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Hiding in Plain Sight: The Harmful Impact of Provincial Business Property Taxes


  • Adam Found

    (University of Toronto)

  • Peter Tomlinson

    (University of Toronto)


When governments analyze tax policies aimed at attracting investment, they typically rely on a variable called the marginal effective tax rate (METR) on capital. The METR is a measure of the effective tax burden on new business investment. Recent Ontario budgets have presented estimates of the METR, while emphasizing the economic benefit of reducing taxes included in these estimates. This Commentary makes the case that METR estimates have so far underestimated the actual tax burdens that investors face, because they exclude a major tax on businesses: provincial business property taxes. Excluding these taxes means that provinces do not adequately recognize the economic benefit of reducing them. Provincial governments in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the three provinces we consider, now hold the taxing power once held by school boards. This power shift has transformed the business education tax (BET). When school boards controlled the BET, it combined – at least potentially – two separate taxes: a benefit tax financing local schools and a tax on capital investment. Provincial takeovers have since eliminated any benefit tax component. From the standpoint of investors, business education taxes – despite their obsolete name – are now simply provincial business property taxes. We find that including the BET adds substantially to METR estimates in Ontario. The impact of the BET on British Columbia’s METR appears to be somewhat less than the impact in Ontario, while the impact on Alberta’s METR appears substantially less. The BET’s substantial impact on Ontario’s METR lends strong support to the case for parity between business and residential education tax rates. We estimate that if the BET rate were reduced to parity with the residential education tax (RET) rate, its METR impact would be much smaller. Even an announcement that BET/RET rate parity is to be attained in 15 years would immediately reduce the METR impact of BET due to the effect on investor expectations. As a start, governments should include the BET in published METR estimates, such as the estimates published routinely in Ontario budgets. Leaving out the BET means missing a large part of the tax burden investors pay. It thus leads governments to underestimate the negative impacts on investment stemming from their tax systems, and it causes governments to defer – perhaps indefinitely – tax reforms needed to mitigate those negative impacts.

Suggested Citation

  • Adam Found & Peter Tomlinson, 2012. "Hiding in Plain Sight: The Harmful Impact of Provincial Business Property Taxes," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 368, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdh:commen:368

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robin Boadway & Neil Bruce & Jack Mintz, 1984. "Taxation, Inflation, and the Effective Marginal Tax Rate on Capital in Canada," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 17(1), pages 62-79, February.
    2. Philippe Bergevin & William B.P. Robson, 2012. "More RRBs, Please! Why Ottawa Should Issue More Inflation-Indexed Bonds," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 363, September.
    3. William B.P. Robson & Alexandre Laurin, 2012. "Federal Employee Pension Reforms: First Steps - on a Much Longer Journey," e-briefs 140, C.D. Howe Institute.
    4. Benjamin Dachis & William B.P. Robson, 2012. "From Living Well to Working Well: Raising Canada's Performance in Non-residential Investment," e-briefs 137, C.D. Howe Institute.
    5. Benjamin Dachis, 2012. "Stuck in Place: The Effect of Land Transfer Taxes on Housing Transactions," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 364, October.
    6. Jonathan Witmer, 2010. "Trends in Issuance: Underlying Factors and Implications," Bank of Canada Review, Bank of Canada, vol. 2010(Autumn), pages 19-30.
    7. David Longworth, 2012. "Combatting the Dangers Lurking in the Shadows: The Macroprudential Regulation of Shadow Banking," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 361, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:clh:briefi:v:10:y:2017:i:9 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Benjamin Dachis & Adam Found & Peter Tomlinson, 2014. "The 2014 C.D. Howe Institute Business Tax Burden Ranking," e-briefs 187, C.D. Howe Institute.

    More about this item


    Fiscal Policy; Tax Competitiveness; Canada; Property Taxes;

    JEL classification:

    • H25 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Business Taxes and Subsidies
    • H71 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue


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