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Subsection 141.01(2) of the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”) deems a property or service acquired for use in a business to be for use in commercial activities only to the extent that it is used in the making of taxable or zero-rated supplies. On the other hand, subsection 141.1(3) provides that any action of a person in connection with the acquisition, establishment, disposition, or termination of a commercial activity is deemed to occur in the course of commercial activities. An apparent conflict therefore exists where a property or service is acquired by a registrant in connection with the acquisition, establishment, disposition or termination of a commercial activity, but where taxable supplies have not yet been made or have ceased: a registrant is deemed to have incurred the property or service in the course of commercial activities by subsection 141.1(3), but also deemed to have incurred same in the course of non-commercial activities by subsection 141.01(2).

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A taxpayer who ceases to be GST/HST registrant can be hit with a hefty tax bill due to subsection 171(3) of the Excise Tax Act (the “ETA”), which in effect triggers a deemed disposition, which with other provisions in the ETA, forces the person ceasing to be a registrant to self-assess GST/HST on the fair market value of any remaining property.

This is an often over-looked consequence of the wind-up of commercial activities, and is aimed at putting such a business on the same footing as any other person acquiring property for non-commercial activities: to effectively have acquired that property on a fully GST/HST paid basis.

A recent case illustrates this concept, as well as the trouble that can come with pre-mature cancellation of one’s GST/HST registration number (which does not necessarily equate to ceasing to be a “registrant”).

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Living Friends Case - In Living Friends Tree Farm (2016 TCC 116), the central issue was whether the taxpayer’s expenses in respect to preparation for a Christmas tree farm were incurred in relation to commercial activity.  The TCC held for the Minister, noting that it was impossible to determine how much of the alleged commercial venture was genuinely commercial and how much reflected the registrant’s personal lifestyle desires.

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