California Internet tax bill breakdown by Stephanie Robogeisha (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/9YoqbP
The Canadian government released a detailed document last week outlining the specifics behind its draft Digital Services Tax Act. No actual legislation has yet been passed, but the government is providing guidance on how the potential law would be interpreted assuming it takes effect next year. The document has sparked criticism from business groups and the U.S. government given that it envisions a retroactive three percent tax that will hit a wide range of businesses. Further, the Canadian plan is facing significant opposition from many OECD countries since it may jeopardize a global agreement that is designed to address the digital services tax issue. While the digital services tax (DST) is typically framed as a tax on big tech, the reality is that the Canadian version extends far beyond just companies such as Google and Facebook, potentially including major Canadian retailers such as Canadian Tire, Loblaws, and others.
My view is that unlike Bills C-11 and C-18, which create cross-industry subsidy models funded by tech companies to support government policy, appropriate taxation models is the far better approach to ensure that companies “pay their fair share”. While a DST may be a good approach (particularly if part of a global system), the Canadian plan to implement the tax retroactively next year creates some significant risks. In fact, our current approach raises the prospect of U.S. tariff retaliation, opposition from many allies at the OECD, and expanded news link blocking in response to Bill C-18.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 176: A Mid-Summer Update on Bills C-11, C-18, the Government’s Cabinet Shuffle, and the Brewing Battle over Digital Taxes
Coming off a week in which the government engineered a major cabinet overhaul that saw Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez replaced by Pascale St-Onge, an escalation of the battle over digital services taxes, and which featured significant news on both the Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 fronts, this week’s Law Bytes podcast provides a mid-summer update on recent developments. Barring some urgent news, the podcast will be taking a break in August and return in September.
The U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Ottawa this week has begun to place the spotlight on the mounting tensions over digital policy. For months, Canadian officials have not only been dismissive of the issue, but – as this week’s fishing expedition into Google and Facebook demonstrates – have not shied away from making the issue front and centre. I have been posting about trade-related risks with Canadian digital policy for months, noting that the risks are real and could result in billions in retaliatory tariffs that hits some of Canada’s most sensitive sectors. Indeed, this issue has been raised at every major meeting between senior trade officials for the past year. Is retaliation likely to happen? Certainly not immediately, but the longer the issues fester, the greater the impediment to advancing Canadian trade priorities. As Scottie Greenwood notes, “these are top-of-mind issues. They are not a small obscure issue.”
U.S. concerns with Canadian digital policy continues to mount with both the U.S. Administration and Senators from both parties raising fears of discrimination. U.S. pressure seems likely to grow as the issue emerges as a major irritant in the bi-lateral trade relationship with Canada’s most important trading partner. With U.S. President Joe Biden scheduled to visit Ottawa later this winter, it seems likely that digital policy – particularly a proposed digital services tax, Bill C-11, and Bill C-18 – will be on the agenda at the meeting.
The latest signals came last week at a bilateral meeting between U.S. and Canadian trade officials. The U.S. readout of the meeting states:
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 154: The House is Back – A Preview of Canadian Digital Policy as Parliament Resumes
The House of Commons and Senate return from a lengthy break this week and will likely run until late June with the occasional week or two off. Digital policy may not attract top line attention, but it has emerged as one of the government’s most active issues. This week’s Law Bytes podcast provides a preview of the upcoming session, looking at what may lie ahead for issues such as telecom policy, privacy reform, Bills C-11 and C-18, copyright, and trade policy.