in using credit notes when dealing with refunds.

HST overpayments generally

By way of background, HST overpayments made by a purchaser to a supplier are generally addressed in one of two ways: (1) the purchaser files a rebate with the Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”) for the tax (an option that many suppliers favour), or (2) the supplier can refund the tax to the purchaser and claim the refunded tax back in its HST return (an option that many purchasers favour).  The rules relating to option (2) are set out in section 232 of Part IX of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) (the “HST legislation”), and were the subject of the North Shore Decision.

Section 232 of the HST legislation

Subsection 232(3) is triggered when a supplier “adjusts, refunds or credits” HST under section 232 (e.g. because the HST was incorrectly charged or the price was later reduced) to a purchaser and generally requires, among other things, that the supplier “within a reasonable time, issue to the other person a credit note, containing prescribed information…” If the purchaser has already claimed back the HST paid to the supplier as an input tax credit (“ITC”), section 232 requires the purchaser to repay the credited HST to the CRA when it files its HST return, so that it is prevented from recovering the single HST payment twice (i.e. once as an input tax credit and once as a credit from the supplier).

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GST/HST Voluntary Disclosures – New Rules are Coming March 2018

office-1209640_1920On December 15, 2017, the Canada Revenue Agency (the “CRA”) released new guidelines on the rules applicable to voluntary disclosures that are made (or for which the name of the taxpayer is disclosed) on or after March 1, 2018.  Like the earlier draft guidelines, which were released on July 9, 2017, the new guidelines include a separation of the rules applicable to income tax voluntary disclosures and the rules applicable to disclosures of errors relating to GST/HST and other non-income taxes.  Below is a summary of the new voluntary disclosures program for GST/HST (“VDP”).

Background

The voluntary disclosures program allows taxpayers to make disclosures to the Canada Revenue Agency to correct inaccurate or incomplete information, or to disclose information not previously reported. We understand there were concerns within the CRA that the existing program was overly generous to participants in the program (as compared to taxpayers who had been fully compliant), and proposals to revise the program have been in the works for some time now.  In this regard, the CRA issued an earlier version of the VDP guidelines for comments on June 9, 2017, with an initial proposed implementation date of January 1, 2018.

There was much speculation that this implementation date would be postponed, as well as  hope that the final guidelines would address concerns expressed by many tax practitioners that certain proposed measures in the June 9, 2017 version were too harsh and would lead to few taxpayers choosing to avail themselves of the program.  In the result, the new VDP guidelines includes significant improvements from the July 9, 2017 version.  As compared to the program that is currently in place, the new VDP is more beneficial for taxpayers in some cases, and worse for taxpayers in others.

VDP Categories

The new VDP includes three categories for disclosures, depending on the taxpayer’s circumstances.

Category 1 (GST/HST Wash Transactions Disclosures)

Category 1 disclosures include disclosures of errors relating to qualifying GST/HST “wash transactions”. This generally covers situations where a taxpayer who supplied goods or services fails to collect and remit tax as required, and the recipient would have been entitled to full input tax credits.  Wash transactions will continue to be eligible for full relief from interest and penalties under the new VDP. As for the relevant period, these disclosures will require disclosure of previously inaccurate, incomplete or unreported information for the four calendar years before the date the VDP application is filed.

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Canada’s Cannabis Taxation Regime

photo-1503262167919-559b953d2408There has been much speculation on how Canada will tax cannabis, which is expected to be legalized for retail sale in Canada by July 2018.  The much anticipated draft tax legislation was released by the Department of Finance on Friday November 10, 2017, and is out for consultation until December 7, 2017.

Proposed Tax Regime

Under the proposed cannabis tax regime, most supplies of cannabis will be subject to GST/HST (at rates currently ranging from 5-15% across Canada).  Cannabis, both for recreational or medical use, will also be taxed under the Excise Act, 2001 (Canada) (the “Act”), which currently imposes federal excise duty on spirits, wine and tobacco product made in Canada.  Both taxes on cannabis will be administered by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Similarly to the current GST/HST regime, the provinces and territories will be offered the option of joining the federal tax regime for cannabis taxation, in which case the excise duty on cannabis will be made up of the federal rate, plus an additional rate for the participating province or territory.  The division of tax revenues is currently under discussion between the federal government and the provinces, which will be responsible for controlling the distribution and retail sales of cannabis in each province.  In this regard, the federal government has indicated its goal of setting the maximum total excise duty rate at the greater of $1 per gram or 10 per cent of the sale price of the product.

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