Politicians push to make Canadian golf tax deductable

That’s what Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones’ (and former colleague at the National Post) Paul Vieira is reporting:

Since 1971, Canadians have been barred from deducting greens fees for business-related golf outings. Canadian companies and businessmen can deduct hockey and other professional sports events, theater and concert tickets, and pricey meals at the country’s finest restaurants, so long as they are business-related. But deducting a host of golf-related expenses—a staple of the tax code south of the border in the U.S.—is out of bounds..
A caucus of about two dozen parliamentarians from across all political stripes is pushing to persuade Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, himself an occasional golfer, to throw out the old law—introduced in an era when policy makers still viewed golf as an elitist pursuit. Today, golf is the country’s most popular recreational activity, beating out even the national pastime of hockey, according to the country’s statistics agency.

The move to lobby the government on the issue comes from the National Golf Course Owners Association:

The golf industry thinks the timing is right to be rid of the 1971 measure.

“As an industry, we are getting stepped on unfairly here,” says Jeff Calderwood, chief executive of the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada. “No one else would tolerate it, so why should we.” Mr. Calderwood said his association isn’t contributing to any politicians’ campaigns, and Canada’s strict campaign-financing laws prohibit companies and unions from making political donations.

“I know people may see an ulterior motive but the reality is we just really like the game of golf, and we think the sport should be treated fairly as per other industries out there,” says Mr. Stoffer, the NDP legislator.

I was intrigued at this reasoning for the move in the early 1970s. Who knew bureaucrats hated everyone who wasn’t on the government payroll so much?

Geoffrey Hale, a tax-history expert and political science professor at Alberta’s University of Lethbridge, said policy makers were swept up in the “egalitarian sense of the moment” when tax breaks for golf were nixed. Envy, though, was also a factor, he said.

“It was partly a function of civil servants saying, ‘[Business executives] can do this for recreational purposes, but we can’t, and therefore why should we give you a tax break if we are writing the tax laws,” he said.

Since then, policy makers have relented a bit. In 1997, tax officials ruled meals and beverages consumed in the clubhouse were eligible for a 50% deduction—the same deduction available for most other forms of business entertainment, such as restaurants and bars not located on a golf course.

That said, I don’t see this as having huge ramifications for the sport in this country. I don’t think corporate golf ever stopped — hell, I wrote a book about this four years ago — and therefore I don’t think numbers would dramatically increase if the tax laws were changed. However, this notion of not doing business on the course is just misguided; tons of business is done on and around a golf course. Only a civil servant who is pissed that he can’t play during work hours would think otherwise.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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