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Tax Alerts
June 22, 2021

Pandemic notwithstanding, the Canadian real estate market is booming, in terms of both house prices and sales activity. According to Canadian Real Estate Association statistics, the number of sales in March 2021 were at the highest level ever recorded — and the MLS Home Price Index rose by 23.1% in April 2021, as measured on a year-over-year basis.


By the beginning of June, most Canadians have filed their individual income tax return for the 2020 tax year and received a Notice of Assessment (NOA) outlining their tax position for that year. Those who receive a refund will celebrate that fact or, less happily, those who receive a tax bill will pay the tax amount owed. Both groups of taxpayers are then likely to forget about taxes until it’s tax filing time again in the spring of 2022. The fact is, however, that mid-year is very good time to assess one’s tax position for the current year and is particularly a good idea for taxpayers who have received a large refund or a bill for tax owing.


Over the past decade, the rules governing mortgage lending in Canada have been repeatedly amended, each time to impose more stringent requirements on would-be mortgage borrowers. The latest such change is to the “mortgage stress test”, which imposes income and creditworthiness requirements on would-be borrowers, with the goal of ensuring that they will be able to manage (and repay) their mortgage debt, now and in the future. The change is effective as of June 1, 2021.


By now, most Canadians have filed their income tax returns for the 2020 taxation year. Specifically, by May 17, 2021, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) had processed just under 27 million individual income tax returns filed for 2020. Just over 16 million of those returns resulted in a refund to the taxpayer, while about 6.6 million taxpayers received a bill for additional taxes owed.


It is a sad fact that, every year, thousands of Canadians become the victims of scams in which fraud artists claim to be representatives of the federal government. Equally sadly, in most cases the money lost is not recovered.

Figures compiled by the Canada Anti-Fraud Centre show that, during 2020, just over 42,000 Canadians became victims of fraud, losing over $100 million. And the pace of such activity is accelerating. In the first three months of 2021, nearly 15,000 Canadians have already become victims of fraud and those individuals have lost, cumulatively, around $50 million. Scams relating solely to the pandemic and pandemic benefits are estimated to have cost Canadians over $7 million. Based on those figures alone, telephone and e-mail scams are clearly big business in Canada.


At the beginning of the pandemic, when states of emergency were declared across Canada, the federal government introduced a number of programs to provide financial relief and assistance to individuals and to businesses.

As the pandemic has worn on, those programs have been extended and revisions have been made to accommodate changing social and economic circumstances. In the recent federal Budget, additional changes like these were made, and an entirely new program was announced.


The Old Age Security (OAS) program is the only aspect of Canada’s retirement income system which does not require a direct contribution from recipients of program benefits. Rather, the OAS program is funded through general tax revenues, and eligibility to receive OAS is based solely on Canadian residency. Anyone who is 65 years of age or older and has lived in Canada for at least 40 years after the age of 18 is eligible to receive the maximum benefit. For the second quarter of 2021 (April to June 2021), that maximum monthly benefit is $618.45.  


For the majority of Canadians, the due date for filing of an individual tax return for the 2020 tax year was Friday April 30, 2021. (Self-employed Canadians and their spouses have until Tuesday June 15, 2021 to get that return filed.) In the best of all possible worlds, the taxpayer, or his or her representative, will have prepared a return that is complete and correct, and filed it on time, and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will issue a Notice of Assessment indicating that the return is “assessed as filed”, meaning that the CRA agrees with the information filed and tax result obtained by the taxpayer. While that’s the outcome everyone is hoping for, it’s a result which can go “off the rails” in any number of ways.


Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues.


Most taxpayers sit down to do their annual tax return, or wait to hear from their tax return preparer, with some degree of trepidation. In most cases taxpayers don’t know until their return is completed what the “bottom line” will be, and it’s usually a case of hoping for the best and fearing the worst.


Our tax system is, for the most part, a mystery to individual Canadians. The rules surrounding income tax are complicated and it can seem that for every rule there is an equal number of exceptions or qualifications. There is, however, one rule which applies to every individual taxpayer in Canada, regardless of location, income, or circumstances, and of which most Canadians are aware. That rule is that income tax owed for a year must be paid, in full, on or before April 30 of the following year. This year, that means that individual income taxes owed for 2020 must be remitted to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on or before Friday April 30, 2021. No exceptions and, absent extraordinary circumstances, no extensions.


By the time most Canadians sit down to organize their various tax slips and receipts and undertake to complete their tax return for 2020, the most significant opportunities to minimize the tax bill for the year are no longer available. Most such tax planning or saving strategies, in order to be effective for 2020, must have been implemented by the end of that calendar year. The major exception to that is, of course, the making of registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contributions, but even that had to be done on or before March 1, 2021 in order to be deducted on the return for 2020.


When the pandemic was declared just over a year ago, the federal government announced a wide range of benefits to help mitigate the financial stress experienced by those who lost jobs or saw their hours (and income) reduced.


While the obligation to file a tax return recurs annually, that return form is never exactly the same from year to year. Tax brackets and allowable deduction and credit amounts change each year and, more significantly, new deductions are provided for and new credits allowed or eliminated.


Each year, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) publishes a statistical summary of the tax filing patterns of Canadians during the previous filing season. Those statistics for the 2020 filing season show that the vast majority of Canadian individual income tax returns — nearly 90%, or almost 28 million returns were filed online, using one or the other of the CRA’s web-based filing methods, or by telephone. The remaining 10% of returns were paper-filed.


Income tax is a big-ticket item for most retired Canadians. Especially for those who are happily free of the requirement to make mortgage payments, the annual tax bill may be the single biggest annual expenditure they are required to make. Fortunately, the Canadian tax system provides a number of tax deductions and credits available only to those over the age of 65 (like the age credit) or only to those receiving the kinds of income usually received by retirees (like the pension income credit), in order to help minimize that tax burden. And, in most cases, the availability of those credits is flagged, either on the income tax form which must be completed each spring or on the accompanying income tax guide.


Over the past month, millions of Canadians have received what was probably an unexpected (and unwelcome) communication from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), in the form of a T4A slip. That T4A slip lists the amount of pandemic benefits which were received by the individual in 2020 and represents, more significantly, the amount which must be reported on that individual’s income tax return for 2020 — and on which tax must be paid.


Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues.


The Canadian tax system is a “self-assessing system” which relies heavily on the voluntary co-operation of taxpayers. Canadians are expected (in fact, in most cases, required), to complete and file a tax return each spring, reporting income from all sources, calculating the amount of tax owed and remitting that amount to the federal government by a specified deadline. Although the rate of compliance among Canadian taxpayers is very high — just over 30 million individual income tax returns for the 2019 tax year were filed with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) between February and October of 2020 — there are, inevitably, those who do not either file or pay on time.


One of the more unexpected effects of the current pandemic has been the impact on the Canadian real estate market. In each of July, August, and September 2020 the number of home sales, especially in major cities, has set a year-over-year record and, in many of the same places, the vacancy rate for rental accommodation has gone up.


Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues.


Each year, the due date for payment of all income tax amounts owed for the previous year falls on April 30. In 2020, however, that payment deadline has been something of a moving target. Earlier this year, the federal government, in recognition of the financial disruption and hardship caused by the pandemic, extended the payment deadline by four months, to September 1, 2020. In mid-September that date was extended again, such that all individual income taxes owed for 2019 were due and payable by Wednesday September 30. There has been no further extension.


When the Canada Pension Plan was introduced in 1965, it was a relatively simple retirement savings model. Working Canadians started making contributions to the CPP when they turned 18 years of age and continued making those contributions throughout their working life. Those who had contributed could start receiving the CPP retirement benefit at any time between the ages of 60 and 65. Once an individual was receiving retirement benefits, he or she was not required (or allowed) to make further contributions to the CPP, even if that individual continued to work. The CPP retirement benefit for which that individual was eligible therefore could not increase (except for inflationary increases) after that point.


Day trading remains alive and well in Canada notwithstanding the roller-coaster markets. Indeed, it is the very volatility of markets that attracts day traders who think they can reap profits by quick "in and out" forays.