In Baytex Energy Ltd. et al. v. The Queen (2015 ABQB 278), the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench considered whether rectification and/or rescission were available to address mistakes that could result in the taxpayer being taxed on additional resource income of $135 million for 2003-2006 and $528 million for 2007-2010.
The Court determined that the requirements for rectification had been satisfied and thus granted the rectification of certain documents to accord with the parties’ original intention.
Baytex Energy Trust (the “Trust”) was a publicly-traded mutual fund trust (the Trust later converted to Baytex Energy Corp. (“BEC”), a publicly-traded dividend-paying corporation). The Trust wholly-owned Baytex Energy Ltd. (“BEL”), which owned and operated oil and gas properties prior to transferring the properties to Baytex Energy Partnership on January 1, 2010.
The Baytex companies were subject to the pre-2007 oil and gas royalty regime in the Income Tax Act, which required certain additional resource income for an oil and gas producer (referred to in the judgment as “Phantom Income”) and denied certain deductions for provincial Crown royalties and taxes. A 25% resource allowance was available to the producer. The Phantom Income could be transferred by the producer to another party, and a non-deductible and off-setting reimbursement would be made back to the producer. In this case, BEL and the Trust agreed that BEL would transfer 99% of its income and cash flow to the Trust.
In the Budget of February 18, 2003, the federal government announced the phase-out of the oil and gas royalty regime and the elimination of the regime as of January 1, 2007.
BEL and the Trust executed a Net Profits Interest Agreement (the “Original Agreement”) in September 2003 for the transfer of income and the off-setting reimbursement. However, the written terms of the Original Agreement failed to address the transfer of Phantom Income. A subsequent agreement (the “Collateral Agreement”) – not all of the terms of which were reduced to writing – addressed the transfer of Phantom Income.
The parties intended that the transfer and reimbursement would cease effective January 1, 2007 because of the elimination of the oil and gas royalty regime in the Income Tax Act.
However, from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2010, the parties continued the practice of transferring and reimbursing the Phantom Income. When this error was initially discovered in 2008, the Baytex companies’ tax professionals advised that the Original Agreement should be amended to provide for the reimbursement beyond 2006 to be consistent with the practice of the parties. The Baytex companies were told this amendment would have no adverse tax consequences. Based on this advice, the parties entered into an Amended Agreement.
The CRA reviewed the Baytex companies’ arrangements and concluded that an additional $135 million was taxable income to BEL for 2003-2006, and that the Trust earned an additional $528 million of taxable income for 2007-2010.
The Baytex companies sought rectification of the agreements. The CRA did not oppose the rectification of the agreements for the pre-2007 period, but did oppose the rectification for the post-2006 period on the basis that the Baytex companies had intentionally amended the Original Agreement, based on professional advice, to reflect the practice of transfer and reimbursement, and thus the parties mistaken assumption about the tax consequences would not meet the test for rectification. The taxpayers argued that the evidence (which consisted of two affidavits of BEC’s Chief Financial Officer) established that the parties always intended to transfer and reimburse the Phantom Income and that no transfers would occur after January 1, 2007.
The Court considered the authorities on rectification and concluded that the test for granting rectification had been met. The uncontroverted evidence was that the parties’ common intention was to transfer BEL’s income to the Trust, and that this practice would cease as of January 1, 2007. The Original Agreement and the Amended Agreement were inconsistent with this common intention. The precise form of the corrected agreement was not in dispute. And there were no other considerations that would limit/prevent the availability of rectification. Accordingly, the Court granted the rectification.
While this determination was sufficient to dispose of the application, the Court did go on to consider whether, if the Court was wrong on rectification, rescission was available to the parties. The Court held that the Amended Agreement triggered an unintended tax consequence that constituted a fundamental mistake that went to the root of the contract. The Court concluded that rescission was available to rescind the Amended Agreement, which would restore the parties to their Original Agreement, which the Crown had agreed should be rectified.