An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel expenses for a motor vehicle used by a forestry worker)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Paul Crête  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 18, 2002
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

The Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

May 5th, 2004 / 6:15 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-303, under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

May 4th, 2004 / 6:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, it was like music to my ears when the member for Acadie—Bathurst praised my colleague, the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who introduced Bill C-303.

We all know that there are some relatively large agglomerations in the Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques riding, but there are also some smaller communities which have a very high human value. Therefore, the value of a community cannot be measured by the number of people living there.

So we all recognize the social concerns of my colleague, the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who has introduced this bill to amend the provisions of the Income Tax Act regarding travel expenses for a motor vehicle used by a forestry worker.

In fact, I said earlier, with respect to my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, that I really appreciate working with him on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In any case, I had an opportunity to cross a good part of his riding. During a flight to the Gaspé, my airplane was detoured to Fredericton. I then had to rent a car and drive across the riding of Acadie—Bathurst. I even went past the entrance to the Brunswick mine, where the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst worked, I believe, before becoming an MP. I have often heard him refer to his experiences as a worker in the Brunswick mine. I am sure that the member for Acadie—Bathurst agrees with many of the points the Bloc Quebecois supports. It is unfortunate that the member for Acadie—Bathurst stands in a province other than Quebec, because I am sure that in the coming election campaign he will be able to tell his fellow NDP candidates what good work the Bloc Quebecois members do here in Ottawa.

From what I understand of this bill introduced by my colleague, it aims primarily at striking a balance between different professions. I am tempted to mention a few of the professions that can deduct the costs of the equipment they need to do their job, like optometrists and dentists for example.

I have a dentist friend who was telling me that you can easily spend between $1 million and $1.5 million to equip a dentist's office, because of the numerous computer-assisted programs, electron microscope tooth decay tests, bad breath tests and anaesthetic gases involved. These can generate significant costs.

Therefore, the reasoning behind this bill is not to allow certain job categories to use their status to justify a deduction. There is one important criteria here. We have to prove that what is requested of the profession, or rather of the workers, is related to the profession.

When our colleague the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques introduced this bill, he just wanted to achieve a certain tax fairness. Why did I talk about dentists? I have a great respect for that profession. But they have managed to convince the various Revenue officials that if they have equipment that is worth close to $1.5 million, it is because they need it to do their job.

They are not buying sophisticated anaesthetic gas systems simply to enjoy having them; they are an inherent part of their job.

The forestry worker needs his motor vehicle to get around. Before I was elected to this House I worked for 14 years in the pulp and paper industry, and I know the facts. Unfortunately, companies in Quebec and Canada used not to worry as much about reforestation as they have in the past 20 years. They always considered the forest as an inexhaustible resource. I am sorry, but that is not so.

The woody resource, that is the trees and the wood in the forest, is farther and farther from the mills. Certainly the situation was different for paper makers in 1929. One example is F.F. Soucy, a fine, efficient mill in Rivière-du-Loup in my colleague's riding. In the wake of the Enron bankruptcy, the holding company for F.F. Soucy has acquired the Daishowa mill in Limoilou, Quebec.

The woody resource is increasingly distant from the factories; forestry workers have to go and cut wood on site. I do not mean any disrespect to the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, but there are not many spruce-fir forests in his riding. They are in the resource-rich regions of Quebec.

Forestry workers have to take their vehicles and leave on Monday at 3 a.m. to arrive at the sites at 8 a.m. They have to climb into their skidders, cut the timber and return home on Friday afternoon.

They do all this with their own vehicles. They have to cover part of their transportation, which is their own responsibility. This comes out of their own pockets. The purpose of this bill is simply to achieve greater fairness.

Since I have just three minutes left, I would like to point out that, prior to the 2000 election, I introduced a bill along the same lines to allow mechanics to deduct from their income the cost of purchasing their tools. As hon. members may know, a young person just out of technical school can easily spend $15,000, $20,000 or $25,000 on tools. These are necessary to work as an automotive technician.

So, in the 2000 pre-election period, I tabled my private member's bill, which was rather along the same lines as this one by my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. Its purpose was to allow young workers as well as experienced workers to deduct the cost of purchasing their tools.

I am anxious to see how the Liberal majority over there will vote on this bill. I would remind those listening, both here and at home, that prior to the 2000 election, the Liberal MPs had voted in favour of my bill, knowing that there was an election coming on November 27, 2000. They voted in favour, so that mechanics could deduct the cost of tools required for their job.

Unfortunately, my bill could not go through the whole parliamentary process because of the election that was called on November 27, 2000. After the 2000 election, I reintroduced the same bill and the Liberal members were hypocritical enough this time to reject it.

This has shown just how hypocritical this government and the members of this party can be if they want to. Before the bill was passed, because there was an electoral campaign going on, they knew that they should visit mechanics shops, or people would take them to task. They voted in favour of the bill before the election, but when the election was over, they rejected the bill.

If these people have any respect, if they have a any respect for forestry workers, I challenge them to approve the bill introduced by my colleague.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

May 4th, 2004 / 6:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Roger Gaudet Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-303, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel expenses for a motor vehicle used by a forestry worker).

The summary of the bill says:

This enactment amends the Income Tax Act. It provides that a forestry worker may, under certain conditions, deduct motor vehicle travel expenses from income where the taxpayer was required under a contract of employment to use the motor vehicle to travel to and from the taxpayer’s ordinary place of residence and the taxpayer’s workplace or the employer’s place of business.

The enactment also provides that a forestry worker may, under certain conditions, deduct from income

(a) the interest paid on borrowed money used to acquire the motor vehicle; and

(b) such part of the capital cost of the motor vehicle used by the taxpayer as is allowed by regulation.

I am very pleased to be able to take part in the debate on this bill in the House. It is the third time that my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques brings this issue back. I would like to explain again, for the benefit of members, the reality that is experienced by some forestry workers in Quebec and Canada.

Here is a concrete example from my region. In my riding, some people have to go to work for a week at a time at the other end of the province. I live in the Berthier—Montcalm riding, and people there go to work in the forestry industry in Abitibi, on the North Shore, or elsewhere. Their vehicle is essential to their job. They use it to travel to the area concerned and for their work once they get there.

We have realized that, in the present situation, with no income tax deduction for these workers, there is no incentive to go to work. In the current context, with the lumber crisis and enormous pressure to drive down the cost of labour, a worker does not have much left at the end of the year.

The situation is the same for everybody, for those who work in the forest and for those who work in plants. All those involved in the forestry industry in Quebec and Canada are having a hard time, particularly with the softwood lumber crisis. There is less and less money to support families.

In 2000, my colleague wrote to the then finance minister, who is now the Prime Minister, to ask him to consider the possibility of restoring tax fairness for those people. I met with people from my riding, but I realized that similar situations existed throughout Quebec, particularly in the forestry regions.

There are people in these regions who work in forest management territories. These territories have shrunk because there is less cutting going on. This forces workers to travel further to find work. In so doing, they have to assume heavy costs that are not tax deductible.

In February 2000, my colleague wrote the Minister of Finance, who is now the Prime Minister. This is what he said in his response:

What constitutes a reasonable level of expenses for motor vehicles is a complex issue that requires a thorough study. The review of this issue and of other components of the tax system concerning motor vehicles is still going on. We will inform you of the results as soon as it is completed.

This letter was dated June 2, 2000. At the time, he expected a response in the subsequent months and that the situation could be corrected in the next budget if the government decided to follow up on his request. Moreover, the bill that was introduced at the time would have improved matters. The member had hoped the government would support it in order to help forestry workers.

Unfortunately, the then finance minister, the new Prime Minister, never deigned to follow up on the response he had given before. When the minister said, “We will inform you of the result as soon as it is completed”, my colleague expected to receive information, but it never came. We never received it. We had to do additional research.

The Income Tax Act is very clear:

At any time, the distance admissible as a business expense is the distance between the employers' office and the forest camp office and the cutting site, provided the forestry worker received instructions at the office of the camp. At no time is the distance from the worker's home to the stump admissible.

So, people are put in the position of having to use a motor vehicle, something essential to their work and required of them by their employer. They have to use it to get to their job, which is often hundreds of kilometres away, but get no tax deduction for this. The cost of this vehicle, one that is often hard on gas, is quite high because a person needs a powerful vehicle for that kind of terrain. You know how expensive gasoline is these days.

All the expenses to get to the work site weekly, once calculated from the mathematical and economic point of view, may convince them that it is not worth going to the job. So, society ends up with people on its hand who would rather be working but are instead remaining unemployed and sometimes end up on welfare because they are in an area where there are no jobs or opportunities to make use of their skills.

For that reason, I hope that Bill C-303 which we are discussing today will gain the support of most of the members of this House. The other times it has been debated here, some were in favour and some were not. Unfortunately, we did not have the outcome of the studies undertaken by the Department of Finance available to us then.

Today, with the budget just behind us, we know that forestry workers earn their living by the sweat of their brows. Yet they see the federal government once again with an $8 billion surplus. Next year, it may be as high as $10 or $11 billion. These workers have to cope with a very restrictive employment insurance program, and are often unable to get enough weeks of benefits on top of the weeks they have worked to secure an income all year. Once again, we have been waiting for this bill since 2001.

In the cases that I am talking about, forestry workers who often work away from home find that it is unacceptable that a government that has such a huge surplus does not encourage them to work when they want to do their job and, indeed, this job must be done. There may be a manpower shortage. This is absurd. There are people who would be available to do this work, but they cannot, because the financial bottom line will be negative at the end of the year if they have to go to work and pay for all the costs.

It is this situation that the current bill is designed to correct. I hope that it will be passed and that the tax laws will be changed accordingly. There must also be a different interpretation of the regulations, so that workers who want to work, who want to make a living and who are forced to travel long distances do not have to assume a portion of the cost, which is unacceptable.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I expect members of this House to be particularly sensitive in these times where, because of the softwood lumber crisis, people are going through very tough situations. The financial survival of families is on the line. Often, this situation, this imbalance, this lack of acknowledgment of the tax expense means the difference between maintaining the independent small business, self-employment and quitting the job.

This is why I would like forestry workers to get the acknowledgment they deserve. I would also like them to be given the satisfaction of being able to work, of bringing an income home and of supporting their family. They have developed skills in this sector, and employers are waiting for them to do the work that must be done.

I cannot conceive that members of this House could deny a tax credit to workers using their own vehicle as a tool. I would hope that, at a time when these workers are going through such a serious crisis, we can show some sensitivity. It would be a good opportunity for all the members in this House to support the forest industry by approving the tax credit requested. It could come from this year's surplus.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

May 4th, 2004 / 6:05 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate on Bill C-303, which proposes to amend the Income Tax Act to provide a tax deduction for automobile expenses that forestry workers incur when they travel to work sites that are far from their homes.

The proposed bill would cover daily out of pocket expenses for operating a motor vehicle. Examples of such costs are maintenance, gasoline and insurance. It would also cover interest charges on money borrowed to acquire a vehicle. It would also include depreciation costs.

I think the initiative is a worthy one but fraught with all kinds of problems. I would like to go over some of those problems.

Certainly I would not take away from any of the comments made about forestry workers by my colleague who just spoke. Forestry workers are the backbone of the forestry sector and forestry is a sector that contributes significantly to our economy. In 2002 alone, forestry exports contributed more than $32 billion to our economy and our trade surplus. Today more than 350,000 hard-working Canadians are directly employed in this sector.

The core of the bill would give a special package of tax benefits to a narrow group of employees. It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we uphold the basic principles of fairness and even-handedness in public policy matters and in taxation matters.

Travelling in the forestry business is an expensive part of the job. There is just no getting around it. Providing tax relief on this type of isolated basis certainly is problematic. Let me raise some of the concerns about this approach.

We know that other groups of employees incur exactly the same kinds of commuting costs as forestry workers. People who work in construction or in the oil and gas sector are obvious examples. I certainly have some experience from working in the oil industry in terms of travelling back and forth to work. These workers travel huge distances, often up to seven and eight hours' worth, to work sites. I am sure there many more examples of people who have to travel as part of their job description.

We know that all employees, no matter where they work, incur some form of mandatory employment related expenses. Employment expenses can vary in their nature and in their amounts. There seems to be no reason that one group would be more deserving than any of the others in access to an employment expense deduction.

The cost of getting to and from work is one of a range of costs that employees incur. Like virtually all employment related expenses, there is no specific income tax deduction. Instead, there is a general tax recognition by way of the basic exemption. The basic exemption is one that applies to all employees and indeed all taxpayers.

Prior to 1988, there was a $500 deduction for employment expenses. The general deduction recognizes that all employees incur some work related expenses. The employment expense deduction was integrated into the basic exemption. The basic exemption has steadily increased since 1988 and now stands at just slightly over $8,000.

The member for Scarborough—Rouge River proposed that the general $500 deduction be reintroduced as a way of recognizing the broad array of potential employment expenses. However, this would cost approximately $1.3 billion per year in revenue foregone in the tax system.

Once we have opened up the door to this type of employment expense, in fairness we would also have to recognize volunteers and their expenses. Statistics Canada reports that there were 6.5 million volunteers in Canada in the year 2000. Giving each one of them a $500 tax credit would cost $3.25 billion in lost tax revenue.

The bill tries to address an obvious problem facing the forestry industry. However, it does not address the root of the problem: this government's inability to properly manage its books and to resolve trade disputes with the United States. The softwood lumber issue has caused dislocation, unemployment and problems, especially in our rural communities. It needs to be resolved. It needs to be resolved at the highest level.

I would suggest that the other thing we should consider here is the whole employment insurance program. Not only does the employment insurance program consistently overtax people in the forest industry, but when they are laid off due to softwood taxation, tariffs and so on, it sometimes takes months for them to get their EI cheques.

I believe we have to address this issue globally. It means broadly based tax relief for all Canadians who are looking for some help. We want to specifically help people in their personal income taxes, allowing them to reduce the amount of taxes paid. We need to stop the gouging in the EI system. We need to ensure that the money goes to the people who need it in a way that helps them out properly.

In closing, let me say that due to the concerns I have raised, I will not be supporting this private member's bill.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

May 4th, 2004 / 5:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-303, introduced by the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which had first reading on November 18, 2002.

I believe this was a bill which had been introduced in the House previously, and had to be brought back. My colleague will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it died because of the election in 2000.

I would like to remind the House what Bill C-303 is, before going any further. Obviously, it is about forestry workers and the income tax credits that might be available for using a vehicle when such workers have to cover long distances or work far from home.

As my colleague himself mentioned in his speech, this bill was introduced in 2000, and at the time my colleague contacted the Minister of Finance to ask his opinion and find out whether he at least would establish a tax credit for forest workers, who are unjustly treated in comparison with workers in certain other industries.

The then finance minister said that indeed, he would review the tax system to look at his options for responding positively to the request. That was in 2000. The then finance minister has become the current Prime Minister.

It became quite clear in the last budget that there had been no response. Since 2000 there still has been no response. On the eve of the election, if my colleague wrote him another letter, he would probably get the same answer as in 2000, “We will study it, analyze it and see whether it is possible”. Meanwhile, we have never received a response.

This is very frustrating when we look at the history of the forestry industry in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, particularly Ontario or the maritime provinces. From a historical point of view, the forestry industry was probably the most important industry, before agriculture, for the development of Quebec and all the maritime provinces and Ontario.

In the Gatineau-Hull-Ottawa area, a major forestry industry developed over the years. This area finally opened up as a result of forestry.

Like my colleagues from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques and Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, I am from a region where forestry plays an extremely important role. The forestry sector is currently in crisis with respect to forest management because it has become apparent that the Government of Quebec wants to cut its investment. This is catastrophic considering that $1 invested in the forestry industry is worth all the more when it comes to forest management.

The forest is an extremely important resource, particularly in Quebec, and needs to be maintained, managed and continually developed in order to produce a cultivated forest that we can use effectively and efficiently.

I would like to come back to the bill. I could go on at length about forest management since this automatically affects forestry workers. The less management there is, the more workers must, to some extent, travel long distances, often on what are referred to as forest access roads, or roads that are barely ridable.

They are therefore required to have vehicles that are more powerful than the car I use, for example, on highways or paved roads. Forestry workers have to drive vehicles that are efficient and powerful.

This is one of the things for which my colleague was calling for a tax credit. These workers have no tax credit for use of their vehicles. The vehicles they need have to be far more efficient and therefore cost more, as well as being harder on gas.

In addition, we have heard today that there has just been another gas hike, and this is quite significant for the Montreal region among others. It will, of course, spread across the country, because once it has started, we know very well it will not be restricted to Montreal. Forest workers will have additional gas costs because of the price hike, which has been going on for some time now and is continuing.

A tax credit is therefore being called for to ensure that these workers receive the same treatment as workers in a large number of industries. For instance, travelling salesmen who use their private motor vehicle are entitled to a deduction, allowing them to amortize the vehicle as well as part of the operating costs. There is, of course, a restriction when the vehicle is used for family or personal purposes outside of work.

The purpose of this bill is to ensure that forestry workers are treated fairly. If there is one class of workers in our society that has been treated unfairly throughout our history, it is the forestry workers. These people were exploited, especially in the regions. Historically, the big companies they depended on took advantage of them. Back home, we had the Price company. Workers were exploited and mistreated. There was a time when they were almost treated like slaves. They were earning very little money and were forced to buy everything they needed from the companies' stores. The same thing happened in the fishing industry in the Gaspé, where people were dependent upon the big companies, which treated them almost like slaves. Historically, that is how forestry workers were treated.

That is a part of our history that we almost relived not so long ago because of the softwood lumber crisis and the government's withdrawal from the forestry industry. Believe it or not, not so long ago, some people were still living in tents and not eating too well, I am afraid. They had to fend for themselves, alone in the forest, for four, five or six days at a time. That is what these people were required to do to earn a living.

These days, with the ongoing softwood lumber crisis, the problem is even more obvious, because we are going through a crisis and people have to travel longer distances. Residents in my area and in the riding of my colleague have to travel to the Abitibi area, hundreds of kilometres from home, to earn a living. Others have to travel to the North Shore. Some even have to go as far as New Brunswick. They travel very long distances, for which they are not compensated.

That is no way to encourage people to go to work and try to earn a living, not to mention the fact that, under the current employment insurance scheme, these people need to work a certain number of weeks to be eligible to EI benefits. So, they are doubly penalized if we do not give them a tax credit for the use of the motor vehicle they absolutely need to get to work.

I also talked about forest management, but I would like to focus on one aspect. I am talking about forestry workers, among other things. For years, many of them did not have a pension plan, and many still do not have one. At 50 or 55 years old, with the working conditions that they have experienced, these people are now almost unable to do their work. They find themselves almost without any income and several of them become welfare recipients.

If there is one thing that the government should think about it is the establishment of a pension plan or an aid program for older workers, for this category of people, among others. Members in the House should seriously consider this and vote in favour of Bill C-303, as my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques is asking.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

March 11th, 2004 / 5:45 p.m.
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Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-303, sponsored by the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. I congratulate the member for the bill, which is an effort to help out certain workers, who must travel far distances for work, with their expenses.

I first want to comment on a couple of items that were mentioned by the previous two speakers, the first being the softwood lumber issue. I basically agree with those speakers on the efforts that Canada is and should be taking on that file. I agree with the items they suggested and commend them to all members in the House. We have had several take note debates on that and numerous meetings with our opponents and friends in the United States to try to resolve the problem that is being caused by a special interest group. We are more determined than ever to do that.

The member of Her Majesty's loyal opposition mentioned EI. I just wanted to put on the record that the Canadian Federation of Labour has presented some very creative ways of using the EI fund for training, over 55 programs and other methods to make it more effective. I encourage the Minister of Human Resources to look at those.

Finally, in response to previous speakers, I also agree that the United States is our greatest trading partner. By geography it is right beside us and it has the disposable income. We can ship there cheaper than anywhere else in the world and we sell the largest number of products. It is therefore important to ensure a smooth relationship for our workers and our families in Canada.

On this particular bill, it appears the intention is to give a tax deduction to forestry workers. It would be a deduction for motor vehicle expenses that they incur for travel between their home and distant work sites. I understand why the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques would want to do something special for forestry workers. Forestry workers are the backbone of the forestry sector, a sector that contributes significantly to our economy. In 2002 alone, for example, forestry exports contributed more that $32 billion to our economy and our trade surplus. That is an important contribution indeed.

As I said, forestry workers are the backbone of this sector. Today, more than 350,000 hardworking Canadians are directly employed in this sector. In forestry and logging alone there are more than 75,000 jobs. This number is much higher when we count the people working in the wood and paper products industry or related industries.

Employment in the forestry sector is a major source of income that helps sustain many communities across this vast nation: communities such as Prince George, British Columbia; Le Pas, Manitoba; and Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. Of course, I cannot forget that forestry is important to a number of communities in Quebec represented by the hon. member.

I also want to mention, for those who do not know, that we have a good forestry resource in Yukon. We have some tremendous white spruce and lodge pole pine trees. The grade on those trees is so fine, because some of them take 300 or 400 years to grow, that they are highly prized by the Japanese and other markets for their high quality and strong wood.

As the member mentioned, we do have workers who travel back and forth on the Dempster highway at great costs to get to their jobs. However there are no trees at the top of the Dempster highway, which points to what the government was saying, which was that there are all sorts of workers, who incur tremendous expenses to travel long distances, who would not be covered by the bill.

I also agree with the hon. member who just spoke, a former Yukoner I might add, that people should be congratulated for moving and should be helped out when they move for employment. In Yukon, to once again make the government's point, our economy is at a low ebb and a lot of people are temporarily moving right now. I congratulate them for leaving their homes to be positive contributors to our economy. However they are not moving to go into the forestry industry. Most of them are moving to go into mining and into the oil and gas sectors near us. Once again, this points out the government's point about fairness for these other sectors.

A strong forestry sector is an important element of Canada's future prosperity. That is why in May 2002 the federal government announced a five year $35 million Canada wood export program. This program brings together partners, the wood product associations, provinces, territories and the industry to work together to expand offshore export opportunities for Canadian wood products in traditional and emerging markets. Doing so will strengthen exports, increase economic growth and create jobs for forestry workers.

Therefore, I can understand the hon. member's desire to support forestry workers, but the bill is not the best way to do it. I might add that some of the items that the members in the debate have brought forward on how we can help them I fully support. I thought they were good suggestions.

However, as I said earlier, the bill proposes to give an income tax deduction for motor vehicles expenses that forestry workers incur to travel between home and distant work sites. Deductible costs would include the day to day, out of pocket expenses required to operate the vehicle. These would be things like gasoline, repairs and maintenance costs, insurance and licence fees. Forestry workers would also be allowed to claim depreciation on the original cost of the vehicle and they could claim interest costs associated with any loan taken out to acquire that vehicle.

The first issue I have with the bill is one of fairness. Tax rules should be fair not only to the taxpayers directly affected by change but also to other Canadians.

The bill would introduce special relief on commuting costs incurred by forestry workers. Most employees have to commute to work and incur costs in doing so. Some even have to travel relatively long distances to remote locations. As I said previously, forestry workers are not the only workers in this category. There are workers in the construction, oil and gas and the mining sectors and farmers who often work far from home as well.

I am not talking about moving expenses. I congratulate the previous member who spoke. He said that there should be support for moving expenses. There is a moving tax deduction in the Income Tax Act if one moves for employment.

However, despite the good intentions, the bill overlooks all these other employees whom I just mentioned; people who face the same kind of travel requirements as forestry workers. How can we justify providing a special tax concession that would only be good for one category of worker? In good conscience I do not think we could.

It is also worthy to note that the bill is unclear about who is included in the definition of forestry worker. Are cooks at logging camps considered to be forestry workers? Would a secretary working at a remote logging site be eligible? Why would we deny these workers tax relief when they incur exactly the same costs? It is a difficult situation, to be sure. Would a cook in another business who travels to work be eligible?

How could we expect to limit tax relief only to long distance commuting costs and ignore the fact that most workers incur costs connected in one way or another to their jobs? In addition to getting to and from work, different kinds of employees face special expenses related to their work. There was some adjustment for that in the standard personal deduction.

For example, many professionals have to buy computers if they often have to take work home. Maybe they need to be connected to the office to handle after hours urgencies. Of course, there could be many work related reasons for needing a computer at home. Other kinds of employees need other things. Most trades people for instance need to provide their own tools. These employees include carpenters, electricians and plumbers to name a few. In other cases employees may be required to provide their own uniforms or safety clothing.

It is safe to say that all the employees I mentioned, and many more I could have mentioned if time allowed, are incurring out of pocket expenses to perform their jobs.

This is precisely the problem with the bill at hand. How can we give forestry workers some special privilege under the tax system, a deduction for their long distance commuting costs, which we all agree is difficult, while ignoring the equally necessary and equally important expenses that other employees incur.

This leads me to my second concern with the bill. We must ask ourselves what would happen if we were to recognize the employment expenses of all the workers in all categories? The answer we would run into a major problem of affordability. Just to illustrate the enormity of the cost, we can look at the impact of reintroducing the $500 tax deduction for employment related expenses.

In closing, I congratulate the member, but we must have a fairer system for helping the workers in this industry.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

March 11th, 2004 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-303 which I believe is a nice gesture, a nice thought toward helping forestry workers. I was once a forestry worker. I was a logging contractor for many years before I got into this business.

I know exactly what it means to try to help a forestry worker in his travelling duties. In my case, on a typical day I would spend three and a half or four hours in a pickup truck to get to and from work besides whatever I drove at work. Travelling in the forestry business is an expensive part of the job and there is just no getting around that.

Unfortunately, the problem with the bill is that it addresses one aspect of employee expense. It does not recognize that other employees have similar expenses. For example, construction workers in my area might live in Chilliwack but they have to drive to Vancouver for their daily work. They drive two and a half to three hours a day as well. The bill does not address that. As soon as we start making laws for one group of workers, we have to make it across the board.

The bill tries to address an obvious problem facing the forestry industry. We have to talk about the root of the problem. What are the big problems for forestry workers?

In my neck of the woods there are three or four things that affect them directly. One is the failure to resolve the softwood lumber issue. In British Columbia that issue has caused more dislocation, more unemployment and more problems especially in our rural communities than any other issue. It needs to be resolved. It needs to be resolved at the highest level.

It needs to be a priority for the government or any government to fix and repair our damaged relations with the Americans. We have to get the softwood lumber agreement fixed. I would add that there are several of these agreements, whether it is the problem with BSE, the problem with durum wheat, and now the possible problems with the trading of pork. Many of these are north-south problems with the Americans. We simply have to find a better way of sitting down with our American partners and talking these things through before they become a crisis. Right now we seem to have a crisis management system and it is not helping forestry workers or anyone else.

The government recognized this issue a long time ago. It can be found on the Industry Canada website, the implementation of the softwood industry community economic adjustment initiative. It is a long term for saying there is supposed to be some cash for the communities that are particularly hard hit.

My riding has a new part, and I hope to be the member of Parliament after the next election, but the new riding boundaries go up the valley, up the canyon into Boston Bar and over to Pemberton. I met with officials in those towns. They cannot get any money through the community futures program and through the softwood industry adjustment initiative to the communities that are most affected.

In some cases there is a 70% to 80% unemployment rate. If they could get some money they could start these community forest programs, something which the provincial government is in favour of, but they need some help. The softwood industry adjustment program is supposed to help them and the money is simply not getting through to them.

I refer to an article in the Vancouver Sun of March 6, regarding $55 million of the federal program to assist B.C.'s hardest hit communities, forestry communities, small communities such as the ones in my riding. It states:

But a series of bureaucratic mistakes, changes in rules, turf wars and a confusing array of approval processes all combined to delay the program so much that it was only this week--a month before all the money was supposed to be handed out--that the first small amount approved for programs has trickled out of the government.

In other words, half of all the money in the federal government's softwood lumber initiative was supposed to go to British Columbia, which was the hardest hit. The money would help the smaller communities, such as Boston Bar, Hope, Pemberton, Lillooet and so on, which have already been hit hard for a bunch of reasons. However the government has not been able to design that program for a variety of reasons to get the money into the hands of the people who need it, which is a travesty.

The people have firm proposals. They showed me those proposals again last week when I was up in Boston Bar. Their programs are detailed and firm and have the approval of the bank, the community, their elected official and the province but they cannot get the money from the federal government.

The money was targeted especially to help those communities and it is just a shame when nothing happens. It is not acceptable, especially when it targets one region in the country that needs a little bit of help. The program is on the website but my people back home are saying that they cannot get access to it. Those funds, more so than a travelling allowance, is what these people need.

I would suggest that the other thing we should consider here is the whole employment insurance program. Not only does the employment insurance program consistently overtax people who are in the forest industry, but when they are laid off due to softwood taxation and tariffs and so on, it sometimes takes months and months to get their first EI cheque.

No one wants to live on EI. It is tough enough to live on EI when one is raising a family and so on but when people are paying into that program they expect and have the right to get that money back from the EI program, to quote the Deputy Prime Minister, in a “timely fashion”. When they apply they should not have to wait two to three months to get their first cheque. In our neck of the woods when workers are laid off for winter or because the mill shut down or whatever, there is no question that they are laid off. There is no other work in Boston Bar. It is a one industry town.

When workers who are laid off make their application, they sometimes wait for two to three months before they get a cheque in the mail. That is unacceptable. Not only are employers and employees overtaxed on the EI contributions, but when the workers try to draw from the fund, which is supposed to be for a temporary loss of job, they sometimes do not receive the money for a couple of months.

I have had people come to my office who are at wits end. They do not know what to do. They thought the program would tide them through the winter or maybe put some groceries on the table, and even if they could not pay their mortgage they thought they could somehow survive, but all of a sudden they find they have to wait two or three months for a cheque.

When people are living paycheque to paycheque in an industry that is open and closed, like the forestry industry, two months without any income in a one industry town, is cruel and unusual punishment. It is just not acceptable. I suggest the government look at its management of the EI system as well.

Is there a better way to help forestry workers overall? I do not believe we can just target one group of people and help with their travel expenses. If we are considering that, then we must include the forestry workers, the construction workers, the people who have to follow the jobs like my dad, who passed away, used to do. We would have to do the same thing for those in the oil patch and many different occupations. It is not like working at an auto plant in Oshawa where one knows the plant is right there and it is not moving anywhere. It is a different kettle of fish.

I believe we have to address this thing holistically. It means broadly based tax relief for all Canadians who are looking for some help. We want to specifically help people on their personal income tax, allowing them to reduce the amount of taxes paid. We need to stop the gouging in the EI system. We need to ensure that the money goes to the people who need it in a way that helps them out properly.

We want to restore proper relations with the Americans on these important tariff related border issues. By all means we can get tough when we are talking to the Americans but let us not get silly with the bad mouthing that I hear all too often in Canada toward our American friends and people who buy our goods and so on. Let us fix that.

Finally, we need to make sure that the funds that are supposed to get to the workers and these communities through the WED, through the community futures program that administers it, actually get to them. It is not good enough to say that the funds should have come, that we wish they had not been held up in the pipeline. These people need the help they were promised by the federal government. The program is in place. Let us make sure the money gets through to the workers who really need it today.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

March 11th, 2004 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the House today on the private member's bill introduced by the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

Bill C-303 proposes to amend our Income Tax Act to provide a tax deduction for automobile expenses that forestry workers incur when they travel to work sites that are far away from their homes. Let me recognize right off the bat that the hon. member is attempting to address the needs of that particular workforce. He clearly will have a large number of individuals working in that field in his constituency.

The proposed bill would cover three kinds of expenses. First, it would cover daily out of pocket expenses for operating a motor vehicle. Examples of such costs are maintenance, gasoline and insurance. It would also cover interest charges on borrowing money to acquire a vehicle. Finally, it would cover depreciation costs. At the core, the bill gives a special package of tax benefits to a narrow group of employees.

We are all parliamentarians and Canadians here. It is incumbent on all of us to make sure that we uphold the fundamental principles of fairness and equity in public policy matters and in taxation matters.

I want to try and do my part here recognizing the hon. member's bill, the principles embedded in it and these other principles of fairness and equity.

The bill provides tax relief for only one kind of employment expense, that is, long distance commuting, and only when it is incurred by one kind of employee, that is, a forestry worker. Providing tax relief on this type of isolated, arguably ad hoc basis is problematic from the public policy point of view. Let me raise some concerns about that approach and which may have been overlooked in this bill as it was drafted.

For starters, we know that other groups of employees incur exactly the same kind of commuting costs as forestry workers do. People who work in construction or in the oil and gas sector are obvious examples. They often travel large distances to work sites. I am sure there are other examples as well.

We know that all employees no matter where they work incur some form of a mandatory employment related expense. I could give some examples. There are tools that are purchased by tradespeople: saws for carpenters, paint brushes for painters, hair dryers for hairstylists, some very expensive knives for those really good cooks. There are computers which are purchased by employees for working at home, monitors, hardware for the computer's hard drive and software and there are costs associated with that. Last, a common expenditure is safety clothing purchased by construction workers.

Clearly, employment expenses such as these ones can vary in their nature and their amounts. What strikes me is that there seems to be no reason that one group would be more deserving than any of the others in access to an employment expense deduction.

There is no doubt that employees who incur such expenses would be justified in asking for comparable tax treatment. However, if we were to introduce a general $500 deduction to recognize the broad array of potential employment expenses out in Canadian society, that would mean $1.3 billion per year in revenue forgone in the tax system. Recognizing all the employment expenses beyond the $500 would cost much more in lost tax revenue.

In addition, once we have opened up the door to this type of employment expense, we might not, in fairness, be able to stop just there. For example, there are various types of volunteers in Canadian society who have requested tax relief for their out of pocket expenses. These would include, for example, people who volunteer to provide emergency services and who incur vehicle expenses when they travel to an emergency site or when they go for training. Others include volunteer coaches for sports teams who might drive to practices and volunteers who deliver food and other materials to shut-ins.

Volunteers contribute substantially to our society and their efforts are valuable to all of us. However, extending tax relief to all volunteers and employees in a like fashion would be a very significant undertaking. Statistics Canada reports that there were some 6.5 million volunteers in Canada in the year 2000. Giving each of them a $500 tax credit would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in forgone tax revenues.

In closing, I am concerned about the apparent inequities that the bill would create. I am equally worried that it would place us on a slippery slope of providing unaffordable tax relief across a broad range of as yet unidentified workers.

In light of these shortcomings, I personally will not be supporting the bill. I do commend the hon. member for attempting to address a perceived need in the tax system and while I personally have not found a way to address it, I appreciate his efforts on behalf of his constituents in trying to do it with the bill.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

March 11th, 2004 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

moved that Bill C-303, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel expenses for a motor vehicle used by a forestry worker) be read the second time and referred to committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be able to deal with this bill in the House a few days before the budget is tabled. This is the third time I have raised this issue. For the information of the hon. members, I would like to explain once more the situation of forestry workers in Quebec and Canada.

Here is a concrete example from my place. In my riding, some people have to go to work for a week at a time at the other end of the province. I live in the Lower St. Lawrence area, and people there go to work in the forestry industry in Abitibi, on the North Shore, or some place else. Their vehicle is essential to their job. They use it to get to the area concerned and for their work once they get there.

We have realized that, in the present situation, with no income tax deduction for these workers, there is not an incentive to go to work. In the situation we have now, with the lumber crisis and enormous pressure to drive down the cost of labour, a worker does not have much left at the end of the year.

The situation is the same for everybody, for those who work in the forest and for those who work in plants. All those involved in the forestry industry at this time in Canada are having a hard time, particularly with the softwood lumber crisis. There is less and less money to support families.

In 2000 I wrote to the then finance minister, who is now the Prime Minister, to ask him to consider the possibility of restoring tax fairness for those people. I met with people from my riding, but I realized that similar situations existed throughout Quebec, particularly in the forestry regions. There are people in these regions who work in forest management territories. These territories have shrunk because there is less cutting going on. This forces workers to travel further to find work. In so doing, they have to assume heavy costs that are not tax deductible.

In February 2000, I wrote the Minister of Finance, who is now the Prime Minister. This is what he said in his response:

What constitutes a reasonable level of expenses for motor vehicles is a complex issue that requires a thorough study. The review of this issue and of other components of the tax system concerning motor vehicles is still going on. We will inform you of the results as soon as it is completed.

This letter was dated June 2, 2000. At the time I expected a response in the subsequent months and that the situation could be corrected in the next budget if the government decided to follow up on my request. Moreover, the bill I introduced at the time would have improved matters. I had hoped the government would support it in order to help forestry workers.

Unfortunately, the then finance minister, the new Prime Minister, never deigned to follow up on the response he had given before. When he said, “We will inform you of the results as soon as it is completed”, I would have expected to receive information, but it never came. We never received it. I had to do additional research.

The Income Tax Act is very clear in the interpretation:

At any time, the distance admissible as an employment expense is the distance between the employer's office and the forest camp office and the cutting site, provided the forestry worker received instructions at the office or the camp. At no time is the distance from the worker's home to the stump admissible.

So people are put in the position of having to use a motorized vehicle, something essential to their work and required of them by their employer. They have to use it to get to their job, which is often hundreds of kilometres away, but get no tax deduction for this. The cost of this vehicle, one that is often hard on gas, is quite high because a person needs a powerful vehicle for that kind of terrain.

So all the expenses to get to the work site weekly, once calculated from the mathematical and economic point of view, may convince them that it is not worth going to the job. So society ends up with people on its hands who would rather be working but are instead remaining unemployed and sometimes end up on welfare because they are in an area where there are no jobs or opportunities to make use of their skills.

For that reason, I hope that Bill C-303 which we are discussing today will gain the support of most of the members of this House. The other times it has been debated here, some were in favour and some were not. Unfortunately then we did not have the outcome of the studies undertaken by the Department of Finance available to us.

Today we have a budget coming very shortly. As hon. members know, there are forestry workers who have to sweat to earn a living. Yet they see the federal government once again with an $8 billion surplus. They have to cope with a very restrictive employment insurance program, and often are unable to get enough weeks of benefits on top of the weeks they have worked to ensure them of some income all year.

In the cases that I am talking about, forestry workers who often work away from home find that it is unacceptable that a government that has such a huge surplus does not encourage them to work when they want to do their job and, indeed, this job must be done. There may be a manpower shortage. This is absurd. There are people who would be available to do this work, but they cannot, because the financial bottom line will be negative if they have to go to work and pay for all the costs.

It is this situation that the current bill is designed to correct. I hope that it will be passed and that the tax laws will be changed accordingly. There must also be a different interpretation of the regulations, so that workers who want to work, who want to make a living and who are forced to travel long distances do not have to support a portion of the cost, which is unacceptable.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I expect members of this House to be particularly sensitive in these times where, because of the softwood lumber crisis, people are going through very tough situations. The financial survival of families is on the line. Often, this situation, this imbalance, this lack of acknowledgment of the tax expense means the difference between maintaining the independent small business, self-employment and quitting the job.

This is why I would like forestry workers to get the acknowledgment they deserve. I would also like them to be given the satisfaction of being able to work, of bringing an income home and of supporting their family. They have developed skills in this sector, and employers are waiting for them to do the work that must be done.

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

November 18th, 2002 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-303, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel expenses for a motor vehicle used by a forestry worker).

Mr. Speaker, this bill will make it possible for a forestry worker, under certain conditions, to deduct motor vehicle travel expenses from income, where he was required under a contract of employment to use the motor vehicle to travel to and from his ordinary place of residence and his workplace or the employer's place of business.

Forestry workers work far away from their homes, hundreds of kilometres distant in fact. I would like to see them able to deduct their expenses and thus encouraged to work. The current situation is a disincentive to work, or forces them to move away.

I believe it is important for the Minister of Finance to examine this matter and for the consent of the House to be obtained as soon as possible.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)