THE GST AND FINANCIAL SERVICES: PAUSING FOR PERSPECTIVE
The treatment of financial services has long been viewed as one of the more technical, and difficult, areas in value added taxation. Financial intermediaries add value by reducing transaction costs for clients. While in principle this value added should be taxed under a comprehensive VAT, this has proven to be difficult to do in practice because of measurement issues. The predominant approach adopted in most countries-albeit with several variations on the theme-has thus been to exempt most
... to exempt most financial services from VAT. This was the approach adopted in Canada at the initiation of the GST just over twenty years ago. While this approach is far from perfect, and introduces several distortions into the economy, it has by and large been concluded that it is the most practical approach to dealing with financial services under a VAT. Two decades of legal wrangling and Ottawa's habit of retroactively legislating changes to the GST as it relates to financial services have served to muddy the waters in Canada. Recent changes have significantly altered the scope for exemption and resulted in an uneven playing field across financial services. This paper argues that the best solution for Canada is to stick with the exemption approach, but to go back to basics with an eye for reducing existing distortions and restoring a semblance of neutrality. Specifically, the paper calls for a reset of the "arranging for" exemption for financial services; the creation of a new GST-recovery system for financial services; a new structure for taxing imported supplies; and a limit to retroactive legislative amendments and minimum requirements for future amendments. The authors also argue that consideration should be given to zero-rating "business to business" financial transactions so as to remove the GST embedded in transactions between financial institutions and businesses. † The authors wish to acknowledge the helpful comments of the anonymous referees.