Capital gains tax change draws ire from some Canadian entrepreneurs worried it will worsen brain drain

A chorus of Canadian entrepreneurs and investors is blasting the federal government’s budget for expanding a tax on the rich. They say it will lead to brain drain and further degrade Canada’s already poor productivity.

In the 2024 budget unveiled Tuesday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government would increase the inclusion rate of the capital gains tax from 50 per cent to 67 per cent for businesses and trusts, generating an estimated $19 billion in new revenue.

Capital gains are the profits that individuals or businesses make from selling an asset — like a stock or a second home. Individuals are subject to the new changes on any profits over $250,000.

The government estimates that the changes would impact 40,000 individuals (or 0.13 per cent of Canadians in any given year) and 307,000 companies in Canada.

However, some members of the business community say that expanding the taxable amount will devastate productivity, investment and entrepreneurship in Canada, and might even compel some of the country’s talent and startups to take their business elsewhere.

WATCH | The federal budget hikes capital gains inclusion rate: 

Federal budget adds billions in spending, hikes capital gains tax

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled the government’s 2024 federal budget, with spending targeted at young voters and a plan to raise capital gains taxes for some of the wealthiest Canadians.

Benjamin Bergen, president of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), said the capital gains tax has overshadowed parts of the federal budget that the business community would otherwise be excited about.

“There were definitely some other stars in the budget that were interesting,” he said. “However, the … capital gains piece really is the sun, and it’s daylight. So this is really the only thing that innovators can see.”

The CCI has written and is circulating an open letter signed by more than 1,000 people in the Canadian business community to Trudeau’s government asking it to scrap the tax change.

Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke and president Harley Finkelstein also weighed in on the proposed hike on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Former finance minister Bill Morneau said his successor’s budget disincentivizes businesses from investing in the country’s innovation sector: “It’s probably very troubling for many investors.”

Canada’s productivity — a measure that compares economic output to hours worked — has been relatively poor for decades. It underperforms against the OECD average and against several other G7 countries, including the U.S., Germany, U.K. and Japan, on the measure. 

Bank of Canada senior deputy governor Carolyn Rogers sounded the alarm on Canada’s lagging productivity in a speech last month, saying the country’s need to increase the rate had reached emergency levels, following one of the weakest years for the economy in recent memory.

The government said it was proposing the tax change to make life more affordable for younger generations and fund efforts to boost housing supply — and that it would support productivity growth.

A challenge for investors, founders and workers

The change could have a chilling effect for several reasons, with companies already struggling to access funding in a high interest rate environment, said Bergen.

He questioned whether investors will want to fund Canadian companies if the government’s taxation policies make it difficult for those firms to grow — and whether founders might just pack up.

The expanded inclusion rate “is just one of the other potential concerns that firms are going to have as they’re looking to grow their companies.”

A man with short brown hair wearing a light blue suit jacket looks directly at the camera, with a white background behind him.
Benjamin Bergen, president of the Council of Canadian Innovators, said the proposed change could have a chilling effect for several reasons, with companies already struggling to access and raise financing in a high interest rate environment. (Submitted by Benjamin Bergen)

He said the rejigged tax is also an affront to high-skilled workers from low-innovation sectors who might have taken the risk of joining a startup for the opportunity, even taking a lower wage on the chance that a firm’s stock options grow in value.

But Lindsay Tedds, an associate economics professor at the University of Calgary, said the tax change is one of the most misunderstood parts of the federal budget — and that its impact on the country’s talent has been overstated.

“This is not a major innovation-biting tax change treatment,” Tedds said. “In fact, when you talk to real grassroots entrepreneurs that are setting up businesses, tax rates do not come into their decision.”

As for productivity, Tedds said Canadians might see improvements in the long run “to the degree that some of our productivity problems are driven by stresses like housing affordability, access to child care, things like that.”

‘One foot on the gas, one foot on the brake’

Some say the government is sending mixed messages to entrepreneurs by touting tailored tax breaks 

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