5 things to know about cannabis from Ontario’s latest provincial budget

As the federal government moves to legalize marijuana for recreational users later this year, Ontario’s latest budget sheds light on the province’s approach to sales, distribution, enforcement and revenue expectations.

– The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, an LCBO subsidiary created to manage sales and distribution of recreational pot in the province, is not expecting to generate profits immediately after legalization. It is expecting an $8-million loss in 2017-2018, followed by a $40-million loss in 2018-19, largely due to initial startup costs to establish the retail network. By 2019-20, the province is forecasting OCRC net income of $35 million, followed by $100 million in net income by 2020-21.

– In a bid to crack down on the black market for marijuana in Ontario, the provincial government is creating a Cannabis Intelligence Co-ordination Centre to shut down illegal storefronts.

– The province will create a specialized legal team to support drug-impaired driving prosecutions. As well, it plans to fund sobriety field test training for police officers to help detect impaired drivers.

– Ontario will be providing municipalities with $40 million over the first two years of legalization to help with the costs of dealing with recreational pot. The Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund will be funded by Ontario’s portion of the federal excise duty on recreational cannabis, at 75 per cent.

– Ontario plans to apply the full Harmonized Sales Tax, at 13 per cent, to off-reserve purchases of recreational cannabis by a Status Indian, band or band council, similar to tobacco and alcoholic beverages. However, medical cannabis purchased off-reserve from a licensed producer will be eligible for a rebate of the eight per cent provincial portion of the HST.

Health Canada warns about dangerous USB chargers as 1.5 million units recalled

Health Canada is warning it has discovered numerous unsafe USB chargers during a national assessment of products on the market and a recall has been issued affecting more than 1.5 million units.

The federal agency has released a list of more than two dozen chargers that “pose an unacceptable risk of electric shock and fire.”

Consumers are advised to stop using the products immediately and either return them or throw them away.

Health Canada recommends consumers check that electrical products have a recognized certification mark before making a purchase.

The certification symbol should be on the product itself and not just the packaging.

N.L. to release budget expected to include plan for carbon taxes, education

Newfoundland and Labrador will bring down its latest budget on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

Dwight Ball’s Liberal government will unveil a financial plan that’s expected to include details on how the province intends to address carbon taxes and federal government regulations to reduce greenhouse gases.

The provincial government has so far said little about how carbon taxes will be implemented and who will have to pay, making it one of the last provinces to announce its carbon pricing plan.

The document may also indicate what the government will do about the temporary deficit reduction levy _ an extra tax that was introduced in 2016 and imposed on all those who make more than $50,000 a year.

It’s expected the budget will also outline plans to split Crown corporation Nalcor, and separate the lucrative oil and gas sector from the over-budget Muskrat Falls project.

Sources have told VOCM that the government is planning to reduce the auto insurance tax as well as the payroll tax.

B.C.’s tight rental market has landlords asking personal questions: report

Some landlords in British are asking prospective tenants for too much personal information including credit card details, three months worth of bank statements and inquiring whether applicants were born in Canada, says the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Acting commissioner Drew McArthur said 1.5 million people live in rental housing, representing about 30 per cent of all households in B.C., but the vacancy rate is so low across much of the province that landlords are taking advantage of the power imbalance.

“Housing is big business in B.C.: In one estimate, residential tenancy generates a greater direct impact on GDP than the mining or forestry industries,” McArthur said in a report released March 22, 2018.

Nationally, the urban centres with the lowest vacancy rates are all in British Columbia, with the province’s overall vacancy rate at 1.3 per cent, he said, adding Vancouver’s rate is 0.9 per cent. The lowest rate is in Abbotsford-Mission and Kelowna at 0.2 per cent.

McArthur said his office is investigating whether a new service complies with the Personal Information Protection Act in its collection of information about tenants from sources including social media platforms, which landlords are not authorized to search.

“In addition, I understand that some of these organizations require prospective tenants to complete behavioural questionnaires to evaluate their character,” McArthur said.

The Human Rights Code also prevents landlords from asking for information about race, religion and family status, McArthur said.

“You also cannot inspect an applicant’s current residence or ask if an applicant may become pregnant in the next 12 months,” he said.

Landlords are authorized to collect a reasonable amount of information, such as references, recent pay stubs, a letter from an employer or permission to call an employer about income, as well as age for rental properties restricted to people over 55.

McArthur said his office receives calls daily from anonymous tenants worried about the over-collection of their personal information though many don’t file complaints because they fear being blacklisted.

In one case, a caller said a landlord asked for copies of their child’s report cards, he said.

“During this investigation, I heard from tenants seeking luxury accommodation as well as basic housing. I heard from young people and from retirees, in urban and rural areas.”

One caller reported a landlord insisted on seeing his T4 slips, even though he had already verified his income by providing a letter from his employer, and another person said a landlord demanded consent to a credit check after an offer to pay one year’s rent in advance.

“A landlord is only authorized to request consent for a credit check where a tenant is not able to provide satisfactory references, or employment and income verification,” the report says. “While it is reasonable to collect a prospective tenant’s credit history in these circumstances, it will not be necessary for most tenants, and a landlord cannot require every applicant to consent to a credit check.”

The report is based on a review of 13 tenancy applications, eight involving for-profit landlords and five that pertain to non-profit organizations. It found 10 of 13 landlords collect information, that, if used, would contravene the Human Rights Code as well as the Personal Information Protection Act.

Information requested included birth date, driver’s licence number, social insurance number, federal tax assessments, whether the applicant speaks English and the name of their bank and how long they’d been a customer there.

The report makes 13 recommendations, including that landlords must state clear, specific purposes for collecting personal information.

Feds tighten tax rules for small businesses and passive income in budget

By Craig Wong

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ The Liberal government moved to tighten the tax rules for small businesses in the federal budget Tuesday as it fine tuned the changes that prompted an uproar last year.

However, Finance Minister Bill Morneau still faces the challenge of corporate tax cuts in the U.S. that have prompted worries that companies will choose to invest there instead of Canada.

In the budget, Morneau opted to hold the line on corporate taxes in Canada, choosing to help businesses in other ways, including with spending to help women-led businesses grow, innovation and diversification of trade.

“We know businesses are concerned about the outcome of North American Free Trade Agreement talks and tax changes in the United States,” he said.

“We will be vigilant in making sure Canada remains the best place to invest, create jobs and do business and we will do this in a responsible and careful way, letting evidence, and not emotion, guide our decisions.”

The minister faced a backlash over his initial plans to change small business taxes last year before backing down on some of the proposed changes and reviving a promise to reduce the small business tax rate.

The government had pitched the changes as a way to prevent wealthy Canadians from gaining an unfair advantage and paying less tax, but small businesses said the changes hurt the middle class.

In the budget this year, Ottawa moved to gradually eliminate the amount eligible for the preferential small business rate as the amount of passive income rises above $50,000 with the small business deduction limit reduced to zero at $150,000. It also moved to limit the advantages that some businesses can obtain when they pay certain dividends.

The changes, which will apply starting with tax years that begin in 2019, are expected to bring in $925 million a year by the 2022-23 fiscal year.

“We are changing the rules for three per cent of private corporations, because the wealthiest Canadians should not be able to use private corporations to pay less tax than the middle class,” Morneau said.

Bruce Ball, vice-president of tax for CPA Canada, said he was happy that the passive income change was a simpler solution compared with other options.

“At the same time though we still believe that they should look at taxation of passive income along with a number of other changes as part of a more general tax review,” he said.

To help crack down on tax cheats, the government will spend $90.6 million over five years to address additional cases that have been identified both domestically and internationally.

Ottawa is also moving to improve the tax rules to prevent what it said was typically Canadian banks and other financial institutions from gaining a tax advantage by creating artificial losses through sophisticated financial instruments. The move is expected to generate roughly $2.5 billion for the government over five years.

It said it would also clarify the application of certain rules for limited partnerships to prevent unintended tax advantages.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said the budget included many positive measures, but noted it didn’t address some of the key issues facing the economy.

“The U.S. is engaged in the most massive tax and regulatory changes in our lifetimes. And what they’re doing is making it more attractive for people to do business in the United States. If we’re going to compete, we have to respond in Canada and unfortunately the budget didn’t respond to the that,” said Perrin Beatty, the chamber’s chief executive.

“Their priorities are on spending programs as opposed to programs that encourage growth.”

Dennis Darby, chief executive of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, also said more is needed to be done to help Canadian competitiveness.

“Canada is not attracting enough investment. As a result, innovation, growth and productivity are suffering,” Darby said.

While the minister left the corporate tax rate unchanged, the government spending plan did include cash on several fronts to help Canadian businesses and further its key priorities including supporting women in the workforce.

The government said it will make $1.4 billion available over three years in new financing for women entrepreneurs through the Business Development Bank as well as $250 million over three years through Export Development Canada for financing and insurance for women-owned and women-led businesses.

The budget also included $105 million over five years to regional development agencies to support investment in businesses led by women and $10 million over five years to connect women with expanded export services.

To help Global Affairs Canada boost diplomatic and trade support in Asia, the budget includes up to $75 million over five years starting in 2018-19 with $11.8 million per year. The money will include boosting the number of diplomats and trade commissioners in China as well as moves to promote trade with China and other Asian markets.

The government will also provide $191 million over five years to Global Affairs Canada and Natural Resources Canada to support softwood lumber jobs through litigation under the World Trade Organization and the NAFTA dispute settlement mechanisms.

Federal analysis outlines how extra EI benefit program topped $1.92 billion

A Liberal program to give extra employment insurance benefits to workers in regions hit hard by a drop in natural resource prices will end up costing almost $2 billion _ more than double original estimates.

The government budgeted $827.4 million for the extra payments.

The latest department estimates show the measure will end up costing $1.92 billion, largely the result of changes that allowed more workers to receive extra payments and unemployment rates that stayed higher for longer than the government anticipated.

Further details will come out later this year when the government releases its annual report on the EI system.

The extended benefit program rolled out in 2016 for workers in 12 regions that had seen a sharp and sustained drop in employment as a result of a downturn in energy prices.

Most workers were given an extra five weeks of benefits, while long-tenured workers received an extra 20 weeks.

By July, weekly data revealed that payments had exceeded $1.3 billion and department officials warned Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in a preliminary assessment that costs were likely to top $1.9 billion.

The assessment obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act says costs went up due to the addition of three regions to the program and making payments retroactive to January 2015, which gave workers who had already exhausted benefits an extra couple of weeks of payments.

This was particularly true for long-tenured workers. The department says these workers account for $1.7 billion in payments, despite being only 28 per cent of all recipients of the extra benefits.

The assessment noted about one-quarter of EI claimants usually use up benefits before going back to work, but almost half of workers exhausted their benefits under the Liberal program.

Employment and Social Development Canada said the unemployment rates in those regions also stayed higher for longer than officials expected, increasing “the number of claims and their likelihood of taking advantage of the EI extended benefits.”

The combined result of policy decisions and economic conditions was that 412,000 people qualified for extra benefits, instead of the 235,000 federal officials originally estimated would use the program.

“They failed to estimate just how hard it was going to be for people to get work,” said Frances Woolley, an economics professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“I’m kind of surprised that mistake was made.”

Parisa Mahboubi, a senior policy analyst from the C.D. Howe Institute, said extended high unemployment rates would have made it difficult for workers to find jobs, leaving them to stay on the program longer than anticipated.

She said the extended benefits could have also reduced incentives for workers to find new employment.

Woolley said the policy itself appears to have been helpful for workers in need, even though it went well over budget.

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