Quebec Fights Back Against Business Exodus With Tax Incentives

  • Canadian province to cut levies on family ownership transfers
  • Executives to get breaks on capital gains from stock options

Quebec is boosting tax incentives for executives and businesses to stay in Canada’s second most-populous province after the loss of Rona Inc. and other prominent companies.

Premier Philippe Couillard is lowering levies on stock-option gains and transfers of family-owned businesses as part of policies aimed at keeping head offices in Quebec and nurturing more homegrown multinationals. Executives will be able to deduct 50 percent of those gains, up from 25 percent previously, in line with other provinces. Business owners will be given a grace period of up to 20 years for taxes on ownership transfers to family. Couillard, flanked by Finance Minister Carlos Leitao and Economy Minister Dominique Anglade, announced the measures in Quebec City Tuesday.

Couillard’s government, in power since April 2014, has faced criticism from opposition politicians in recent months for failing to prevent the sale of Quebec-owned businesses such as home-improvement retailer Rona and restaurant operator St-Hubert Group to acquirers outside the province.

“Our goal is not really a defensive one,” Leitao said in a phone interview from Quebec City. “It’s more to help Quebec’s companies, especially midsize ones, to grow and reach the next step, to be capable of continuing to make acquisitions abroad for instance.”

Companies from Quebec completed 173 acquisitions outside the province between 2012 and 2016, while 71 were acquired by out-of-province buyers, resulting in a positive balance of C$39 billion ($30 billion), according to a presentation posted Tuesday on the Finance Ministry’s website. Quebec had 568 head offices in 2014, accounting for more than 52,000 direct jobs, second only in Canada to Ontario’s 1,084 head offices and almost 95,000 direct jobs, the data show.

Family Deals

The French-speaking province will extend a tax exemption for entrepreneurs who sell a company to a relative -- originally applicable only to the resources and manufacturing sectors -- to all sectors of the economy, the government said. This will cost public coffers about C$50 million.

Quebec will also bring the taxation of stock options in line with other provinces, allowing 50 percent of the gains to be deducted, according to the Finance Ministry. To be eligible for this deduction, companies will need to have a payroll of at least C$10 million in Quebec.

Stock-option gains have traditionally been taxed more heavily in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada. Until Tuesday, stock options owners could deduct 25 percent of their gains in Quebec -- a gap that has discouraged some executives from moving to the province, the government said.

Investment Aid

Couillard’s government may allocate more funds to foster business investment through Investissement Quebec, a provincial investment agency with assets of C$3.2 billion, and the government’s Economic Development Fund, which invested C$1.9 billion in 187 companies in fiscal 2015-16. Quebec can decide to increase the funds in both vehicles at any time, according to the finance ministry presentation.

Quebec is also creating a task force, called Groupe d’initiative financière, to advise the government on providing financing for companies while identifying the best ways of supporting the growth of companies. The group will include representatives from Investissement Quebec and various banks and institutional investors.

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