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The Canadian government has chosen to make many financial services tax exempt under the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”). In particular, under the definition of “financial service” in ss. 123(1) of the ETA, a service is an exempt financial service where it is included in any of paras. (a) to (m), and not excluded by any of paras. (n) to (t). Unfortunately, determining what constitutes a financial service and what ancillary or supporting activities are subject to GST/HST is not always clear. It’s been particularly difficult since the introduction of Bill C-9, the Jobs and Economic Growth Act (“Bill C-9”) on March 29, 2010, which refined the definition of “financial service” in ss. 123(1) to clarify that that services that support the delivery of a financial service that are in the nature of management, administration, marketing or promotional activities are not themselves financial services and are thus taxable.

The Bill C-9 changes have created considerable uncertainty in many industries as to whether exempt financial services under ss. 123(1) prior to the enactment of Bill C-9 remained exempt after the Bill C-9 changes. The uncertainty was particularly felt by issuers, acquirers, merchants, credit card companies, and any other entity that operates in the payment/credit card processing industry where prior to Bill C-9 the ss. 123(1) definition of financial service had been broadly applied to ancillary services in cases such as Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd. v The Queen, 2009 TCC 134.

That said, the question of whether or not parties operating in the payment/credit card processing are supplying exempt financial services has gotten even more uncertain after the recent decision of the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) in CIBC v The Queen, 2018 TCC 109 (“CIBC”).

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The term "arranging for", which is not statutory defined, is generally interpreted to include activities performed by financial intermediaries such as agents, brokers and dealers in financial instruments. If it is determined that an intermediary is providing a supply of a financial service under paragraph (l) of "arranging for" a service (and not excluded by any of paragraphs (n) to (t)) of the definition of “financial service” under section 123(1) of the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”)), the service is exempt under Part VII of Schedule V of the ETA. In Barr v. The Queen (2018 TCC 86), the Tax Court of Canada (“TCC”) determined that the activities performed by the brokers in relation to a private sale of a business were not exempt from GST/HST as “arranging for” services and, therefore, the commission received by the brokers was subject to GST/HST.

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In Canada, most financial services are exempt from tax under the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”). This means that financial institutions cannot charge GST/HST and cannot claim input tax credits (“ITCs”) to recover the GST/HST that they have paid to provide these exempt financial services.

The inability to claim ITCs could incentivize financial institutions to purchase goods and services in non-harmonized provinces (where only the 5% GST would normally apply) to the detriment of harmonized provinces. To prevent this from happening the ETA and the Selected Listed Financial Institutions Attribution Method (GST/HST) Regulations(“SLFI Regulations”) outline special attribution method rules (the “SAM rules”) under which Selected Listed Financial Institutions (“SLFIs”) must determine their provincial HST component based on where they supply the exempt financial services rather than where they purchase their inputs. In this context, net tax is calculated using “attribution percentages” that are based on the type of financial institution.

The Federal Court of Appeal (“FCA”) recently dealt with these complex SAM Rules in Farm Credit Canada v. Canada, 2017 FCA 244. In this case, the Appellant was a federal Crown corporation that provided specialized financial services to the farming industry. Unlike most of its private financial institution competitors, the Appellant did not accept or fund its loans from public deposits. 

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Given that financial services are exempt from GST/HST under Part VII of Schedule V of the Excise Tax Act, the “financial services” definition in section 123(1) is subject of regular litigation before the Tax Court. 

The definition is structured to delineate what constitutes a “financial service” in paragraphs 123(1)(a) to (m) and what a financial service “does not include” in paragraphs 123(1)(n) to (t)

In SLFI Group - Invesco Canada Ltd. (2017 TCC 78), the Tax Court of Canada recently had another opportunity to deal with these inclusions and exclusions in the financial services definition.  In doing so, the Tax Court applied an unexpectedly broad interpretation of the exclusion found in paragraph 123(1)(q), which deals with the supply of “management services”. 

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In The Great-West Life Assurance Company v The Queen (2016 FCA 316) [“Great-West Life”], the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the TCC’s decision that services related to processing claims for drug benefits were not financial services, and so not exempt from GST/HST.

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The TCC concluded in Rojas (2016 TCC 177) that the taxpayer’s mortgage-related services were exempt from HST as financial services under ETA subsection 123(1) and not taxable as administrative services provided to a brokerage firm.

The taxpayer was a real estate agent and also assisted clients in obtaining mortgages on the properties they wished to purchase. Because she provided mortgage services, Ontario required her to be licensed as a mortgage broker and also to obtain registration under a mortgage brokerage firm’s umbrella.

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Whether or not a supply is a financial service is a significant issue for suppliers because suppliers of financial services are unable to claim ITCs for the GST/HST they pay on their inputs. Accordingly, financial service providers scrutinize their own suppliers carefully to ensure they are only paying GST/HST where appropriate.

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