Tech industry warns budget's capital gains proposals could cause 'irreperable harm'

Tax proposal could hurt tech

The federal budget is being met with distain from Canada's innovation industry, including tech darling Shopify, which both positioned capital gains measures embedded in the fiscal plan as a potential cause of “irreparable harm.”

The sector is disappointed that the Liberals' budget tabled Tuesday includes a proposed increase to the proportion of capital gain earnings businesses pay income tax on to two-thirds from one half.

The party is also pitching the hike be applied to individuals for capital gains earnings above $250,000 in a year and come into effect on June 25.

It said the increase would only impact the wealthiest 0.13 per cent and result in $19.3 billion in revenue over the next five years.

However, the proposal was met with dismay from the tech industry, which immediately began deriding the policies, when the budget was tabled.

"My phone was exploding with texts from leaders across the country saying, 'This is a nightmare. You have to fix this. They don't know what they're doing,'" Benjamin Bergen, the president of the Council of Canadian Innovators industry group, said Wednesday.

At the crux of the complaints he fielded was a feeling that the potential changes would encourage entrepreneurs to open their businesses elsewhere and push workers in the sector away from Canada as they try to avoid paying more when they want to reap the benefits of their stock options.

"If taxation and capital gains are so punitive that it doesn't make sense for either someone to stay in the country or choose to leave maybe a more traditional job to go and create a new company or to build a new company, you're depriving (the country) of the talent that it needs," Bergen said.

Eighty per cent of 500 businesses consulting firm KPMG surveyed in 2021 said they needed more workers with digital skills, but two-thirds were having trouble finding and hiring such talent. The report came a year before artificial intelligence began booming in the wake of ChatGPT's release in 2022, which has only heightened demand for tech talent.

While capital gains measures are seen as a way to tax the wealthiest and deliver a Liberal budget buzzword — "fairness" — to the country, Bergen said what's in the budget could affect tech workers who aren't in senior positions.

"Those folks who join startups and scaleups, as they're beginning their journey, are provided stock options and other benefits, which are ultimately determined as capital gains in the future," he said.

"It's marketing experts, sales experts, legal experts that are traditionally mid-career that ... you're completely undermining by this type of policy lever that's being implemented."

Such concerns also reverberated around the highest echelons of Canadian tech. Several Shopify Inc. executives, including president Harley Finkelstein, posted about the capital gains measures on X hours after the budget's release, saying "What. Are. We. Doing?!?"

"This is not a wealth tax, it's a tax on innovation and risk taking," he added on Wednesday.

"Our policy failures are America's gains."

The Ottawa-based e-commerce giant's chief executive Tobi Lütke also chimed in, saying a friend had messaged him to say, "Canada has heard rumours about innovation and is determined to leave no stone unturned in deterring it."

Forbes estimates Lütke's net worth is valued at US$6.4 billion. While he's been more vocal around his criticism of the federal government's policy decisions in recent months, he previously chaired a digital strategy table it convened in 2018 and hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Meanwhile, the head of the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association said on LinkedIn that the capital gains changes left her feeling "baffled."

"This measure, which effectively taxes innovation and risk-taking, will significantly dampen Canada's entrepreneurial spirit, stifle economic growth in critical sectors of our economy, and impact job creation," Kim Furlong said.

"Such (a) policy change undermines Canada's position to attract the talent needed to grow and scale companies here."

Furlong promised to "work tirelessly to reverse the decision."

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