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The GST/HST: Creating an Integrated Sales Tax in a Federal Country

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  • Richard M. Bird

    (Department of Economics and Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto)

Abstract

Canada is not a country with a reputation for bold experimentation. However, decades of federal-provincial compromises have successfully disproved the belief that an invoice-credit, destination-based value-added tax (VAT) is unworkable at the subnational level. Canada’s experiences with the GST, as well as with subordinate VATs like the HST and independent vats like the QST, have three important and interlinked consequences for future tax reform in Canada. First, the exact shape of provincial-level taxes is largely irrelevant to the smooth functioning of a federal VAT — although lack of provincial-federal coordination inevitably raises administrative costs. Second, the nature of a subordinate sales tax is extremely important at the provincial level. As the furor over British Columbia’s HST demonstrates, governments can’t ignore voters’ views and must retain the freedom to tailor provincial-level taxes to meet them, even when public opinion leads to suboptimal outcomes. And third, the best way Ottawa can avoid such outcomes is to provide the provinces with critical support and encouragement in the form of administrative and economic assistance. Since the federal government controls Canada’s borders, over which imports and exports flow, and administers its own sales tax, there is plenty of scope for cooperation. This paper traces the history of federal sales taxation, from the first turnover tax in 1920 right up the present-day GST, along with comprehensive examinations of regional sales tax issues in every corner of Canada, making it one of the best available summary treatments of the GST.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard M. Bird, 2012. "The GST/HST: Creating an Integrated Sales Tax in a Federal Country," SPP Research Papers, The School of Public Policy, University of Calgary, vol. 5(12), March.
  • Handle: RePEc:clh:resear:v:5:y:2012:i:12a
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bird, Richard M. & Mintz, Jack M. & Wilson, Thomas A., 2006. "Coordinating Federal and Provincial Sales Taxes: Lessons From the Canadian Experience," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 59(4), pages 889-903, December.
    2. Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2009. "Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1145-1177, September.
    3. Grady, Patrick, 1990. "An Analysis of the Distributional Impact of the Goods and Services Tax," MPRA Paper 13144, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Keen, Michael & Lockwood, Ben, 2006. "Is the VAT a Money Machine?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 59(4), pages 905-928, December.
    5. Bird,Richard & Gendron,Pierre-Pascal, 2011. "The VAT in Developing and Transitional Countries," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107401440, December.
    6. Peter Dungan & Jack Mintz & Finn Poschmann & Thomas Wilson, 2008. "Growth Oriented Sales Tax Reform for Ontario: Replacing the Retail Sales Tax with a 7.5 Percent Value-Added Tax," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 273, September.
    7. Stanley L. Winer, 2011. "Reflections on the Role of Optimal Design in the Tax Policy Process," New Directions for Intelligent Government in Canada: Papers in Honour of Ian Stewart,in: Fred Gorbet & Andrew Sharpe (ed.), New Directions for Intelligent Government in Canada: Papers in Honour of Ian Stewart, pages 205-210 Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
    8. Chun-Yan Kuo & Thomas Mcgirr & Satya Poddar, 1988. "Measuring the Non-Neutralities of Sales and Excise Taxes in Canada," Development Discussion Papers 1988-08, JDI Executive Programs.
    9. David Murrell & Weiqiu Yu, 2000. "The Effect of the Harmonized Sales Tax on Consumer Prices in Atlantic Canada," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 26(4), pages 451-460, December.
    10. Richard Bird & Pierre Gendron, 1998. "Dual VATs and Cross-Border Trade: Two Problems, One Solution?," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 5(3), pages 429-442, July.
    11. Bird, Richard M. & Martinez-Vazquez, Jorge & Torgler, Benno, 2008. "Tax Effort in Developing Countries and High Income Countries: The Impact of Corruption, Voice and Accountability," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 55-71, March.
    12. Raj Chetty, 2009. "The Simple Economics of Salience and Taxation," NBER Working Papers 15246, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Michael Smart, 2007. "Lessons in Harmony: What Experience in the Atlantic Provinces Shows About the Benefits of a Harmonized Sales Tax," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 253, July.
    14. repec:clh:resear:v:5:y:2012:i:29 is not listed on IDEAS
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