With its tropical climate, oceanfront estates and dearth of taxes, the Bahamas has a lot to offer a wealthy young celebrity. But when news broke this week that tennis pro Eugénie Bouchard had become a resident of the Caribbean nation, she found herself the unlikely target of the man expected to be Quebec’s next premier.
Bouchard, who was born in Montreal, had been living in Florida, but according to a report this week in La Presse she officially became a resident of the Bahamas earlier this year. Long considered a tax haven, the country charges its residents no personal income tax or corporate tax.
Asked about the story on the campaign trail Tuesday, François Legault, leader of Quebec’s right-leaning Coalition Avenir Québec, told reporters he didn’t like it. “I think we should live where we were born, where we learned to play tennis and pay taxes in our country,” he said.
The CAQ is leading in the polls ahead of Quebec’s Oct. 1 election, and the party has previously spoken out against tax havens, including when it was revealed in 2014 that the current premier, Philippe Couillard, had opened an offshore account in a tax haven in the 1990s.
On Wednesday, the province’s left-leaning Québec Solidaire also weighed in. “It’s deplorable that people take advantage of tax havens,” said co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in a statement to the National Post that avoided directly naming Bouchard. “We must remember that if people are able to do so it’s because complacent governments have put in place loose laws that allow rich individuals to easily transfer their funds to tax havens.”
Bouchard, 24, has earned nearly $6 million in prize money throughout her tennis career, but also pulls in big money through endorsements. Forbes listed her 2016 earnings at $6.2 million, including $5.5 million in endorsements. But after a breakthrough that took her to the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2014, a year in which she was ranked the fifth-best women’s tennis player in the world, Bouchard has struggled. She slipped on a wet floor at the 2015 U.S. Open and suffered a concussion, over which she successfully sued the U.S. Tennis Association, and her play has not subsequently returned to the same level. She is currently ranked 137th in the world, was ousted in the second round at Wimbledon and in the U.S. Open this year, and reports have shed light on her shrinking list of sponsors. A media darling since her emergence in international tennis, she has been criticized for not fully focusing on tennis — criticism she has rejected. She did not respond to a request for comment.
“There’s a big advantage to being a resident of the Bahamas (for a professional tennis player),” André Lareau, a professor of tax law at the University of Laval, told La Presse. “It’s purely and essentially for financial reasons.”
Not everyone is as willing to infer a financial motive for Bouchard’s move. “People have mobility rights,” said Richard Leblanc, a professor of corporate governance at York University. “I would be surprised if it’s primarily tax-driven.”
Leblanc said athletes will often make moves based on climate and their training regimens. He also pointed out that Bouchard has been struggling with her performance, and “may not want to be recognized when she goes to the corner store.”
“She’s been having issues with recognition and with pressure, etc.,” Leblanc said. “You avoid all of that by being in a country where you’re not easily recognized.”
Bouchard joins a long line of professional tennis players who have changed their residences to the Bahamas or to Monaco, which also charges no personal income tax. Canadian Denis Shapovalov, currently ranked 28th in the world at age 19, also resides in the Bahamas, while 27-year-old Milos Raonic, currently ranked 24th, resides in Monte Carlo.
The European Union added the Bahamas to its blacklist of tax havens last March, though it was removed in May after committing to improve tax transparency.
Tax havens are a prickly subject in Quebec, where a report from the National Assembly’s public finances committee last year estimated that tax evasion is costing the province between $800 million and $2 billion a year.
Despite his comments this week, the CAQ’s Legault has been criticized for hypocrisy on the issue. In 2016, Legault told reporters that Air Transat, the airline he co-founded in 1986, had never taken advantage of tax havens, but later admitted it had created a subsidiary in Barbados, though he insisted it wasn’t to avoid taxes.
“Worse yet (than individuals using tax havens), it’s companies that register their subsidiaries in tax havens to circumvent paying their share of taxes, as has been done by Air Transat in Barbados while François Legault was its CEO,” said Nadeau-Dubois.
It is also not the first time Bouchard has been a subject of controversy in her home province for reasons beyond the state of her tennis game. In 2016 Bouchard, an anglophone, faced criticism in the francophone press over the way she pronounces her name — she prefers the English “Genie” to the French “Eugénie.”
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