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DeepDive: New polling shows government funding of the news industry could further erode Canadians’ trust in the media

DeepDive

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, May 10, 2023. Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press.

DeepDives is a bi-weekly essay series exploring key issues related to the economy. The goal of the series is to provide Hub readers with original analysis of the economic trends and ideas that are shaping this high-stakes moment for Canadian productivity, prosperity, and economic well-being. The series features the writing of leading academics, area experts, and policy practitioners. The DeepDives series is made possible thanks to the ongoing support of Centre for Civic Engagement.

Introduction

Canadians are losing their trust in the media. According to a report from the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford, overall trust in the media among the Canadian population has fallen from 55 percent in 2016 to 40 percent in 2023. Among English-speaking Canadians, trust in the news is even lower with just 37 percent saying they trust the media in 2023.

The decline in trust comes at a time when the federal government is increasingly intervening to support major incumbent firms in the Canadian media landscape like The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and Postmedia. These measures include subsidies supporting the payrolls of qualified private news media, mandating Google to pay $100 million annually to support the journalism industry, and a tax credit for news subscriptions, among other measures. At this point, estimates suggest that there could be as much as a 50 percent subsidy on journalist salaries up to $85,000 per year.

Amid already declining trust in the news media, there are growing questions about how government support for the industry is perceived by Canadians and to what extent this may influence trust. Likewise, further effort is needed to decompose trust along various social cleavages (including education levels and political preferences) to better understand variation in media trust among Canadians.

To this end, The Hub has partnered with Public Square Research to conduct polling on the public’s trust in the news media across the country and its views on the government subsidization of the industry. This DeepDive presents the results of this poll and discusses the potential threat that government backing of the media might pose to the news media’s already deteriorating relationship with the Canadian public. It also puts forward some alternative policy options that aim to minimize the scope of government intervention by following consumer behaviour in the market.

Survey methodology

The “Trust in News Media” survey project is focused on the trust relationship with news media in Canada. It was designed with two main objectives.

The first objective was to grasp overall perceptions of news media in Canada that may contribute to and/or undermine existing trust in news. The second objective was to gauge public awareness of recent federal legislation that will fund news organizations, as well as the overall support for public funding of journalists and journalism.

The questionnaire was designed by Public Square Research in partnership with The Hub. The survey included twenty-four discrete questions, with additional demographics. The questions covered perceptions of news media, awareness, and support for government legislation, as well as both positive and negative arguments underpinning government legislation, and the potential impact of legislation on trust in the media.

The online survey was conducted in both French and English and included 1,500 adult Canadians, which were reflective of the gender, age, and regional composition of Canada. The survey was conducted between May 28 and June 2, 2024. While online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error, the corresponding margin of error for a probability sample of this size is +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margin of error will be larger when looking at sub-populations in crosstabulation.

Impressions of the media

Survey respondents were given a list of positive and corresponding negative statements about the news in random order and asked to select the statements which came closest to their view of the media. This question was designed to isolate positive and negative perceptions, and rank which specific qualities have the greatest impact on overall perceptions of the news.

As seen in Figure 1, not surprisingly, negative statements were selected more often, with one-in-three saying that there is a lot of bias in the news—depending on who is paying for it. One in four say a lot of news is just government propaganda, and one-in-five say that news is stuff they don’t care about (22 percent) or that they don’t think they get the truth from mainstream news in Canada (21 percent).

By contrast, positive judgements were selected by fewer, with two in ten or less saying the news was fair and transparent (20 percent) or easy to relate to (18 percent), and only twelve percent saying they were getting truth from the news.

Q2. Which of the following statements come closest to your view of the news in Canada these days? Choose up to 5 that best represent your view. N=1529.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

Impressions of the media by party support 

Reviewing the same questions through a partisan lens we see a distinct pattern emerge. Liberal Party supporters are much less likely to agree with negative statements, and much more likely to agree with the positive statements about the news media (see Table 1).

Conversely, Conservative Party supporters are much more likely to hold negative views of the media and are less likely to hold positive views, with half of Conservative Party supporters saying that the news is biased, depending on who is paying for it, and four in ten saying that a lot of news is just government propaganda, and more than a third (36 percent), saying that they don’t get the truth from mainstream news. NDP, Green,* and Bloc* supporters fall more closely to the average, with a few exceptions.

Q2. Which of the following statements come closest to your view of the news in Canada these days? Choose up to 5 that best represent your view. N=1529.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson. 

Very few aware of government funding journalists’ salaries

In order to understand the public attitudes about the public funding of news media, we need to first gauge awareness of the broader legislation. When asked, we found that few Canadians said they were actually aware of the details of the government’s direct and indirect support for the industry, including specifically through the Online News Act (Bill C-18).

In fact, only four percent said they were following the legislation closely, and roughly another quarter (24 percent) said they have heard of it, but don’t know the details. That leaves close to three-quarters of the Canadian public unaware of the legislation, or details of the legalisation (data not shown). Consequently, few would have known about the government’s intention to defray the costs of journalists and journalism at all.

Few supportive of government funding journalists’ salaries

Importantly though, when asked how supportive they would be of government subsidies for the salaries of private news organizations, such as the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, or the National Post, only four percent said they were very supportive, and another twenty-six percent said they were somewhat supportive. That leaves a strong majority of Canadians—seven in ten—not very supportive, or not supportive at all.

Young people and those who are university educated are most likely to be supportive, and older Canadians (sixty-five years of age or older) are most likely to be not supportive at all.

Once again, we find a distinct partisan split on this issue, with Liberal and Green Party supporters more likely to be supportive (44, and 41 percent respectively), compared with only two-in-ten Conservative Party supporters. Conservatives are also most likely to be not supportive at all (47 percent).

Why Canadians aren’t supportive of subsidizing the news

Concerns about the growing subsidisation of news among the public centred on issues of objectivity and the ability of the media to perform a key function in holding governments to account (see Figure 2). More than three-quarters (76 percent) of Canadians agreed that the government subsidizing journalists’ salaries could negatively impact journalist objectivity. Likewise, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of Canadians agreed that if the government was funding the news, this would make it more difficult for news media to hold government to account, a core public interest function of the media.

Canadians were also concerned about the capacity of government to subsidize private news media in a fair and transparent manner. Specifically, two-thirds (66 percent) of Canadians felt that they wouldn’t trust the government to decide which specific news organizations qualified for funding and two-thirds (67 percent) also felt that they wouldn’t trust the government to define which specific media qualifies as journalism.

Q3. How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements about the government and the news media, and the funding of news? N=1529.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson. 

Interestingly, while there was partisan disagreement over support for government funding news media, there is greater agreement among Canadians of different party affiliations in terms of concerns about the effect of government subsidies on journalist objectivity (see Table 2). Over 70 percent of supporters of all major political parties agree that having the government paying journalists’ salaries could undermine journalist objectivity, ranging from a high of 86 percent of Conservative supporters to 72 percent of NDP supporters. Similar strong cross-party majorities are also concerned with how government subsidization will impact the ability of news media to challenge government.

Where there is more partisan disagreement is in terms of whether supporters of different political parties trust the government to decide who receives the funding and which organizations are deemed sufficiently journalistic. In this instance, a slight majority of Liberal supporters trust the government to make these decisions, while on the other side, less than one-quarter (23 percent) of Conservative supporters trust the government to make those decisions.

Q3. How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements about the government and the news media, and the funding of news? N=1529.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson. 

Trust in news organizations that receive funding

Finally, we turn to an evaluation of Canadian trust in the media by different funding models in Figure 3. Overall, trust in the media is highest if the media organization funding is based on readers paying for the news. Indeed, three in five Canadians (61 percent) trust media that is funded by readers. This is in comparison to two in five (42 percent) of Canadians trusting media that is funded by the Canadian government, while only one in five Canadians (21 percent) trust news organizations that receive funding from a political party that they’re opposed to. This result further highlights the risk of how funding from partisan governments could further erode trust in news media, which is already in decline.

Q4. How much would you trust a news organization that was receiving funding from any of the following; N=1529.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson. 

Key takeaways

Public trust in the Canadian news media is declining. As of 2023, according to research from the University of Oxford, only two-in-five Canadians have trust in the news media. Polling by The Hub in partnership with Public Square Research provides some indication of why trust is eroding and how growing government subsidies of journalist salaries may further impact this slide. For instance, Canadians are concerned about perceived bias in the news media, fairness and transparency in news coverage, as well as the relatability of news coverage. Moreover, most Canadians are unaware of recent policy initiatives that see government funding journalist salaries, and seven-in-ten Canadians are not supportive of these policies, with concerns including that government subsidization will negatively impact journalistic objectivity and the ability of news media to hold governments to account.

Our research also illuminates a growing partisan dimension towards how Canadians view the news media. Liberal and Green Party supporters are more likely to be supportive of government subsidization of journalist salaries (44 and 41 percent respectively), compared with only two-in-ten Conservative supporters. However, there is some partisan agreement in terms of concerns regarding the negative effect of government subsidies on journalistic objectivity and government accountability. Regardless of party support, at least seven-in-ten Canadians share these concerns.

Taking the issue of declining trust in news media seriously and recognizing the democratic importance of a free and independent press to hold the powerful (including government) accountable, it’s worrisome that government subsidies and partisan perceptions could erode this trust further. The poll results highlight the potential importance of initiatives like the Ottawa Declaration on Canadian Journalism to establish the independence of emerging news media in an attempt to rebuild the trust of the Canadian public.

Moreover, the federal government should consider the impact of current and future subsidization initiatives on public trust in the news media.  It should also recognize the unintended consequences of the further erosion of public perceptions of legitimacy. As such, the government may wish to consider policy reforms that could mitigate the concerns that the Canadian public has (see below) by creating a stronger market role for any public programs that support the industry.

Ultimately, a key takeaway from this DeepDive is that trust in the news media is highest when journalism is funded by readers.

Policy proposals for reforming government support of the news media

In light of the above polling, one of us (Taylor Jackson) has a series of policy proposals that could reform government support for the industry and stop the further slide of Canadians’ trust in media.

1. Tax credits for digital news subscriptions—let the money follow the reader

The federal government’s digital news subscription tax credit is presently a non-refundable tax credit of 15 percent on up to $500 in annual subscription spending. France’s equivalent tax credit is 30 percent. Canada’s political tax credit is more generous than both—it can be up to 75 percent on the first $400 in donations. The government may consider expanding the generosity of the digital subscription tax credits to bring it closer in line with France or the political donations tax credit. The government could also make the tax credit refundable so that Canadians receive the benefit independent of whether they have taxes owing. A key virtue of the tax credit is that public subsidies follow consumers’ market behaviour. It therefore creates a market test—something which is missing from the current subsidy model.

2. Define news journalism as a charitable activity and allow charitable incorporation of new groups

Journalism isn’t presently an eligible charitable activity under the Income Tax Act. The government has sought to get around this issue by creating a whole new class of organizations called Registered Journalism Organizations that have the ability to issue charitable tax receipts. Few journalistic outlets have opted into the new model because of its onerous approval process and overall complexity. A simpler approach would be to make journalism a charitable activity. News media organizations could then be able to avail themselves of the benefits of charitable status. Public subsidies (like in the case of option one) would follow consumer behaviour and flow to individuals rather than news media outlets themselves.

3. Reform the CBC and make it a local news wire service

The strongest case for policy intervention in the industry may be to support local journalism where one could argue there is a genuine market failure. The problem is that the CBC is presently solving this issue. Its footprint only extends to about 40 cities and communities which mostly includes provincial capitals and other key population centres. Although it has added to its local journalism capacity in recent years, it would require a far more fundamental reconfiguration of the CBC’s staffing and operations to reposition the broadcaster as primarily focused on delivering news and information for smaller markets. One such model would be to transition it to a Canadian Press-style wire service, with journalists in communities across the country focused on reporting on local issues.

DeepDive: What a pro-growth tax reform might look like

DeepDive

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre addresses his caucus in Ottawa, March 20, 2024. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press.

DeepDives is a bi-weekly essay series exploring key issues related to the economy. The goal of the series is to provide Hub readers with original analysis of the economic trends and ideas that are shaping this high-stakes moment for Canadian productivity, prosperity, and economic well-being. The series features the writing of leading academics, area experts, and policy practitioners. The DeepDives series is made possible thanks to the ongoing support of Centre for Civic Engagement.

Taxes shape our economy in countless ways. They influence everything from business investments to employment to our individual spending decisions. They also fund crucial public services, such as high-quality education and a reliable legal system, which in turn support economic growth.

This is why the United States Internal Revenue Service (their equivalent of the Canada Revenue Agency) inscribed above its main entrance Justice Oliver Holmes’ famous remark that “taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”

But taxes—especially poorly designed ones—also come with costs. Some of which can be large, particularly in the face of Canada’s poor record on investment, productivity, and economic growth.

It’s critical to get the balance between the benefits and costs right. Raising revenues to fund public services, yes, but doing so in the most economically efficient way possible.

The recent federal budget, which increased capital gains taxes, sparked a renewed debate on tax policy in Canada. The discussion so far has focused on the narrow implications of the government’s decisions. Some, such as my own initial reaction, argue that there are technical reasons within the context of broader tax reform that one might adjust that component of the tax system. Others, such as this thoughtful counterargument by Derrick Hunter and Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre, point to potentially damaging economic effects.

It’s time for a broader debate about how to move Canada’s tax system forward.

It’s time for a growth-oriented tax reform to minimize economic distortions and maximize the potential for innovation and investment to support a thriving, dynamic economy.

In that vein, the Conservatives committed only a few weeks ago to establishing (if elected) a “tax reform task force” to design a “Bring It Home Tax Cut.” There is a lot that such a task force could explore. This DeepDive aims to inform such an exercise by presenting some pro-growth tax reform options to both Canada’s personal and corporate income tax regimes.

A growth-oriented tax reform

Currently, Canada’s tax system creates significant disincentives for both individual work and business investment. These issues go far beyond how we treat capital gains. The inefficiencies and distortions throughout the tax code lower employment, reduce hours worked, and shrink incomes for those who would otherwise prefer more of all three.

It also lowers capital investment in machinery, equipment, buildings, and other assets, leading to lower productivity and a smaller economy.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are numerous options to improve the situation. While any policy change involves trade-offs, the potential economic gains from tax reform in Canada almost surely outweigh the costs.

Let’s start with individuals.

High taxes on low- and middle-income families

Who faces the largest tax burden in Canada? You might be tempted to say higher-income individuals. But the reality is that lower- to middle-income working families face the largest hit anytime they earn additional income.

This is not because federal or provincial tax rates are highest for these earners. If you earn $60,000 in Ontario, for example, then the combined income tax rate you face on your next dollar is just under 30 percent. In Quebec, it’s 36 percent. The top rates that apply for the highest earners, meanwhile, are both over 53 percent.

The high effective tax rates for middle earners come from payroll taxes, such as for EI and CPP, and government transfer programs, like child benefits. Neither affects the tax rates that high-income earners face since payroll taxes drop off past certain income thresholds and most transfers phase out with income.

Let’s start with the simplest case. Below, I plot the current tax rates faced by a single individual without kids from Ontario whose only source of income is employment (see Figure 1). This jagged line shows how much of the next dollar earned is effectively taxed, either explicitly by income and payroll taxes or implicitly by the phase-out of transfers. Perhaps surprisingly, some lower- and middle-income levels face similar tax rates as higher-income ones.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

This can discourage work. But the situation is even more striking for families.

When you have children, you are typically entitled to certain benefits that will be clawed back as your income increases. In effect, this is like an increase in the tax that you face when deciding whether to earn more or not.

So, let’s turn to the situation for a dual-income family with two young children (under six). There’s a lot going on under the hood here, and this illustration in Figure 2 is just an example, but the very high effective tax rate (over 70 percent for many!) is a common finding across a range of scenarios.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

Indeed, in recent research, my University of Calgary School of Public Policy colleague Phil Basel finds clearly that families with modest incomes of between $30,000 and $60,000 face tax rates around 50 percent on the next dollar they earn, and as high as 57 percent in Quebec. That’s significantly higher than the tax on high-income families earning over $100,000, who face rates only slightly above 40 percent.

To oversimplify (but only a little), it is fair to say that there are families in poverty who face a higher tax rate on any extra income they earn than the highest-income families in Canada do.

Beyond affecting how much you might want to work, there are also large implications for whether one wants to enter the labour force at all or not. If a one-income family is considering whether it’s worth it for the second partner to enter the labour market, perhaps taking up a part-time opportunity to help make ends meet, they may face a situation where earning one more dollar leaves them only thirty cents better off. It may therefore make little sense for them to work at all.

A pro-growth tax reform would lower these high marginal rates for Canada’s working families. We could lower income tax rates, reform payroll taxes like the EI program, or change benefit programs like the Canada Child Benefit so they phase out more slowly.

We could also, as recent work by Alexandre Laurin and Nicholas Dahir recently recommended, introduce a “benefit shield” where child benefits, working income tax credits, and all the rest do not decline as income grows, at least in the first year. If decisions to work are based more on shorter-term financial payoffs than longer-term ones, then this could dampen the disincentive to work that our system currently creates.

One thing a pro-growth tax reform shouldn’t do is pay for tax cuts for lower- and middle-income families with tax hikes for higher-income ones.

The Laffer curve

There are limits to how high taxes can go—at least if your goal is to raise government revenue.

The “Laffer curve,” as it is frequently known, summarizes this straightforward idea (see Figure 3).

It’s not a political ideology but an empirical observation. A tax rate of 0 percent raises no revenue. A tax rate of 100 percent raises no revenue either (since why would anyone earn an additional dollar if all of it would be lost?). So, a revenue-maximizing tax rate must be somewhere in between.

Imagine an upside-down U-shaped curve with tax rates moving you from left to right along it, and the height of the curve represents revenues raised. Beyond the peak of the curve, revenues fall with higher tax rates because such increases increasingly discourage economic activity.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

So where is the top of Canada’s curve?

While we can never know for sure, and it likely changes over time, some recent work by my University of Calgary colleague Bev Dahlby sheds light on this question. In simple terms, it comes down to how much the “tax base” (that is, the personal taxable incomes that we are taxing) shrinks in response to higher tax rates. In work with co-author Ergete Ferede, they found a one percentage point increase in the federal top income tax rate would shrink the amount of top taxable income by nearly two percent. That’s large.

These estimates suggest that the revenue-maximizing personal tax rate is somewhere around 50 percent. I’m abstracting from important interactions between different types of taxes, to be clear, but looking just at personal income tax revenues alone, Canada may have very limited, if any, scope to actually raise revenues by increasing top rates much further.

The same is true on the corporate income tax side of things. Dahlby and Ferede’s estimates suggest that the tax base is even more sensitive to taxes than personal income taxes are. Based on their estimates, the revenue-maximizing rates may be just under 30 percent. Again, that’s essentially where Canada already is, and the scope to raise more revenues by increasing rates may be highly constrained.

Where will top talent go?

Part of the reason why the tax base shrinks with higher rates is because some people—especially higher-income professionals—may move in response to changes in tax rates.

Top talent is, after all, mobile. And for many, the United States is a far more attractive destination. In many states, there is no income tax at all.

In California—the state with the highest top income tax—the top rate is lower than any Canadian province. But even there, you have to earn more than $1 million per year before that kicks in. In some provinces (I’m looking at you, P.E.I.), California-level income tax rates are reached once you earn $32,000.

Consider a high-income individual earning $300,000. I plot in Figure 4 the marginal income tax rates that they face below, including both province/state and federal taxes.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

Canada’s lowest tax jurisdiction (Alberta) has a higher tax rate than the United States’ highest tax jurisdiction (California). No matter where top talent lives in Canada, they face a higher tax rate than they would in any U.S. state.

To better attract and retain highly skilled and in-demand workers and businesses, top-income tax rates could be reduced.

Corporate taxes and investment incentives

It’s not just human capital that is mobile. Investment capital is too.

A business or an entrepreneur with capital to invest must consider the alternative opportunities they could invest in. Say, some broadly diversified ETF. This determines a minimum rate of return (a “hurdle” rate) that the investor needs to receive. If a certain project is expected to yield more than this “hurdle” rate of return, then it will be funded. The more projects that have such returns, the faster Canada will grow its capital stock, increasing the amount of machinery and equipment workers have. This leads to higher labour productivity and, consequently, higher living standards.

But when a company makes such an investment, taxes reduce the returns it can keep. These can sometimes be considerable and are only growing larger in the coming years, as I wrote about recently for The Hub.

One approach to improving investment incentives is to lower corporate tax rates. But this affects not only new investments into Canada but the returns on all past investments as well. An alternative that targets just new investments is to allow firms to deduct from their taxes on any and all capital investments that they make today.

In effect, treat spending on capital the same as we treat spending on labour.

There are successful examples of this approach elsewhere.

Consider Estonia.

Their system is quite attractive. Estonia’s personal income tax rate is a flat 20 percent, with a basic exemption that lowers the burden on lower-income individuals. Its broad VAT rate (its equivalent to the GST/HST) is also set at 20 percent. And its corporate tax rate? You guessed it: 20 percent, which is much lower than Canada’s 23–31 percent, depending on the province.

Adopting a 20/20/20 tax system in Canada might not be feasible, at least in the short term, but there are features of the Estonian system worth considering for a pro-growth tax reform agenda in Canada.

The most innovative aspect of Estonia’s business tax system is that profits reinvested in the company’s operations are completely exempt from taxation. Taxes are only levied when profits are distributed to owners. Effectively, this treats capital spending the same as operational expenses. A dollar invested in new machinery and equipment would, in effect, be exempt from taxation.

This provides a significant incentive for investment and growth that Canada currently lacks. Adopting this approach to taxation—as another one of my University of Calgary colleagues, Jack Mintz, recently advocated—would be central to any pro-growth business tax reform.

A particularly important benefit of this approach is that it is broad-based, covering the entire economy and all forms of business investment. This is in sharp contrast to the current federal and provincial government approaches that aim to encourage investment through targeted tax measures and subsidies, which can distort market decisions and favour certain industries over others.

The Estonian approach provides a level playing field for all businesses. By allowing all firms to deduct their capital investments from their taxes, it removes the need for government intervention to pick winners and losers. This neutrality ensures that investment flows to the most productive uses, which creates an environment where businesses thrive based on their merits and contributions to the economy rather than their ability to secure subsidies or navigate complex tax incentives.

Radical reform: lower income taxes and raise consumption taxes

Lowering personal tax rates and modernizing business taxes could have real benefits for Canada’s economy. Modest pro-growth changes are possible even without needing to raise new sources of revenue. But to radically improve the situation, Canada should also consider increasing taxes on consumption to fund even more dramatic reductions in taxes on income.

This doesn’t mean we have to increase the GST. While there is a strong economic case to do so, there are political challenges. Luckily, there are options to make the income tax system look much more like a consumption tax without touching the GST.

This is easier to do than you might think. It involves expanding the scope to exempt savings and investment from income taxation. Consumption is, after all, what you are not saving out of your income.

A pro-growth tax reform could raise RRSP and TFSA contribution limits, for example, but also introduce new ways of saving for investment (rather than just saving for retirement). Allowing any dollar not consumed, but instead saved and invested, to be deducted from taxable income would be like increasing consumption taxes and decreasing income taxes without the same political challenges that a GST hike would have!

And while we’re on the subject of consumption taxes, it’s high time that British Columbia reconsidered their previous decision to scrap the HST. Research from Jack Mintz previously found that adopting the harmonized sales tax system in British Columbia reduced the effective tax rate on capital for large- and medium-sized entities from nearly 30 percent in 2009 to less than 22 percent in 2010. For small businesses, he found the size of the drop was even larger. This simple change was effectively a “giant leap” for B.C.’s tax competitiveness.

Compliance costs

Finally, there are the obvious costs of effort, time, and resources that we put into complying with existing taxes. Recent work by Francois Vaillancourt and Nathaniel Li surveys a large number of Canadians to learn about how much time and money is spent completing their annual filing. They find that compliance costs just for personal income taxation alone were roughly $4.2 billion in 2022, which doesn’t even include the much more significant costs imposed on businesses on the corporate side. Simplifying things would yield immense and immediate benefits.

This could involve automating more of our tax system, especially for those with simple returns. For those taxpayers, the CRA could simply send you a statement that you either accept or reject. If you accept, then you’re done, and no further actions are required. But this should also involve simplifying the tax code itself by eliminating most of the countless credits and deductions found throughout the system in exchange for lower rates across the board.

Key takeaways—A broad view by governments is needed

This list of issues goes on. And on.

But it should be clear that Canada is long overdue for a major and serious overhaul of its tax system. At the very least, it needs a good, hard look.

The above analysis presented several broad-based, pro-growth reforms that could improve the country’s economic climate, while also introducing more fairness and simplicity into the tax system, including:

  • Increasing fairness and reducing disincentives to work by lowering marginal tax rates on working families
  • Reducing top marginal tax rates and/or thresholds to help Canada attract and retain high-skilled workers
  • Use broad-based reforms to the corporate income tax system to incentivize new investments
  • Increasing taxes on consumption to fund even more dramatic reductions in economically costly taxes on income—not necessarily by increasing the GST, but by further incentivising savings that can be used as investment in Canada’s economy
  • Simplify the tax system to reduce compliance costs

Reform is difficult, of course. The system is a complex morass of overlapping and interacting components. Those who want one that increases investment, boosts labour force participation, enhances entrepreneurship and risk-taking, decreases compliance costs, and so on, must look at the entire picture.

The stakes are high. So whatever the outcome of the next election, the government shouldn’t shy away from bold, growth-oriented tax reforms that help reverse our current economic malaise.