A New Approach to Improving Small Business Tax Competitiveness


  • Jack Mintz University of Calgary




Governments, including Canada’s, offer tax benefits to small businesses, such as lower rates, in the belief that these benefits encourage growth, but these attempts can easily have the opposite effect. Small businesses that face steep “tax walls,” meaning a sudden and sharp increase in tax rates once they grow past a certain size, are discouraged to grow rather than incur significantly greater tax expenses.

Canada’s tax wall is steeper than that of any other G7 country or Australia. With a tax wall representing a 27-point increase in taxes after the small- business threshold is reached, it is far higher than even the second-highest walls of 18 points in Germany and the U.S., and drastically higher than the least steep wall, of three points, in Japan.

The result is that Canada encourages investors to keep companies small and less efficient. Growing companies will choose to break up into smaller, more inefficient units, before they get too big, or they may simply look to sell out to foreign buyers after reaching a certain size. This hurts Canada’s economic growth, economic efficiency and productivity, and it depresses Canadian workers’ wages.

Further, once considering both corporate and personal income taxes, Canadian small business are taxed more highly on their investments compared to S-corporations in the United States once they grow beyond $13 million in asset size (based on specific assumptions used for modelling). The higher tax in Canada encourages small business owners to migrate or sell out to US companies.

The steepness of Canada’s tax wall is affected by the jump in corporate tax rates once a business grows larger, but it is most affected by the sharp increase in the personal income taxes paid by the owners of that business. If innovators and inventors are successful in growing a business in Canada, they will face one of the highest personal income tax rates in the world, beginning at a relatively low level of income. The system therefore encourages them to take their business elsewhere.

With a few reforms, the government could ensure the small-business tax system actually promotes small-business growth, as intended. Among them are a flat tax on corporate profits for all businesses, regardless of size, but with an annual 100-per-cent write off on capital expenditures. In addition, income averaging for small businesses would put owners, who will have lean earning years and fat earning years, on a more equal footing with salaried taxpayers. Targeted small-business dividend taxes, for owners with a large interest in an active business, and a capital-gains exemption for purchasers of initial public offerings in qualifying small corporations would also help reorient Canada’s small-business tax system towards its goal of helping businesses grow. After all, there seems little point in Canada having a small-business tax regime at all, if its effect in reality is to discourage business growth.






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