National Post (Latest Edition)


Move carries risk of retaliator­y tariffs from U.S.

- Anja Karadeglij­a

The Liberal government will target Big Tech with a $3.4-billion digital services tax, despite some experts warning that such a move carries the risk of retaliator­y tariffs from the United States.

At the same time, the government will invest in broadband connectivi­ty, digital adoption by small businesses, and strategies to promote such sectors as quantum technologi­es and genomics.

The federal budget released Monday confirmed the government will go ahead with the tax, which is aimed at large companies that operate online marketplac­es, social media platforms and earn revenue from online advertisin­g. That category would include Amazon, Google and Facebook, as well as Uber and Airbnb, if they also meet minimum revenue criteria.

The budget document said the tax is “intended to ensure that revenue earned by large businesses — foreign or domestic — from engagement with online users in Canada, including through the collection, processing and monetizing of data and content contributi­ons from those users, is subject to Canadian tax.”

The three-per-cent tax will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2022 and will apply to large businesses with gross revenues of more than $1.13 billion, and $20 million in “in-scope revenue associated with Canadian users.” The government expects to collect $3.4 billion over five years.

The tax will be replaced by an internatio­nal version once the OECD establishe­s consensus on a multilater­al digital services tax. The budget said Canada is “optimistic” about that process, which aims to reach an agreement by mid-2021. “However, multilater­al discussion­s have been going on since 2013. That is why, while Canada’s hope and preference is for a multilater­al solution this summer, whether or not a deal is reached, Canada intends to take action,” the document said.

The U.S. said three weeks ago it’s considerin­g implementi­ng tariffs on six countries that have adopted unilateral digital service taxes instead of waiting for the OECD process.

The budget also outlined spending on promoting digital and tech initiative­s, including strategies to strengthen emerging tech sectors and help to move small businesses online.

It also adds another $988 million to the government’s fund for building out broadband internet connection­s to rural and remote regions of the country.

Fewer than half of Canadians living in rural areas currently have access to 50 Mbps internet service, the minimum the CRTC says should be available to all. The government has promised to extend that availabili­ty to 98 per cent of Canadians by 2026 and to 100 per cent by 2030, but advocates have called for those goals to be sped up as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Canadians’ work, school and social lives had to move online.

The additional money will bring the total funding for the Universal Broadband Fund, which was launched last fall, to $2.75 billion. The budget document said the new funding will “support a more rapid rollout of broadband projects in collaborat­ion with provinces and territorie­s and other partners. This would mean thousands more Canadians and small businesses will have faster, more reliable internet connection­s.”

The government will also launch two initiative­s to promote new technologi­es — a $360-million National Quantum Strategy and a $400-million Pan-canadian Genomics Strategy.

Quantum technology, which is based on the principles of quantum physics, “is at the very leading edge of science and innovation today, with enormous potential for commercial­ization” including in areas such as drug developmen­t and battery technologi­es, the budget said.

The seven-year strategy will boost “Canada’s significan­t strength in quantum research; grow our quantum-ready technologi­es, companies, and talent; and solidify Canada’s global leadership in this area,” the budget said.

The budget also aims to boost Canada’s leadership in genomics, or the study of genes and their functions, with a five-year project. “Canada was an early mover in advancing genomics science and is now a global leader in the field. A national approach to support genomics research can lead to breakthrou­ghs that have real world applicatio­ns,” it said.

In 2017, the government launched a $125-million strategy to promote the artificial intelligen­ce sector in Canada. Monday’s budget renews that program, outlining “up to $443.8 million over 10 years” for measures including attracting and retaining academics and to support the commercial­ization of Canadian AI innovation and research.

The government also pledges $1.4 billion to help small businesses to “digitize and take advantage of e-commerce opportunit­ies” by matching them up with younger Canadians who can provide that training.

The government said the Canada Digital Adoption Program, could help up to 160,000 small and mediumsize­d businesses. It will give them access to help from “digital trainers from a network of up to 28,000 well trained young Canadians,” while businesses that need more comprehens­ive support will be able to get “advisory expertise for technology planning and financing options needed to put these technologi­es to use.”

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