SUPREME COURT OF CANADA
Gustavson Drilling (1964) Ltd. v. M.N.R.,  1 S.C.R. 271
Gustavson Drilling (1964) Limited Appellant;
The Minister of National Revenue Respondent.
1974: November 1, 5; 1975: December 4.
Present: Martland, Judson, Pigeon, Dickson and de Grandpré JJ.
ON APPEAL FROM THE FEDERAL COURT OF APPEAL
Taxation—Income tax—Oil companies—Deductions—Drilling and exploration expenses—Transferability of right to deduct to successor corporation—Income Tax Act, R.S.C. 1952, c. 148, as amended, s. 83A(8a), now 1970-71-72, (Can.) c. 63, s. 66(6).
Since 1949 the exploration for petroleum and natural gas has been encouraged by the provision in the Income Tax Act, R.S.C. 1952, c. 148 as amended 1970-71-72, c. 63, that oil companies could deduct drilling and exploration expenses from income earned in subsequent years. In 1956 the right was extended to successor corporations by legislation which provided that an oil company which acquired all or substantially all of the property of another oil company could deduct drilling and exploration expenses incurred by the predecessor corporation. The acquisition had however to be (a) in exchange for shares of the capital stock of the successor or (b) as a result of the distribution of such property to the successor on the winding up of the predecessor subsequently to the purchase of shares of the predecessor by the successor in consideration of shares of the successor. In 1962 these limitations were removed. The appellant oil company incurred drilling and exploration expenses in excess of its income prior to 1960 when its parent company acquired substantially all of its property in consideration of the cancellation of a debt due. Entitlement to claim the undeducted drilling and exploration expenses did not accrue to the parent company as the transaction was not carried out as required by the 1956 Act. The appellant remained inactive until 1964 when its shares were acquired by another corporation following the liquidation of its previous parent company. After a change of name it recommenced business with newly acquired assets, none of which had been used or owned by it prior to June 1964. It sought to deduct the accumulated drilling and exploration expenses for the ensuing taxation years. The Minister re-assessed and disallowed the deductions. The appellant successfully appealed to the
Tax Appeal Board but on a Special Case stated by consent, the Minister was successful in the Federal Court before Cattanach J. and on appeal.
Held (Pigeon and de Grandpré JJ. dissenting): The appeal should be dismissed.
Per Martland, Judson and Dickson JJ.: The general rule is that statutes are not to be construed as having retrospective operation unless such a construction is expressly or by necessary implication required by the language of the Act. On a literal construction of the legislation the appellant was in the category of a predecessor company and had thereby lost the right to deduct. As the language of the statute was unambiguous and clear, there was no need to have recourse to rules of construction to establish legislative intent. It could not be said that the 1962 legislation was retrospective or that any vested right acquired by the appellant by the repealed paragraphs was affected by their repeal.
Per Pigeon and de Grandpré JJ. dissenting: The legislative change effected in 1962 was not an alteration in the scheme of deductions for drilling and exploration expenses. It was a modification in the transferability of the entitlement to those deductions. While the rule against retrospective operation of statutes is no more than a rule of construction which operates more or less strongly according to the nature of the enactment, it operates nowhere more strongly than when any other construction would result in altering the effect of contracts previously entered into. The effect of the 1962 change was to facilitate the transfer of the right to deductions not to alter the result of past contracts so as to effect a forfeiture of the rights of oil companies that had previously transferred their properties under conditions that did not involve the transfer of the valuable right of entitlement to deduct to the transferee.
[Assessment Commissioner of The Corporation of the Village of Stouffville v. Mennonite Home Association,  S.C.R. 189; Acme Village School District v. Steele-Smith,  S.C.R. 47; Spooner Oils Ltd. v. Turner Valley Gas Conservation Board & A.G. (Alta.),  S.C.R. 629; Abbott v. Minister for Lands,  A.C. 425; Western Leaseholds Ltd. v. Minister of National Revenue,  C.T.C. 490 (Exch.); Director of Public Works v. Ho Po Sang,  2 All E.R. 721 (P.C.);
Hargal Oils Ltd. v. Minister of National Revenue,  S.C.R. 291 referred to].
APPEAL from a judgment of the Federal Court of Appeal affirming the judgment of Cattanach J. allowing an appeal by way of special case stated from a decision of the Tax Appeal Board allowing an appeal by the appellant from an income tax assessment. Appeal dismissed, Pigeon and de Grandpré JJ. dissenting.
John McDonald, Q.C., F. R. Matthews, Q.C., and D. C. Nathanson, for the appellant.
C. W. Ainslie, Q.C., and L. P. Chambers, for the respondent.
The judgment of Martland, Judson and Dickson JJ. was delivered by
DICKSON J.—This is an income tax case concerning the right of the appellant Gustavson Drilling (1964) Limited to deduct in the computation of its income for the 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968 taxation years drilling and exploration expenses incurred by it from 1949 to 1960.
Parliament since 1949 has encouraged the exploration for petroleum and natural gas by permitting corporations "whose principal business is production, refining or marketing of petroleum, petroleum products or natural gas or exploring or drilling for petroleum or natural gas" (hereafter referred to as "oil companies") to deduct their drilling and exploration expenses in computing income for the purpose of the Income Tax Act. In 1956 the right was extended to successor corporations by legislation which provided that a corporation whose principal business was exploring and drilling for petroleum or natural gas and which acquired all or substantially all of the property of another corporation in the same type of business could deduct drilling and exploration expenses incurred by the predecessor corporation. In the absence of this legislation neither the successor corporation nor the predecessor corporation could have availed itself of such drilling and exploration
expenses for tax purposes. The 1956 legislation contained qualifications, however. In order to entitle the successor corporation to the deduction it was imperative that the acquisition of the property of the predecessor by the successor be (a) in exchange for shares of the capital stock of the successor or (b) as a result of the distribution of such property to the successor upon the winding-up of the predecessor subsequently to the purchase of shares of the predecessor by the successor in consideration of shares of the successor. In 1962 these limitations were removed; thereafter the legislation simply provided that every oil company which at any. time after 1954 acquired all or substantially all of the property of another oil company could claim a deduction in respect of drilling and exploration expenses incurred by the predecessor company and the predecessor company was denied the right to make any such claim. Within this context the present case arises.
The appellant was incorporated in 1949 under the name of Sharples Oil (Canada) Ltd., as a wholly owned subsidiary of Sharples Oil Corporation, an American corporation, and until 1960 it carried on the business of an oil company in Canada, incurring during that period drilling and exploration expenses of $1,987,547.19 in excess of its income from the production of petroleum and natural gas. On November 30, 1960, the parent company, Sharples Oil Corporation, acquired substantially all of the property of the appellant in consideration for the cancellation of a debt owing to it by the appellant. The parties agree that at this time entitlement to claim the theretofore undeducted drilling and exploration expenses did not accrue to the parent company because the transaction was not carried out in either manner prescribed by the Act.
After disposal of its property the appellant discontinued business and remained inactive until 1964. In June 1964, however, Mikas Oil Co. Ltd. purchased all of the issued and outstanding shares in the capital stock of the appellant from the shareholders of Sharples Oil Corporation following the liquidation of that corporation. The appellant's
name was changed to Gustavson Drilling (1964) Limited, in October 1964; thereafter the appellant recommenced business as an oil company with newly acquired assets, none of which had been used or owned by the appellant prior to June 1964. In computing its income for the 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968 taxation years the appellant claimed deductions of $119,290.49; $447,369.99; $888,-084.10; and $31,179.00 respectively as part of the accumulated drilling and exploration expenses of $1,987,547.19. The Minister re-assessed and disallowed the claimed deductions. The appellant successfully appealed to the Tax Appeal Board but a Special Case was stated by consent, pursuant to Rule 475 of the Federal Court, and the appeal of the Minister was successful before Cattanach J. whose judgment in the Federal Court was upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal. The question on which the opinion of the Court was sought in the Special Case reads:
The question for the opinion of the Court is whether subsection (8a) of section 83A of the Income Tax Act as amended by the repeal of paragraphs (c) and (d) thereof by Statutes of Canada, 1962-63, c. 8, section 19, subsections (11) and (15), precludes the Respondent from deducting in the computation of its income for the 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968 taxation years amounts on account of the drilling and exploration expenses mentioned in paragraph 4 hereof, which but for the repeal would have been deductible by the Respondent under subsections (1) and (3) of section 83A of the Act.
Subsections (1) and (3) of s. 83A of the Income Tax Act, under which the appellant claims the right to deductions, read as follows as applied to the 1965 to 1968 taxation years:
83A. (1) A corporation ... may deduct, in computing its income under this Part for a taxation year, the lesser of
(a) the aggregate of such of the drilling and exploration expenses ... as were incurred during the calendar years 1949 to 1952, to the extent that they were not deductible in computing income for a previous taxation year, or
(b) of that aggregate, an amount equal to its income for the taxation year
minus the deductions allowed for the year by subsections (8a) and (8d) of this section .. .
(3) A corporation ... may deduct, in computing its income under this Part for a taxation year, the lesser of
(c) the aggregate of such of
(i) the drilling and exploration expenses .. .
as were incurred after the calendar year 1952 and before April 11, 1962, to the extent that they were not deductible in computing income for a previous taxation year, or
(d) of that aggregate, an amount equal to its income for the taxation year
minus the deductions allowed for the year by sub-sections (1), (2), (8a) and (8d) of this section .. .
There can be no doubt that in the absence of subs. (8a) of s. 83A the drilling and exploration expenses claimed by the appellant would have been deductible by it. One must, then, turn to subs. (8a) upon the construction of which this case falls to be decided. In 1960, when the property of the appellant was acquired by Sharples Oil Corporation, the pertinent parts of subs. (8a) read:
83A. (8a) Notwithstanding subsection (8), where a corporation (hereinafter in this subsection referred to as the "successor corporation")
has, at any time after 1954, acquired from a corporation (hereinafter in this subsection referred to as the "predecessor corporation") ... all or substantially all of the property of the predecessor corporation used by it in carrying on that business in Canada,
(c) pursuant to the purchase of such property by the successor corporation in consideration of shares of the capital stock of the successor corporation, or
(d) as a result of the distribution of such property to the successor corporation upon the winding-up of the predecessor corporation subsequently to the purchase of all or substantially all of the shares of the capital stock of the predecessor corporation by the successor corporation in consideration of shares of the capital stock of the successor corporation,
there may be deducted by the successor corporation, in computing its income under this Part for a taxation year, the lesser of
(e) the aggregate of
(i) the drilling and exploration expenses ... incurred by the predecessor corporation...
and, in respect of any such expenses included in the aggregate determined under paragraph (e), no deduction may be made under this section by the predecessor corporation in computing its income for the taxation year in which the property so acquired was acquired by the successor corporation or its income for any subsequent taxation year.
Paragraphs (c) and (d) of subs. (8a) were repealed by c. 8, 1962-63 (Can.), s. 19, subs. (11), and the repeal was made applicable to the 1962 and subsequent taxation years.
In summary, therefore: Company A incurred drilling and exploration expenses; Company B acquired the property of Company A in 1960 but because of the manner in which the transaction was carried out Company B did not at that time qualify as a successor company and did not become entitled to deduct from its income the undeducted drilling and exploration expenses of Company A; in 1962 and thereafter, if the contentions of the Minister prevail, Company B qualified as a successor company and as such became entitled to claim such expenses as a deduction; Company A was denied such right by the concluding words of subs. (8a).
Before examining the rival contentions, several observations might be made. The first is with regard to the onus on a taxpayer who claims the benefit of an exemption. He must bring himself clearly within the language in which the exemption is expressed: The Assessment Commissioner of the Corporation of the Village of Stouffville v. The Mennonite Home Association of York County and The Corporation of the Village of Stouffville, at p. 194.
Secondly, the concept of a deduction being made by a taxpayer other than the one who incurred the expenditure is not unknown to the Income Tax Act. Section 85I(3) of the Act permits a new corporation formed on the amalgamation of two or more corporations after 1957 to deduct drilling and exploration expenses incurred by the predecessor corporation. Section 83A(3c) permits a joint exploration corporation to elect to renounce in favour of another corporation an agreed portion of the aggregate of the drilling and exploration expenses incurred by the joint exploration corporation.
Thirdly, by deleting paras. (c) and (d) of subs. (8a), Parliament liberalized the provision by making available to an expanded number of successor corporations a right to deduct. I do not think Parliament ever contemplated that a company which had sold or otherwise disposed of its assets could later have recourse to s. 83A. Parliament chose to grant a successor company the right to deduct drilling and exploration expenses incurred by a predecessor and the only problem in implementing its policy was with respect to the company which would have the right to deduct in the year of acquisition. The successor was accorded that right by the statute. The result of the amendment to the legislation in 1962 was to confer a right to claim deductions upon certain successor companies. This was a new right, coming from Parliament, not one acquired from a company's predecessor. At no time during the currency of the legislation has a predecessor company been able to transfer to a successor company entitlement to claim deductions in respect of drilling and exploration expenses.
It will be convenient now to consider in more detail the submissions of the appellant and of the Minister. Those of the Minister may be shortly put, resting on the language of the Act which, the Minister submits, is precise and unambiguous when read in the context of the whole statute and the general intendment of the Act. It is argued that there is no need to have recourse to presumptions of legislative intent, for such rules of construction are only useful in ascertaining the true
meaning where the language of the statute is not clear and plain: per Lamont J. in Acme Village School District v. Steele-Smith, at p. 51. There is much to this submission. I do not think that the appellant can sustain its position on a literal reading of subs. (8a), the language of which places appellant fairly and squarely in the category of a predecessor company. The appellant, however, seeks to avoid a literal construction of the subsection with a three-pronged argument, which must fairly be considered, based upon (a) the presumption against retrospective operation of statutes; (b) the presumption against interference with vested rights; (c) the meaning to be given to the word "aggregate" in subs. (8a). With regard to points (a) and (b) it would not be sufficient for the appellant to establish that the legislation had retrospective effect; it must also show it had an accrued right which was adversely affected by the legislation.
First, retrospectivity. The general rule is that statutes are not to be construed as having retrospective operation unless such a construction is expressly or by necessary implication required by the language of the Act. An amending enactment may provide that it shall be deemed to have come into force on a date prior to its enactment or it may provide that it is to be operative with respect to transactions occurring prior to its enactment. In those instances the statute operates retrospectively. Superficially the present case may seem akin to the second instance but I think the true view to be that the repealing enactment in the present case, although undoubtedly affecting past transactions, does not operate retrospectively in the sense that it alters rights as of a past time. The section as amended by the repeal does not purport to deal with taxation years prior to the date of the amendment; it does not reach into the past and declare that the law or the rights of parties as of an earlier date shall be taken to be something other than they were as of that earlier date. The effect, so far as appellant is concerned, is to deny for the future a right to deduct enjoyed in the past but the right is not affected as of a time prior to enactment of
the amending statute.
The appellant maintains that in 1960, at the time of the relevant transaction, it had the status of a non-predecessor company under s. 83A(8a), as it then read, and the right to carry over deductions to subsequent tax years; that the 1962 amendment could not operate retrospectively to change its status from non-predecessor company under s. 83A(8a) with the consequence that the drilling and exploration expenses became thereafter deductible only by Sharples Oil Corporation, the successor company. The appellant concludes that the right to deduct the said expenses remains with it in perpetuity. I cannot agree. It is immaterial that the appellant company had a particular status as the result of previous legislation. Parliament, acting within its competence, has said that as of 1962 and for the purposes of calculating taxable income in future years, the appellant has a different status.
The contention of appellant that the repeal has application only in respect of acquisitions carried out subsequent to the passage of the repealing enactment would introduce a limitation upon the amplitude of subs. (8a), as amended, which is not supported by the language of the subsection. It would also deny successor corporations rights which s. 83A would seem to accord them. The interpretation pressed by appellant tends also to ignore the words "at any time after 1954". Appellant submits that these words may, and should, have application to the extent of preserving the rights of a successor corporation which, prior to the repealing enactment, carried out an acquisition in one or other of the manners set out in subs. (c) and (d) and therefore prior to repeal enjoyed the benefit of subs. (8a) but they should not have further force or effect. The difficulty with this submission is that one can find nothing in the legislation as it read in respect of the 1965 and subsequent taxation years which would support a distinction between those corporations which
acquired the property of other corporations prior to the 1962 amendment, in accordance with subs. (c) and (d), and those which acquired the property of other corporations following the amendment.
The Income Tax Act contains a series of very complicated rules which change frequently, for the annual computation of world income. The statute in force in the particular taxation year must be applied to determine the taxpayer's taxable income for that year. The effect of the repealing enactment of 1962 was merely to provide that in future years certain new rules should apply affecting deductions from income of exploration and development expenses. Although the effect of the repealing enactment may appear to have been to divest the appellant of a right to deduct which it had earlier enjoyed and in some manner have caused a transmutation of an antecedent transaction, I do not think that, when the matter is closely examined, such is the true effect. In each of the years 1949 to 1960 the appellant had a right to deduct. The Act in each of those years conferred the right. In 1960 the appellant transferred its assets. The contract of sale, if any, forms no part of the record. So far as the record discloses, no mention was made of drilling and exploration expenses at the time. After disposing of its property, it was no longer a corporation whose principal business was that of exploring or drilling for petroleum or natural gas nor did it have income. It, therefore, no longer had a right to deduct. No claim was made by it in the 1961, 1962, 1963 or 1964 taxation years. By the time the appellant resumed business it had no right under the then legislative scheme to claim for drilling and exploration expenses incurred in earlier years. Any claim which it might make for exploration and drilling expenses could only be in respect of expenses incurred following resumption of business. It may seem unfortunate that an amendment which was intended to liberalize the legislation by removing a barrier to the inheritance of drilling and exploration expenses should have the effect of denying a predecessor company such as the appellant from enjoying a right which it would have enjoyed in the absence of the repeal but the legislation
as amended is unambiguous and clear. After the repeal of paras. (c) and (d) of subs. (8a) in 1962 and for the purpose of paying income tax in the years following 1962, the appellant company is a predecessor company within the meaning of subs. (8a) and precluded from deducting the drilling and exploration expenses incurred by it prior to November 10, 1960.
Second, interference with vested rights. The rule is that a statute should not be given a construction that would impair existing rights as regards person or property unless the language in which it is couched requires such a construction: Spooner Oils Ltd. v. Turner Valley Gas Conservation Board, at p. 638. The presumption that vested rights are not affected unless the intention of the legislature is clear applies whether the legislation is retrospective or prospective in operation. A prospective enactment may be bad if it affects vested rights and does not do so in unambiguous terms. This presumption, however, only applies where the legislation is in some way ambiguous and reasonably susceptible of two constructions. It is perfectly obvious that most statutes in some way or other interfere with or encroach upon antecedent rights, and taxing statutes are no exception. The only rights which a taxpayer in any taxation year can be said to enjoy with respect to claims for exemption are those which the Income Tax Act of that year give him. The burden of the argument on behalf of appellant is that appellant has a continuing and vested right to deduct exploration and drilling expenses incurred by it, yet it must be patent that the Income Tax Acts of 1960 and earlier years conferred no rights in respect of the 1965 and later taxation years. One may fall into error by looking upon drilling and exploration expenses as if they were a bank account from which one can make withdrawals indefinitely or at least until the balance is exhausted. No one has a vested right to continuance of the law as it stood in the past; in tax law it is imperative that legislation conform to changing social needs and governmental
policy. A taxpayer may plan his financial affairs in reliance on the tax laws remaining the same; he takes the risk that the legislation may be changed.
The mere right existing in the members of the community or any class of them at the date of the repeal of a statute to take advantage of the repealed statute is not a right accrued: Abbott v. Minister of Lands, at p. 431; Western Leaseholds Ltd. v. Minister of National Revenue; Director of Public Works v. Ho Po Sang
Section 35 of the Interpretation Act, R.S.C. 1970, c. I-23 is cited in support of the appellant. It reads:
35. Where an enactment is repealed in whole or in part, the repeal does not
(b) affect the previous operation of the enactment so repealed or anything duly done or suffered thereunder;
(c) affect any right, privilege, obligation or liability acquired, accrued, accruing or incurred under the enactment so repealed.
I agree with Mr. Justice Thurlow of the Federal Court of Appeal that it cannot be said that the repeal of paras. (c) and (d) affected their previous operation or anything done or suffered by appellant thereunder since paras. (c) and (d) never had any operation upon or application to anything done or suffered by appellant. I am also in agreement with Mr. Justice Thurlow that it cannot be said that any right acquired by appellant under paras. (c) or (d) was affected by their repeal, since no right was ever acquired by appellant under either of them. This section is merely the statutory embodiment of the common law presumption in respect of vested rights as it applies to the repeal of legislative enactments and in my opinion the section
does nothing to advance appellant's case. Appellant must still establish a right or privilege acquired or accrued under the enactment prior to repeal, and this it cannot do.
Third, "aggregate". The somewhat tortuous argument on this point is largely a mere embellishment of the retrospectivity argument. It runs as follows. Even if the appellant is regarded as a predecessor corporation, the accumulated drilling and exploration expenses may nevertheless be deducted by the appellant because (1) the prohibition expressed in the concluding paragraph of subs. (8a) extends only to "the aggregate determined under paragraph (e)"; (2) such aggregate in each of the years 1965 to 1968 is nil by reason of the necessity under subparas. (iii) and (iv) thereof of determining such aggregate in the first instance "for the taxation year in which the property so acquired was acquired by the successor corporation", i.e., 1960; (3) subparas. (iii) and (iv) of subs. (8a)(e) have been construed by this Court in Hargal Oils Ltd. v. Minister of National Revenue, at pp. 295-6, where it was held that the "aggregate" is to:
... consist of expenses not deductible by the predecessor corporation in the taxation year in which the property was acquired by the successor corporation, but which would have been deductible by the predecessor corporation in that taxation year, "but for the provisions of .. . this subsection."
(4) this passage presupposes the existence of the qualified predecessor and a qualified successor corporation in the taxation year in which the transfer of property took place and the amount to be included in the aggregate can only be determined in the taxation year in which the transaction occurred; (5) in the 1960 taxation year subs. (8a) was not applicable to appellant and there cannot be in that taxation year either a successor corporation or a predecessor corporation nor any "aggregate" to which the concluding paragraph of
subs. (8a) can be related in subsequent taxation years; (6) the repealing enactment is made applicable to the 1962 and subsequent taxation years and cannot be given earlier effect in determining what is to be included in the "aggregate".
I do not think that the language of subs. (8a) or the gloss which it is suggested was put upon that language in the quoted passage from Hargal's case leads to the conclusion for which appellant contends. The quoted passage from Hargal's case merely compresses the words of subs. (8a). As applied to the facts of the case now before us, subs. (8a) provides that there may be deducted by the successor corporation the "aggregate" of the drilling and exploration expenses incurred by the appellant (i.e. approximately $2,000,000) to the extent that such expenses (a) were not deductible by the appellant in 1960 or earlier; and (b) would but for subs. (8a) have been deductible by the appellant in 1960. The subsection does not postulate the existence of a successor corporation and a predecessor corporation in the year of acquisition. The amount of the aggregate must be determined each year in which the deduction is sought, not for the taxation year of acquisition. The starting point in computing the aggregate is to total the expenditures on drilling and exploration; this amount must then be reduced to the extent that the expenses were deductible by the predecessor corporation in the year of acquisition or in earlier years; the amount which the successor corporation may deduct must not exceed the amount which would have been deductible by the predecessor in the year of acquisition in the absence of subs. (8a). It will be observed that the appellant is claiming to be entitled to a deduction under s. 83A(1) and (3), both of which subsections speak of the "aggregate" of drilling and exploration expenses to the extent that they were not deductible in computing income for a previous taxation year. It would be strange if the "aggregate" computed in accordance with the wording of s. 83A(1) and (3) would amount to $2,000,000 but computed in accordance with the analogous wording of s. 83A(8a) would be nil. In my opinion the "aggregate" is the same whether computed under s. 83A(1) and (3) or under s. 83A(8a). There is no difficulty in applying the words of s. 83A(8a) in this case. The
aggregate of the drilling and exploration expenses deductible by the appellant prior to the repealing enactment and since that time deductible by the successor corporation is readily identifiable and has been quantified.
I would dismiss the appeal with costs.
The judgment of Pigeon and de Grandpré JJ. was delivered by
PIGEON J. (dissenting)—The appellant is an oil producing company. It was incorporated under the laws of Canada on May 26, 1949, under the name of Sharples Oil (Canada) Ltd. It was a wholly owned subsidiary of Sharples Oil Corporation, a U.S. company. It did incur drilling and exploration expenses for which it would, in later years, be entitled to claim a deduction from income for taxation purposes. As of November 30, 1960, the amount of such expenditures that could be carried forward was nearly $2,000,000 (the exact amount was agreed to be $1,987,547.19). Preliminary to the winding-up of the parent company, the appellant transferred to it on that date substantially all its assets. Under subs. (8a) of s. 83A of the Income Tax Act as it then read (that is as enacted by 1956 c. 39, s. 23 with some immaterial amendments), this conveyance did not transfer to the parent company appellant's entitlement to future deductions because it did not meet the requirements of subparas, (c) and (d). Therefore, the conveyance did not have the effect of depriving the appellant from its entitlement to deductions in the future on that account by virtue of the concluding paragraph of subs. (8a):
and, in respect of any such expenses included in the aggregate determined under paragraph (e), no deduction may be made under this section by the predecessor corporation in computing its income for the taxation year in which the property so acquired was acquired by the successor corporation or its income for any subsequent taxation year.
In the winding-up of the parent company, the appellant's shares were distributed to the parent's
shareholders who, as of June 18, 1964, sold all those shares to Mikas Oil Co. Ltd. for $280,000. The appellant's name was then changed to Gustavson Drilling (1964) Limited and it resumed operations as an oil producing company. Having made profits, it claimed deductions from income on account of the previously incurred drilling and exploration expenses above mentioned. These deductions totalling over $1,500,000 for 1965-68 were disallowed by reassessments. They were restored by the Tax Appeal Board but, on appeal, they were denied by the Federal Court at trial and on appeal.
The reason for which the deductions were denied was that in 1962, some two years after the transfer of appellant's assets to its parent, sub-paras. (c) and (d) of ss. (8a) had been repealed by statute applicable to 1962 and following taxation years. It was said in effect that by virtue of this amendment, the entitlement to the future deductions had gone with the assets to the parent company as a "successor corporation". Of course, as the latter had been wound-up, it could not take advantage of the provision but it was said that this had destroyed, as of 1962, any right which the appellant had to claim deductions on account of drilling and exploration expenditures incurred before November 30, 1960, by virtue of the concluding paragraph of ss. (8a) amended by the 1962 statute to read:
and, in respect of any such expenses included in the aggregate determined under paragraph (e), no deduction may be made under this section by the predecessor corporation in computing its income for a taxation year subsequent to its taxation year in which the property so acquired was acquired by the successor corporation.
In my view, the legislative change effected in 1962 by the repeal of paras. (c) and (d) of subs. (8a) was not an alteration in the scheme of deductions for drilling and exploration expenses, but a modification in the transferability of the entitlement to those deductions. In essence, the Minister's contention which prevailed in the court below against the Tax Appeal Board's conclusion was that, although the transfer of appellant's property
to Sharples Oil Corporation made on November 13, 1960, did not include the entitlement to the deductions in question, this right became included in this transfer when, in 1962, an amendment to the Income Tax Act repealed the provisions that had prevented it from going to the transferee with the property transferred.
The rule against retrospective operation of statutes is, of course, no more than a rule of construction. It operates more or less strongly according to the nature of the enactment. However, nowhere does it operate more strongly than when any other construction would result in altering the effect of contracts previously entered into. In Reid v. Reid. Bowen Li. said (at pp. 408-9):
Now the particular rule of construction which has been referred to, but which is valuable only when the words of an Act of Parliament are not plain, is embodied in the well-known trite maxim omnis nova constitutio futuris formam imponere debet non praeteritis, that is, that except in special cases the new law ought to be construed so as to interfere as little as possible with vested rights. It seems to me that even in construing an Act which is to a certain extent retrospective, and in construing a section which is to a certain extent retrospective, we ought nevertheless to bear in mind that maxim as applicable whenever we reach the line at which the words of the section cease to be plain. That is a necessary and logical corollary of the general proposition that you ought not to give a large retrospective power to a section, even in an Act which is to some extent intended to be retrospective, than you can plainly see the Legislature meant.
Now as to sect. 5, it applies in express terms to marriages contracted before the commencement of the Act. Then are we to take the view which Mr. Barber puts forward, ... this construction may displace or disturb previous dispositions of property, and therefore unless we can read in plain language that the Legislature intended what Mr. Barber contends for, the principle of construction with which I set out forbids us to adopt that construction.
Here, the effect of the contract was to leave the entitlement to the deductions intact in the hands of the transferor but, if the legislative change is read as applicable to that contract, the result is an outright forfeiture or confiscation of this valuable
right, the transferee having been wound-up. On that construction, if the transferee was a subsisting oil company it would, without any consideration therefor, obtain this valuable right in addition to the properties conveyed. In the instant case, the appellant's shares were sold after the 1962 amendment but, on the Minister's submission, it would make no difference if they had been bought before the amendment, the purchasers would have lost what they paid for. Bearing in mind the presumption against retrospective operation, can the statute be read so as to avoid this unjust result?
The application provision of the 1962 amending act enacts that the relevant subsection is applicable to the 1962 and subsequent taxation years. The Minister says this means that assessments for those years are to be made in accordance with the law as changed by the new statute. I do not deny that such is ordinarily the effect of an enactment in those terms. However, I cannot see why, in view of the nature of the substantive enactment, it would not be read differently with respect to the provisions with which we are concerned, namely, provisions which concern the legal effect of contracts in relation to a scheme of entitlement to deductions intended to be available for many years in the future. Because of the special risk involved in exploring and drilling for oil Parliament has departed from the principle of yearly deductions of expenses, deductions for drilling and exploration expenses are available to oil companies in subsequent years.
While after the sale of its assets the appellant was no longer in a situation in which it could claim deductions for drilling and exploration expenses, it had a perfect right to resume active operations and claim in later years. It had not lost its entitlement to such deductions in appropriate circumstances, such entitlement was a valuable asset of enduring value involving substantial potential benefits just as some other kinds of tax losses. While the realization of actual benefits from such assets is subject to restrictions and conditions, they are commonly bought and sold through the acquisition of the shares of the company holding them. This is something
which appears from the facts of the case and of which we should anyway take judicial notice. It is not something of which Parliament may be deemed to have been unaware in passing the legislation. Due to the nature of the entitlement to future deductions for drilling and exploration expenses, it should not be presumed that a company holding such an asset will not seek to realize its value in later years just because, at one point, it has sold or otherwise disposed of its properties. The 1962 amendment should not be looked upon purely as conferring the right to claim deductions upon the purchaser of the properties. There is a correlative withdrawing of this right from the vendor which Parliament's so-called liberality effected at the same time. Thus the true nature of the operation is a transfer of the entitlement to the deductions.
I cannot agree that our present income tax legislation should be construed on the basis of the special rules that were developed in the days when the taxation statutes were yearly drawn up in the Ways and Means Committee. Our Income Tax Act is permanent legislation and we are here dealing with incentive provisions, that is a system of deductions designed to encourage investment. It is true that it is within Parliament's power to breach the promises of special treatment on the faith of which investments have been made. There is however a strong presumption against any intention to do this. In the present case, there was clearly no such intention. The scheme of deductions was not repealed. Appellant would admittedly be entitled to the deductions were it not for the fact that, some years previously, it transferred its property to another corporation, as it could lawfully do without prejudicing its entitlement to the deductions. At that time, this transfer did not carry the right to the deductions although it would now do so. Under such circumstances, it does not appear to me that the application provision may properly be read as making the new law applicable to a contract previously executed so as to change its effect especially when such change is nothing but an entirely unjustified forfeiture or confiscation of valuable rights.
Concerning the decision of this Court in Acme Village School District v. Steele-Smith, I would point out that the situation was quite different. The dispute was between a school teacher and a school board which was his employer. The agreement between them provided for termination by either party giving thirty days notice in writing to the other. Subsequent to the making of the agreement, the Legislature amended the section of the School Act contemplating the termination of teachers' engagements by such notice. The amendment provided that except in the month of June, no such notice shall be given by a Board without the approval of an inspector previously obtained. This Court held that the teacher was entitled to the benefit of the amendment. Lamont J. said, speaking for the majority (at p. 52):
Considering the nature and scope of the Act and the control over the agreement between teacher and Board retained by the Minister, and considering also that the mischief for which the legislature was providing a remedy was a presently existing evil which the legislature proposed to cure by making the right of either party to terminate the agreement depend upon the consent of the inspector, I am of opinion that sufficient has been shewn to rebut the presumption that the section was intended only to be prospective in its operation.
With deference for those who hold a different view, it seems to me that if a similar reasoning is applied to the contract and legislation in question herein, the result ought to be that the intention of Parliament in effecting the legislative change in 1962 was to facilitate the transfer of the right to deductions, not to alter the result of past contracts so as to effect a forfeiture of the rights of those oil companies that had previously transferred their properties under conditions that did not involve a transfer of their entitlement to the transferee. In my view, the words used by Parliament do not compel us to reach the result contended for by the Minister. That this is a matter of taxation in which it is said no resort to equity can be had, makes in my view no difference.
I would allow the appeal with costs throughout to the appellant, reverse the judgments of the
Federal Court at trial and on appeal, and restore the judgment of the Tax Appeal Board.
Appeal dismissed with costs, PIGEON and DE GRANDPRÉ . dissenting.
Solicitors for the appellant: McDonald & Hayden, Toronto.
Solicitors for the respondent: D. S. Maxwell, Ottawa.