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Understanding Taxable and Non-Taxable Supplies in the HST/GST Context

One area that frequently leaves individuals and businesses perplexed is the concept of taxable supplies, particularly within the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and GST (Goods and Services Tax) framework. This blog will shine a light on what falls under the taxable and non-taxable categories in HST/GST.
Analysis by
Nitin Ashok, CPA, CFA
December 11, 2023 11:56 AM
min read
Taxable and Non-Taxable Supplies in the HST/GST Framework
Table of Contents


    In the intricate landscape of finance and taxation, understanding the rules and regulations can often feel like navigating a labyrinth in the dark. A crucial aspect that frequently perplexes individuals and businesses is the concept of taxable supplies, especially within the framework of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and Goods and Services Tax (GST). In this blog, we aim to shed light on precisely what falls under the umbrella of taxable supplies and what doesn't within the HST/GST perspective.

    Taxable Supplies

    Let's start with the basics. The Excise Tax Act defines taxable supplies as those made in the course of a commercial activity. This commercial activity can take various forms, including:

    1. Business Activities

    A business, in this context, encompasses professions, trades, manufacturing, and various other undertakings, whether they operate for profit or not. It's important to note that businesses with no reasonable expectation of profit, typically those run by individuals or certain trusts and partnerships, are an exception to this rule.

    2. Ventures in the Nature of Trade

    This category covers adventures or concerns that resemble trade activities but aren't ongoing businesses. Think of it as a one-shot business venture, distinct from a continuous business operation.

    3. Real Property Transactions

    Any supply, other than an exempt one, involving real property falls under taxable supplies. This includes everything done in connection with such transactions.

    What Falls Under Taxable Supplies?

    Now that we've demystified what taxable supplies are let's explore the two main categories they fall into:

    Fully Taxable Supplies

    Fully taxable supplies are subject to the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) or the applicable Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) rates, which can range from 5% to 15%. Some common examples of fully taxable supplies include:

    • Transportation within Canada
    • Restaurant meals and beverages
    • Clothing and footwear
    • Furniture
    • Admissions to events
    • Contractors' services
    • Legal and accounting fees
    • Haircuts
    • Cleaning services

    Zero-Rated Supplies

    Zero-rated supplies may seem perplexing at first glance, as they are considered taxable supplies but are taxed at a rate of 0%. Providers of zero-rated supplies can recover the GST/HST paid on business purchases as input tax credits. This is a key distinction from exempt supplies. Common examples of zero-rated supplies include:

    • Prescription drugs
    • Medical devices
    • Basic groceries
    • Most agricultural and fishing products
    • Goods and services exported from Canada
    • Foreign travel and transportation services (with certain conditions)

    The Quirks of Air Travel

    Air travel is an interesting case. International air travel is zero-rated when it involves flights outside of continental North America, not just Canada. This means that Canadian air travel to and from the United States may be fully taxable.

    Exempt Supplies

    Lastly, there are exempt supplies. These are supplies that do not attract GST/HST, and suppliers of exempt goods and services cannot claim input tax credits. As a result, they bear the GST/HST paid on their business expenses, which can affect their pricing. Common examples of exempt supplies include:

    • Basic health care and dental services
    • Financial services provided to Canadian residents
    • Sales of used residential housing and long-term residential rents
    • Certain land sales by individuals not used in business
    • Educational courses leading to certificates or diplomas
    • Child or personal care services
    • Various services provided by charities, not-for-profits, and government organizations


    Understanding the distinctions between fully taxable, zero-rated, and exempt supplies is essential for both businesses and individuals. It can impact the taxes you pay and your ability to recover input tax credits. So, the next time you're engaged in a commercial activity or contemplating a venture in the nature of trade, keep these concepts in mind to navigate the tax landscape with confidence.

    In conclusion, taxation may be complex, but with a bit of clarity on concepts like taxable supplies, you can better navigate the financial terrain. Remember, knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your financial well-being.

    If you’d like to learn more or would need help with a similar tax issue, please reach out to us at

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