Roundup: Those amended tax proposals

Bill Morneau unveiled his latest tweaks to his tax change proposals in New Brunswick today, and it looks like a pretty serious attempt to continue to close the avenues for tax avoidance by means of using Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations, while at the same time trying not to completely dissuade the use of those corporations to help businesses save for rainy days or mat leaves, etcetera – in other words, that he’s taken the concerns seriously. So here are economists Lindsay Tedds and Kevin Milligan to break down the new proposals.

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Roundup: A reminder of why debate matters

While I haven’t been following the trial in Sudbury around those non-criminal bribery charges related to the provincial by-election, aside from Chris Selley’s columns on the topic, it was something that he tweeted from the courtroom yesterday that piqued my interest because it’s something I deal with a fair amount in writing both about law and politics. Part of the issue raised is that these sections of the law that the trial is proceeding under have never been tested before.

We see these kinds of bills passed not infrequently federally that are passed at all stages with no debate. This is usually where the Senate picks up the slack and does the actual heavy lifting, but not always. Sure, there are a few bills that are relatively non-contentious, related to national parks and such (to think of an example or two off the top of my head), but some that matter – like the changes to royal succession in Canadian law – got no debate in the Commons despite it being a fairly fundamental problem that the law as passed effectively reduced Canada’s status to that of a colony once again.

But the point I make is that the courts will often turn to Parliament for guidance in what it is they should be interpreting. That means looking to debates and committee transcripts to try to divine just what it is that Parliament intended when they passed the bill so that the judge can rule one way or the other in clarifying the meaning. And if you have no such debates – like in this Ontario statute – well, that’s a real problem. It’s also a reason why I will frequently harp on why the Senate matters so much is because they not only will offer some debate in instances where the Commons offers none, but it’s where committee testimony becomes most crucial, especially when it comes to hearing from witnesses that people object to (as happened with the trans rights bill) – because they want it on the record that they heard and dismissed these concerns should they eventually be litigated.

Parliament is supposed to matter, and MPs (and MPPs in this particular instance) do themselves and the province or country they serve a real disservice when they don’t do the job of putting things on the record. And I’ll say that the issue going on in Ontario right now with the bubble law around abortion clinics is another such issue. The provincial Progressive Conservatives offered to pass the bill at all stages – eager to get it off the agenda so that it minimizes the divisions in their ranks on the issue, and the Liberals refused, wanting instead to hear from those it affects. While the cynical calculation is that this is the Liberals playing politics – and to an extent it really is – it’s also the responsible thing to do, so that we get some debate and testimony on the record, so that when this legislation is inevitably challenged, there is a record for the courts to turn to. And yes, that matters beyond the petty politicking.

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Roundup: Preferential tax treatment warranted?

The hits keep on coming when it comes to the rhetoric about the proposed small business tax changes. If you listened to doctors, you would think that the government was outlawing self-incorporation. They’re not. If you listen to the Conservatives, it’s a “massive tax hike” and “hugely complex changes” which also doesn’t quite scan – yes, there is some complexity in how they plan to enforce the changes, but that’s not the same thing.

People also keep insisting that these changes won’t allow them to use their incorporation for savings purposes (whether for a buffer or for a maternity leave), which again, is not the case as the new rules have been outlined.

https://twitter.com/lindsaytedds/status/900542218041044992

Of course, when these facts meet their rhetoric, we have been assaulted with yet more wailing and gnashing of teeth that these preferential tax treatments are a “reward” for the risks that these entrepreneurs take. Which again, doesn’t actually fly with the research. (See Kevin Milligan’s thread starting here, which I won’t reproduce in its entirety).

In fact, you can make a number of arguments about whether the government should be subsidising the risk of entrepreneurs. Also, the it should be restated that preferential tax rates are not the reward for becoming an entrepreneur – there are other rewards inherent in the role.

Instead, we come back to the government’s argument about tax fairness, and why those who choose to self-incorporate and have families to split/sprinkle their income with should be the only ones to enjoys such privileges. Nobody seems to be able to answer that question. Funnily enough. Instead, it’s more disingenuous rhetoric and outright falsehoods about what’s being proposed here, that benefits only the very wealthy few for whom this kind of tax “planning” makes sense.

Meanwhile, Andrew Coyne takes on the notion that small businesses should get preferential tax rates for risk-taking, while taking down the critics of his arguments, who similarly are building cases on false premises.

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Roundup: Disingenuous tax concerns

If there’s one thing that the federal government’s announced changes to small business tax rules for the purposes of closing tax avoidance loopholes has done, it’s stirred up a hornet’s nest of comments from the “Tax Bad! Hulk Smash!” crowd, who have come up with all manner of misleading talking points and crocodile tears, while interested parties (such as doctors and farmers) who have been using these loopholes to avoid paying taxes are crying poverty in the media, where there has been very little pushback from credible economists to these sob stories. Particularly galling are those who insist that the ability to engage in income splitting is somehow more virtuous because they’re small business owners, as though there hasn’t been a whole cohort of people who would love income splitting to allow their spouse to be a stay-at-home parent (which is a whole entire other public policy discussion about the value of women in the workforce).

And lo and behold, Jason Kenney decided to try to get his kicks in despite the fact that it’s a federal issue and he’s currently running in the provincial sphere. The problem? That he’s offering a completely disingenuous position.

And that’s the rub – these changes aren’t affecting struggling small business owners. They’re not affecting their ability to keep the business liquid, or to save for retirement, because those haven’t been affected (as we recall, Kevin Milligan has explained this several times). And for the “Tax Bad! Hulk Smash!” crowd to try and cast these changes in such a manner is utterly ludicrous. It’s an attempt to paint the Liberals with a brush of being job killers and high taxers, which is not what these changes are about. It’s about ensuring that people don’t avoid paying taxes by virtue of these measures, so unless they’re keen to promote other forms of tax avoidance or evasion, trying to close loopholes shouldn’t be treated as an added burden to people who are doing well for themselves.

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Roundup: Urgent investigations

With more video evidence that purports to show Canadian-made LAVs being used in Saudi Arabia against their minority Shia population, Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland has ordered an “urgent investigation” of the claims. At the same time, we’re getting some pretty usual reaction from the various opposition parties and their supporters, that portray the Liberals as being wide-eyed naïfs who had no idea that these vehicles could ever be used for such purposes.

While it’s easy for the woke supporters of opposition parties to try and paint the Liberals as cynics on the issue, this ignores the very real fact that every party in the election was gung-ho about living up to this contract with the Saudis, and insisting that it would go ahead no matter what, because they wanted those jobs – particularly at the General Dynamics plant in London, ON. The fact that the opposition parties, while doing their jobs of holding government to account, are nevertheless speaking out of both sides of their mouths on this issue. It’s also easy to give facile talking points about how terrible Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is without going into the genuine strategic reasons why they’re an ally in the region, and why that complicates and adds a truckload of nuance into the relationship. And as we’ve discussed before, there is no “nice countries only” option when it comes to having an arms industry, and if you think that we can preserve those jobs without getting our hands dirty in the process, well, real life doesn’t work like that. There are trade-offs to be made, and we should be trying to have an honest discussion about it and what those trade-offs are. This chirping, like from our woke tweeter, is not an adult conversation, and does nothing to reflect the reality of the situation in any way.

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Roundup: The downside of leaks

The thing that had everyone’s tongue wagging yesterday was the release of those Trump Transcripts™ detailing calls to Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the inevitable Canada angle in which Trump says that there’s no problem with Canada, that they don’t even think about us. Some friend and neighbour.

All joking aside, this piece by Andrew MacDougall explaining how readouts of calls with foreign leaders work is crucial reading to understanding why it’s important for diplomacy that world leaders be allowed to have open and frank conversations without these kinds of details leaking out. While yes, these Trump leaks are more about the damage to his domestic agenda, they’re not revealing much about him that we don’t know already, but it remains an issue that it sets a very bad precedent, and that could have bigger and worse repercussions down the road, not only for the ability of politicians to speak freely to one another, but also for the likelihood of there being note takers in the room with Trump in the future, and neither is a good thing.

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Roundup: Disingenuous leadership promises

In the wake of the unity vote in Alberta on the weekend, there were a number of developments around the United Conservative Party yesterday morning, starting with the fact that one of the other PC leadership candidates who lost to Jason Kenney left the party, citing that it wasn’t going to be centrist enough. Meanwhile, the Wildrose house leader, Nathan Cooper, was named interim leader of the united party, while they get their Elections Alberta paperwork sorted. (Incidentally, the leadership is supposed to be decided by October 28th and the legislature not recalled until October 30th).

Brian Jean also tendered his resignation as Wildrose party leader, and made a bid for UCP leader by mid-afternoon. And that’s where some of the fun/frustration sets in.

These were two statements that Jean made, but they’re among the most problematic.  For starters, his promise on the carbon tax should be taken with a giant shaker of salt because by the time there’s an election in Alberta, there will be a federally mandated carbon price, and it would make absolutely no sense for a hypothetical Jean-led UCP government to withdraw the provincial tax only to be hit with a federal one that is designed roughly the same way – especially when the oil industry in Alberta has largely been behind the tax process because it offers them predictability and price measures that they can work with. And if Jean thinks that there will be a Scheer-led Conservative government federally who will cut the federal carbon tax, well, that sound a lot like counting chickens before they’re hatched.

The promise around equalization is even more nonsensical because there’s nothing that a referendum would actually accomplish. Equalization is a federal programme that comes out of the consolidated revenue fund. Alberta doesn’t write a cheque to Ottawa, who then turns it over to Quebec. Equalization comes out of the income taxes that everyone pays to the federal government, and is used to ensure that all provinces – especially those who don’t have a lot of revenue-generating potential – can offer roughly equal levels of services for things like healthcare. Alberta is a rich province. Its incomes are well above those in the rest of the country, and hence, they pay more income tax. That’s it. That’s how equalization works. If he thinks that he can somehow hold is breath and withhold paying, well, he’s utterly mistaken, and to promise otherwise is disingenuous, populist bilge. He can’t change the constitution either, so good luck with that. Sadly, because nobody actually explains to people how equalization works, people end up believing Jean’s nonsense.

Incidentally, Jason Kenney is expected to announce his UCP leadership bid this Saturday. Colby Cosh takes on the coming leadership contest here (and it’s a pretty cracking read).

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Roundup: Lighting a fire under the minister

It’s been a year since the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Jordan, which set upper limits for trial delays, and so The Canadian Press had a couple of good pieces on it today, both looking at the fallout in terms of what needs to change in the justice system, as well as looking at the numbers of cases that have applied or been granted a stay of proceedings owing to delays that have been deemed unreasonable. I will note that while justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says that the decision “lit a fire” under her, she’s been agonizingly slow in responding.

I write a lot for the Law Times, and I talk to a lot of players in the legal community, and there has been a sense of mystification as to what all of the delays are. The fact that it took her a year to start the process of reforming how judges are appointed was baffling, and that slowed down the process for making said appointments – especially as some of the committees advising on appointments still aren’t up and running, six months later. While more appointments are finally being made, it’s taken a long time and it’ll take even longer for those judges to be fully prepared and worked into the system.

There is the legislation that has been coming out in drips and drabs. For example, they made a big deal about a bill that would finally equalise the age of consent for gay sex, but then abandoned said bill to roll those provisions into a larger bill on doing away with “zombie laws” that have been struck down but remain on the books. How much time and energy was spent on that abandoned bill? We keep hearing about the big promised justice reforms promise – looking at the Criminal Code, sentencing, bail, the works, but we’re nearly two years in, and there’s still no sign of them. Yes, they’re big files, but this is nearly the halfway point in the mandate, and big, complicated files like that are going to take time to get through Parliament – especially in the more independent Senate where they will face pushback from law-and-order Conservatives who are looking to hold onto the “reforms” of the previous government.

And then there are the whispers about Wilson-Raybould’s office. There is a constant churn of staff, but not before great delays when it comes to actually filling positions, like the judicial affairs advisor – a pretty key role that took months and months to fill. And if these kinds of necessary staffing decisions are taking forever, what does that mean for the managerial skills of the minister? There are whispers in the legal community, and they’re not too flattering. So when Wilson-Raybould says that Jordan lit a fire under her, one shudders to think about the pace of progress had it not.

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Roundup: The Khadr settlement

News that Omar Khadr’s lawyers have reached a settlement with the government for some $10 million over his mistreatment and violation of his rights set off a firestorm, particularly among Conservatives, who took to the Twitter Machine to perform some outrage and to virtue signal, ignoring all of the relevant facts about the case, like the fact that he was a child soldier, that he was tortured, subjected to an illegal court process, confessed under duress to a made-up offence and pled guilty under similar duress, and the fact that thrice the Supreme Court of Canada found that we violated his Charter rights. (The government, incidentally, will only confirm that there is a judicial process underway, nor have any Liberal MPs joined in the online fray). And before you ask, no, this isn’t just something to be worn by the Harper government, but goes back to the Chrétien and Martin governments.

And it cannot be understated, no matter what Khadr is accused of having done (and there is much disputed evidence that he could have thrown that grenade), the reason he would be getting compensation is because Canada violated his rights. And while Andrew MacDougall may explore the partisan point-scoring on Khadr, we cannot escape the simple fact that, as Stephanie Carvin drives home, that we are now paying the financial price for violating his rights for no tangible benefit. I would add that this financial penalty should also serve as a deterrent to future governments who think that they can get away with violating a Canadian’s rights and there not be any consequences. Amidst this, that a party that purports to be concerned with “law and order” to have trouble grasping with the basics of the rule of law, and coming up with a myriad of disingenuous justifications for ignoring said rule of law, is troubling. Oh, and the widow of the soldier that Khadr is alleged to have killed, and the other he is alleged to have blinded, are applying to the Canadian courts to claim his settlement (but I would be curious to see, if it makes it to trial, if their claims would hold up in court considering that they are based on charges and evidence that would not have stood up to Canadian law).

Meanwhile, while all of this outrage is being performed, remember that these same conservatives who insist that he was fully capable of having the mens rea to commit war crimes (which there are no legal basis for) who also insist that fifteen-year-olds can’t consent to sex, or that they need parental consent to attend gay-straight alliance clubs at their schools. Because there’s so much logical consistency there.

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Roundup: A wake-up call on court complacency

The Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee released their report on judicial delays yesterday, and while I haven’t made it through the whole report yet, I will say that the highlights are pretty eye-opening.

While you may think that the issue of judicial vacancies is top of mind, it’s actually the culture of complacency that has infected the court system, with inefficient processes, poor case management, an unwillingness by some judges to take their peers to task for granting repeated adjournments, and the list goes on. Yes, judicial vacancies are in there, and this government has excelled in delays for all manner of appointments (witness the backlog of nominations for Officers of Parliament, for example). It’s part of what the Supreme Court of Canada was hoping to get at with the Jordan decision (and may refine that somewhat more with the upcoming decision on Friday), but it’s clear that a lot of processes need to change.

I know there has been some work done, and I’ve written a bit about things like the move to do more summary judgments in some cases rather than going to full trial, and it can work. I just wrote a story last week where it did, and the biggest delay in the case was getting an actual hearing date. But some of the bigger problems remain structural, with things like inadequate mental health services that wind up processing these people through the courts rather than getting them proper treatment, or not having culturally appropriate services for Indigenous offenders which would do more to address their concerns and keep them from recidivism rather than keeping them cycling through the system (or out of jail entirely). Things like legal aid funding are also important to the smooth operation of the system, but one has to wonder if it’s not just giving the court system more resources, but also better drafting laws so that we deal with crime in a better way rather than just trying to look tough on the issues.

Anyway, what I’ve read so far looks good and resonates with what I’ve heard in my own justice reporting, so maybe, just maybe, this government can take some of the recommendations seriously and not just thank them, promise to consult further, and put it on a shelf.

(Incidentally, Christie Blatchford, who covers a lot of trials, is full of praise for the report).

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