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Piling On – How Provincial Taxation of Insurance Premiums Costs Consumers

Alex Laurin and Farah Omran
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Alex Laurin: C.D. Howe Institute
Farah Omran: C.D. Howe Institute

C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, 2018, issue 522

Abstract: Insurance premiums have been taxed by Canadian governments for so long – some provinces and municipalities collected small levies as early as the late 1800s – that they’ve become a fixture rarely discussed in the literature and the financial press. For many years, insurance premium taxes were collected from insurers as an alternative to taxing their profits. But this practice is now long gone since all Canadian governments tax the corporate income of insurance companies, in addition to premium taxes and other taxes and levies. Most insurance consumers do not know that a provincial insurance premium tax (IPT) ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent is levied on their premiums. In addition, five provinces charge a retail sales tax (RST) ranging from 6 to 15 percent on top of the premium taxes for certain types of insurance. In Quebec and Ontario, the RST rates of respectively 9 and 8 percent generally apply to group life and health insurance, and property and casualty insurance (although Ontario excludes auto insurance). Saskatchewan is the latest province to introduce an RST. Since insurance is a financial service, premiums are exempt from GST/HST. So why do provinces still tax insurance premiums? While IPTs and RSTs on premiums are largely invisible to customers on whom the burden ultimately falls, they generate more than $7 billion of stable and growing provincial government revenues – representing about 7 percent of all provincial taxes collected on goods and services. Premium-based taxes increase the price of insurance products and lower the demand for them. We find that an increase of one percentage point in the provincial IPT rate leads to a 10 percent decrease in the number of life insurance contracts sold. Reduced insurance coverage for natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, other catastrophes, relief to a deceased's family, or relief of the financial burden of illness and disability may lead to increased cost pressures on government budgets down the road. Canadian governments should revisit and reassess the taxes imposed on insurance products. At a minimum, IPT liabilities should be made creditable against corporate income tax liabilities, partly restoring their original role as a substitute for taxing profits. And provinces that impose an RST on IPTinclusive premiums should lead the way and eliminate this form of double taxation. A more ambitious reform would remodel the patchwork of transaction taxes for insurance services to a comprehensive and broad-based, value-added system, bringing down the insurance industry's high transaction tax burden and ensuring greater comparability with other industries.

Keywords: Fiscal and Tax Policy; Provincial Taxation and Budgets; Sales and Excise Taxes (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: H21 H71 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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