Post Tagged with: "hst"

State of Washington Tax Commission Sales Tax Token by Curtis Perry (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/dHn6my

Making Sense of the Canadian Digital Tax Debate, Part 1: Digital Sales Taxes

Digital tax has emerged as one of the most contentious Canadian digital issues with groups advocating for a wide range of new enforcement or policy measures including digital sales tax, taxes on online video services, income taxes on digital companies, tax measures in support of media organizations, Internet access taxes, and digital device taxes. Unfortunately, the debate is often muddled by the use of the same terms, creating considerable confusion. For example, references to “Netflix taxes” have been used with regard to digital sales tax on Netflix, mandated Canadian content contributions for Internet services such as Netflix, and income taxes payable by Netflix.

This blog series will attempt to unpack digital tax debate. The series begins with digital sales taxes, which was back in the news earlier this month when Finance Minister Bill Morneau confirmed that Canada is awaiting an international agreement on digital sales taxes before implementing any domestic reforms. Morneau indicated the government would support a quick resolution of the issue – the current deadline is 2020 – but that a provincial digital sales tax in Quebec will not spark a matching federal tax until the global issues are resolved.

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October 24, 2018 6 comments News
Mentre tassisti (e teppisti) devastano Roma, Uber è sempre più utilizzato by Automobile Italia (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/SoruaR

C’mon Uber: Sales Taxes on Uber Rides Are Not a “Tax on Innovation”

Yesterday’s federal budget included plans to amend the law to ensure that GST/HST is applicable to ride sharing services such as Uber. The budget states that the government will:

Amend the definition of a taxi business under the Excise Tax Act to level the playing field and ensure that ride-sharing businesses are subject to the same GST/HST rules as taxis.

This change should not be particularly controversial. No one likes paying taxes, but equal application of sales taxes ensures appropriate revenue collection and a level-playing field for all businesses in the sector. As I noted in an earlier post, I expect that this is a first step toward extending requirements to collect and remit sales taxes on foreign digital services such as Netflix and Spotify.  Applying sales taxes to all foreign digital services is complicated – there needs to be thresholds implemented to ensure that administrative costs do not outweigh revenues collected – but Uber is well established in Canada with many local jurisdictions establishing a regulatory framework for the service.

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March 23, 2017 8 comments News
Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) national headquarters in Ottawa by Obert Madondo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/oWPkF8

Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada?

While some of these claims stem from the ongoing fear of marketplace disruption from Netflix, the tax fairness argument is a good one. In fact, many other countries or tax jurisdictions have either instituted sales taxes on foreign digital services or are in the process of doing so. For example, the City of Buenos Aires in Argentina last year passed a resolution forcing debit and credit card issuers to withhold three per cent from payments made to streaming service providers. The levy was specifically targeted at Netflix subscribers in the city and was reportedly designed to make local streaming services more competitive.

Interestingly, technically there is tax equivalency since Canadians are supposed to self-report the applicable sales tax in a self-assessment. In reality though, few are aware of the obligation and even fewer do so. Indeed, with an annual HST bill of $12.46 for a 12-month Netflix subscription, the missing dollars seem insignificant on an individual level.

Those individual bills can add up to millions of dollars, however, which may provide enough incentive for the federal government to conveniently forget the fall promise of “no Netflix tax” (which referred to a fee for creating Canadian content, not sales tax) and establish a system to require foreign digital operators to collect and remit sales tax on their Canadian sales.

Should the government embrace extending sales taxes to foreign services, the big question will lie in the implementation.  The issue of creating a global sales tax system that requires foreign provides to register and remit sales taxes is fraught with complexity.

Registration requirements alone create new costs that some businesses may be unwilling to bear. In fact, some may simply decide to avoid or block the Canadian market altogether, leading to even more services that either decline to sell to Canadians or which increase their prices to account for the regulatory cost burden.

In order to avoid burdening small businesses, countries may set a revenue threshold before registration and collection requirements kick in.  For example, Switzerland requires foreign digital service providers to register and collect an 8 per cent tax provided that they earn more than C$140,000 annually in income.

Even with a threshold to limit collection to larger businesses, the complexity associated with digital sales taxes is difficult to avoid.  Will the collection apply solely to consumer purchases or also business-to-business sales? Will all digital sales – including virtual property in games or cloud computing services – be subject to a levy?

Given the ever-changing digital environment, the digital taxman may be on the way, but identifying what is subject to sales tax will be easier said than done.

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January 27, 2015 7 comments Columns