The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATAAlliance) applauds the Government’s initiative to move forward on the core ideas and recommendations of their Advisory Council on Economic Growth in the 2017 budget. The budget recognizes that Canada’s support for business innovation needs to be overhauled. This has been a key thrust of CATA’s commentary in recent years. See links to some of CATA’s papers on the Scientific Research and Experimental (SR&ED) Tax Incentive Program:
– January 17, 2017, CATA paper calling for the creation of an independent administrator for all government tax incentives for innovation and for the overhaul of Canada’s system of tax incentives for innovation – http://cata.ca/Advocacy/CATA-Update-of-Proposals-Indp-Administrator-Jan17-2017.pdf
– November 22, 2016, paper on the size and cost of the SR&ED program – http://www.cata.ca/files/PDF/Statistics_SRED_November22_2016.pdf
– November 24, 2011, “Canada as a Competitive Innovation Nation: What Needs to be Done: CATAAlliance 2012 (White Paper)” – http://catalogca.ca/Media_and_Events/Press_Releases/cata_pr11241101.html.
CATA recognizes that this is a huge undertaking that cannot be addressed in a single budget or even two, for that matter. It means challenging old conventions. Specifically, the Advisory Council called for the creation of new funding programs. The call challenges many historical business practices, how the bureaucracy works, and how programs are evaluated. It will take discussion and consensus-building to successfully achieve the changes recommended by the Advisory Council. So far, our members do not see clearly how the Government intends to foster the needed consensus-building, both within the Government and in the community.
We support the next version of the Innovative Solutions Canada Program that was announced in the budget and believe that it should adapt the best elements of the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) into the Canadian initiative.
We strongly support the creation of a new organization to provide leadership for the new business-facing programs. However, we would argue that the plan does not go far enough. The new organization needs to include the management of at least the refundable tax credit portion of the SR&ED program, if not all SR&ED-like tax based incentives. We believe that over its 30 years as the manager of SR&ED, the CRA has demonstrated that it cannot provide a stable balance between compliance/dollar recovery and delivering the consistent, predictable, timely and cost-effective incentive that the SR&ED program is supposed to be. (The Federal System of Income Tax Incentives for Scientific Research and Experimental Development: Evaluation Report, December 1997. See page xi. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/webarchives/20071127091048/http://www.fin.gc.ca/resdev/fedsys_e.pdf. )
We are pleased that the budget announced the review of all business-facing programs currently in place, and also announced that the SR&ED program would be similarly reviewed in a separate exercise. The review of the SR&ED program is a key call of CATA: http://cata.ca/Advocacy/CATA-Update-of-Proposals-Indp-Administrator-Jan17-2017.pdf and http://www.cata.ca/files/PDF/Statistics_SRED_November22_2016.pdf.
While the SR&ED program clearly works well for some CATA members, we find an unacceptable level of frustration and criticism being expressed by many members. We understand that this review will not be led by Finance. We find this likely to be a positive, as it could allow some new ideas to emerge.
We are concerned that, at this point, there seems to be no plan that the Government’s officials are able to table or even outline to us. We believe that it would be inappropriate for a review of this importance to thousands of businesses to be conducted in the dark without appropriate consultations. The consultations should:
For CATA, with our focus on the ICT sector, a fundamental question is whether what is currently being supported is targeted appropriately to provide the maximum return on government investment. For example, we have strong reservations about the cost-effectiveness of some of the SR&ED claims in the ICT sector which are often identified well after the “SR&ED” work has been conducted. Over the years, CATA has heard from various company executives about whether these retrospective claiming practices are just generating windfall revenues for firms rather than providing an actual incentive to carry out R&D and innovation that would not otherwise be done. And, CATA has repeatedly raised this issue with governments.
We have argued that better, more consistent and productive targeting could be achieved for the sector with a refined tax credit, at least for the refundable program. We do not support simply eliminating tax based support, but rather refining it. Tax based incentives should be one of the tools in any complete package of business-faced support.
So far, no attention seems to have been given, at least publicly, to the overall framework that governs the way businesses are taxed and the IP (intellectual property) they create is protected for the benefit of the firms and Canadians. Specifically, the Government needs to address the elements of the tax system that discourage business growth and lead to business models where innovative successes are sold long before their true commercialization potential has been achieved in the context of the Canadian economy. Over the years, CATA and other organizations have identified issues with the SR&ED system and potential solutions. We are calling for a full discussion and evaluation of ways to promote the greater exploitation of Canadian innovations to the benefit of the Canadian economy. In this respect, we recognize that the challenge goes beyond simply reshaping some aspects of the tax system. Issues about the current treatment of IP and its impact also need to be addressed.
Finally, we receive considerable commentary about the programs that attempt to encourage the interface between academics and business. Too often we hear that the academics see these programs as simply a way to obtain additional research support. We believe that these interface programs are extremely valuable; but we also believe that more work needs to done to draw the academics further into the technology challenges of achieving the real potential of the innovations. These challenges are often as complex and demanding as coming up with the initial discoveries. The current focus of the Government on commercialization is seen to be appropriate and important.
Executives with an interest in helping advance CATA Tax, Finance & Innovation advocacy should reach out to Russ Roberts, PhD, Senior Vice President, Tax, Finance & Advocacy, CATAAlliance at email: email@example.com
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The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATAAlliance) is Canada’s One Voice for Innovation Lobby Group, crowdsourcing ideas and guidance from thousands of opt in members in moderated social networks in Canada and key global markets. (No Tech Firm Left Behind)