President Donald Trump speaks during a bill passage event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, to acknowledge the final passage of tax overhaul legislation by Congress. While they have slightly differing views on the landmark tax cuts just adopted in the U.S., and their potential effect on Canada, some of the country’s leading fiscal-policy experts agree on one thing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Evan Vucci

U.S. tax cuts: Fiscal pros weigh in on how Canada should respond

In short: Don’t expect Canada to engage in a corporate-tax-cut-war with the U.S.

While they have slightly differing views on the landmark tax cuts just adopted in the U.S., and their potential effect on Canada, some of the country’s leading fiscal-policy experts agree on one thing.

In short: Don’t expect Canada to engage in a corporate-tax-cut-war with the U.S. That’s according to three prominent fiscal experts contacted by The Canadian Press as the U.S. passed a bill that will make it cheaper to do business down south.

Kevin Page, Jack Mintz, and Kevin Milligan all agreed Canada has different policy tools to respond. And they expressed doubt the likeliest tool involves taking a chainsaw to corporate tax rates.

The University of Calgary’s Mintz believes Canada should worry about its neighbour’s tax reform; he’s expressed it in National Post pieces with titles like, “Trump’s tax tsunami is about to wallop Canadian jobs and investment.”

His view is that for several decades Canada had two business advantages: lower corporate taxes, and free trade. Now the taxes are about equal, and free trade is in jeopardy. He said Canadian businesses also face new challenges, like carbon taxes; while the U.S. eliminates regulations.

But he said Canadian policy-makers can respond with a variety of solutions. One is tax rates. Others include simplifying regulation, or designing tax policy to benefit investment, say, by steering the proceeds of carbon taxes back to businesses.

“There are a gamut of different policies,” he said in an interview.

“It’s wrong to think that a single nugget is going to solve, deal, with the issue.”

He suggests Canadians seek some clues in an annual World Bank document. In the bank’s annual Doing Business report, Canada scores high in several places — it’s No. 2 in the world for ease of starting a business.

But it points to sore spots.

Overall, Canada ranks as the 22nd-best country to run a business, sandwiched between Lithuania and Malaysia — 13 spots behind its neighbour, the U.S. It’s 57th in dealing with construction permits, and 108th in getting electricity.

Page, Canada’s first parliamentary budget officer, also doubts copycat tax cuts are coming.

“I think it is unlikely Canada will try to match U.S. tax cuts,” Page said in an email.

“Tax reform pressures will likely build in Canada over the next few years leading up to the 2019 elections but it is more likely to have a broader agenda than tax reductions , including fairness, sustainability, growth, (the) environment.”

He said corporate income taxes are one important cost of doing business — but that companies look at a variety of things: dividend, capital and payroll taxes; regulations; and production costs like wages.

He said Canada might even draw some early benefit from the U.S. tax bill. That’s because economic growth in the U.S. tends to spill into Canada. Scotiabank’s models estimate that for every percentage point of growth in the U.S., there’s a half-point growth in Canada.

Page said he expects a short-term positive impact for Canada. But he said that dissipates as the bill’s less-desirable aspects kick in — like the $1.5 trillion added to the debt, Republicans’ talk of offsetting that through social-spending cuts, growing inequality, and the diminished fiscal manoeuvring room whenever another recession hits.

He offers a term to describe the temporary boost for Canada: ”A sugar high.”

Kevin Milligan, a UBC economist who has advised the Trudeau Liberals on tax reform, said he’s not nearly as concerned about this bill as he would be if it gave U.S. businesses a permanent tax advantage of, say, five percentage points, rather than simply putting the countries at similar rates.

“Then we’d be in a world where we’d be really, perhaps, in trouble — where you’d see firms wanting … to shift profits out of Canada. The fact that we’re tied, at about the same rate, means there’s no incentive to move profit,” he said.

“That’s why I don’t have apocalyptic concerns that some others might have expressed.”

He said businesses will continue making choices based on numerous factors, like the cost of providing health insurance to employees, a significant issue in the U.S.; good transit links; pleasant communities; workforce training; and the ability to attract talented immigrants — an area where Canada has gained some advantage, he said, given the current U.S. political climate.

“So that’s the question,” Milligan said.

“Are we best off getting into a tax-rate competition with the U.S., or competing on other grounds?”

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria police Chief Const. Del Manak appreciates the efforts of residents and business owners who took part in the VicPD community survey. The questionnaire saw a combined nearly 1,000 respondents from Victoria and Esquimalt. (Black Press Media file photo)
VicPD survey says: overall satisfaction positive, accountability needs work

Respondents feel safe during day, not so much at night; more police presence would help

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is looking for this man, who they say stole a charity box. (Facebook/Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Crime Stoppers looking for man who stole charity box from Saanich grocery store

Anyone with information asked to call Crime Stoppers

A crowd gathers at Mount Newton Cross Road and Highway 17 on Oct. 23. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Highway reopens after rally supporting Mi’kmaq fishing rights in Nova Scotia

Central Saanich demonstration interrupts Friday afternoon traffic

Sooke man Rik Downer spent two weeks in the Royal Jubilee Hospital after contracting flesh-eating bacteria. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Sooke man’s bumped knee leads to fight for life

Man unknowingly contracts case of rare flesh-eating disease

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read