As noted earlier, today in the Legislature we were in Committee Stage for Bill 2: Budget Measures Implementation Act 2017. This is a bill that implements the various initiatives discussed in the BC government’s most recent budget update.
One of the sections in the Bill dealt with shutting down the International Business Activity Program. I took this issue very seriously as I was concerned about the unforeseen or unintended consequences of cutting this program. Prior to speaking to the amendment I sought two briefings on this particular section of the bill from staff within the Finance ministry. The evidence I gathered informed the decision I ultimately made.
Below I provide the rationale for my support in eliminating this program.
I also append in the text below an exchange I had with Shirley Bond, the MLA for Prince George-Valemont. In it you will see that I support her statement that the partisan BC NDP Caucus claim that AdvantageBC was a BC Liberal corporate giveaway scheme was not supported by the evidence (the program started under the Social Credit government in 1988).
A. Weaver: I thank the member for Prince George–Valemount for putting forward the amendment. I also wish to thank her sincerely for providing me with information, including a copy of the MMK Consulting report Building B.C.’s Brand and Assessment of the International Business Activity Program.
I have sought two briefings on this particular section of the bill out of concern, as expressed by the member for Prince George–Valemount and others on the opposition side, with respect to: what are the unforeseen or unintended consequences perhaps of cutting this program?
I will say also that I do commend the present CEO of the program, who has clearly taken steps since a previous review to get it on its right track. But if we come, in speaking to the amendment, back to the history of this program, the international business activity program was actually brought forth in 1988 at a time when the corporate tax rate — combined province and federally here in British Columbia — was over 50 percent.
At the time, the rationale for bringing it in was that in British Columbia we were not competitive with other jurisdictions in terms of the corporate tax rate.
Now, as of January 2018, the corporate Canada-plus-B.C. tax rate will be 23 percent. Corporate tax rate has come down 23 percent since the introduction of this program.
If we look, very recently, in terms of what this program is being used at, I have, in the briefings that I’ve sought to get to the full details here…. I understand that, in terms of what’s using it, factoring contributes about 29 percent; dealing in securities, about 28 percent; foreign exchange, about 33 percent; and other issues, such as with the film industry, etc., 10 percent of the usage.
Now, the issue of factoring is an interesting one. What it allows to occur, for example, is British Columbia…. It’s done in a non-arm’s-length fashion. You can set up, in a non-arm’s-length fashion, businesses in other jurisdictions. For example, if I’m a business, I can trade amongst myself by setting up a corporation in America, say, and have a company in Canada. I can go back and forth between myself and take advantage of the tax credits in this program, when really all I’m doing is taking advantage of something that is finding a means and ways of taking advantage of a specific tax break.
Where it gets particularly egregious…. This is a 33 percent that comes in with foreign exchange. I’d like to give a specific example. Let’s suppose that I would like to loan you $100 million U.S., and in order of doing that, I’m going to not loan you but find you $100 million U.S. as capital, so you’re going to get access to it. There may be, say, a 5 percent or a 3 percent commission attached with that. Now, if I’m registered in this, I can go and get the B.C. taxpayer to give me a 12 percent tax credit on that 3 percent commission.
The problem here is that that’s just not right. Why should the B.C. taxpayer…? This is 33 percent of the business model within this international business activity program. One-third of all the activity involves foreign exchange. Any service fee associated with getting money from somewhere…. And it just has to be the money. It doesn’t have to come from another jurisdiction. If it’s another foreign currency, it’s eligible for the money.
One-third of the business model, and you get a 12 percent tax credit. The B.C. taxpayer is subsidizing those who don’t need a subsidy just for the commission. It’s just wrong. I can’t see any justification for that.
You know, I’ve looked at this in detail. I understand that this report is a thoughtful report by MMK Consulting. Unfortunately, it only relied upon interviews, and pre-audited fees were looked at — that is the information that was used. That’s my understanding. The claim of 7,800 jobs that was embedded in this report is actually based on a large number of assumptions that I think could be challenged by the civil service and government if the actual income tax reporting data were available.
I’m not saying that this isn’t a thorough report, but I’m saying the analysis in this report did not have the actual data, the income tax data, that would allow it to make exact or precise assessments of jobs and income.
I took this very seriously. I took the suggestion of the member for Prince George–Valemount very, very seriously. It was not until the second extensive briefing from the civil service…. I’m very grateful to the minister and the staff of the civil service who have provided me with this briefing. It is only after extensive briefing that I must say now that I support the rationale here in recognition of the good work done by the present CEO, and I cannot support this amendment.
S. Bond: I appreciate the comments that have been made. I go back to the fact that the quote that I…. You know, this is a reasoned amendment. It’s not saying that eventually this program needs to be tweaked, modified, changed, but the minister has moved on this issue more quickly than anything else that she’s undertaken. I go back to the words in the NDP government caucus release that “there is a lack of evidence and this is a B.C. Liberal giveaway scheme.”
The request is a simple one. Take a look. Extend the time frame. The program has shown benefit, and I think our job in this House is actually to ask those questions. While there may be some amusement about that on the other side, the fact of the matter is that this has made a difference in British Columbia.
The question is simply: why so quickly? Why not give it the opportunity?
And to the minister: “I’m not interested in referring it to the task force.” That’s exactly what a task force is created for. It’s simply the opportunity to take a look at a program that’s existed, look at its merits and its weaknesses, and take the opportunity to take some due process here. In fact, in our view…. That’s why the amendment has been tabled. There was a significant lack of due process. Quick action. We’re simply asking for reconsideration and allowing there to be some time before the decision moves forward.
A. Weaver: I wanted to stand and support the member for Prince George–Valemount’s comments, with respect to this being a Liberal giveaway. Clearly, this is not a B.C. Liberal giveaway. It’s a program that was established under the Social Credit government in 1988. It was developed and continued through the NDP governments of the 1990s and continued through the 2000s under a B.C. Liberal government.
I think it’s very unfortunate wording that it’s been phrased that way, but it doesn’t change my views with respect to the actual amendment itself. I do respect the fact that it was brought forward. I think it’s a very reasoned amendment. But in light of the briefings that I’ve had with Finance staff, I remain still committed in opposition to this amendment