Bill C-219 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.
Wayne Easter Liberal
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
October 29th, 2009 / 11:20 a.m.
Robert Simonds First Vice-President, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
While I am a fire chief in Saint John, New Brunswick, I am here today as the first vice-president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Normally, our association president, Calgary's fire chief, Bruce Burrell, would be addressing you. However, he is currently leading a delegation of Canadian companies to the China Public Security Expo.
The CAFC is the only association that speaks for the many elements that comprise Canadian fire services. Our 1,000 members are located throughout Canada. They include chief fire officers from hundreds of Canadian municipalities as well as fire chiefs from Canada's first nations, industry, airports, seaports, major health care facilities, and Canadian Forces establishments. Our national board of directors includes the presidents of each provincial and territorial association of fire chiefs. Collectively these associations include the vast majority of Canada's 3,500 fire departments.
Our submission relies heavily on the results of two recent CAFC surveys. The first measured the importance of personal income tax relief for volunteer firefighting personnel. The second provided input on a wider variety of issues pertaining to budget 2010.
Of the 108,000 fire services personnel in Canada, 78% are volunteers. In no other emergency first-responder service do willing volunteers play a more significant role. The CAFC's survey indicated clearly that the volunteer fire services in Canada are under stress for a variety of reasons. They range from volunteer fire department members being unable to find work locally to the competing demands of families, aging local populations, and inadequate reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, such as gasoline costs.
While many factors contribute to problems in recruiting and retaining volunteers, over 70% of responding volunteer fire chiefs believe that personal income tax relief would be of major help to them in addressing these challenges. Accordingly, our first recommendation is that budget 2010 provide significant personal income tax relief for all volunteer firefighting personnel. The support of the standing committee for this recommendation is imperative. Many private members' bills on this subject have been before the House in recent years, including BillC-219, which made its way out of this committee with all-party support. All these private members' bills ultimately failed. It's time that the cry for help from the volunteer fire services be heeded and supported.
The CAFC's other recommendation addresses the inadequacies of funding available through JEPP, the joint emergency preparedness program. The government calls this the primary vehicle for enhancing the national capability to manage all types of emergencies and to ensure a reasonably uniform emergency response and recovery capacity across Canada. Yet it allocates just $5 million per year through JEPP for emergency preparedness and critical infrastructure protection projects. CAFC has requested an increase in the level of JEPP funding in its pre-budget submissions since 2003, but the $5 million remains in effect, and its value, in the face of inflation, is being eroded with every passing year.
With almost 3,500 fire departments in Canada, $5 million does not go far. The inadequacies of JEPP financing are underscored by the fact that these scarce JEPP dollars must be shared with other orders of government and other municipal departments, including police, emergency medical services, public works, water works, and emergency management organizations. JEPP's relevance has been undermined by the federal government's unwillingness to maintain the available money at required levels. An increased financial injection is needed to restore the meaningfulness of JEPP and to ensure that the Canadian fire services are prepared to deal with large-scale emergencies at the municipal level. Therefore, our submission recommends that JEPP funding available to Canada's fire departments be increased to $20 million per year.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you. I look forward to your questions.
Committees of the House
June 16th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Finance in relation to Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), with amendments.
June 12th, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.
June 12th, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.
June 12th, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.
June 12th, 2008 / 11:55 a.m.
Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE
I know first-hand that the situation exists, certainly in Prince Edward Island, and I believe all members of this House representing rural constituencies can attest to communities in similar circumstances.
The final point is that the provisions of Bill C-219, which were raised in the previous legislation, Bill C-273, address the issue of equity in terms of the ability of volunteer emergency workers to recoup some of the expenses incurred. The least government can do is to provide a small degree of compensation in recognition of that contribution.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
June 12th, 2008 / 11:40 a.m.
Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE
In any event, I have a bit of a statement, Mr. Chair. Certainly I would welcome any questions later.
I wish to begin by thanking the committee for the opportunity to present on Bill C-219, a bill that will provide a small degree of compensation in recognition of the work our volunteer emergency workers contribute on behalf of their neighbours and communities.
The bill, as you know, has a long history--and several variations--among the members of all political parties. It speaks to our rural communities directly and primarily.
I also wish to acknowledge the work of all those who volunteer their time to assist their communities, local organizations, and charities, and who contribute to assist their neighbours, and indeed strangers, within their respective communities. This bill in no way detracts from the good work that the thousands of volunteers across Canada do, and neither should it be interpreted in that manner.
I will be specific as to why Bill C-219 addresses volunteer emergency workers directly. There are essentially two reasons. One reason is that the activities they are responding to place them personally at risk. Fires, rescues, accident scenes--these are not situations into which people venture without an awareness of some personal risk. In rural communities, volunteer emergency workers do precisely that.
The second reason is that these volunteers are not able to determine when it is they will be called upon. Their obligation is to respond to an emergency. Thus, a farmer in the midst of bringing in a crop must place that crop at risk of foul weather to respond to a call for assistance. A small business owner must be prepared to shut his business and thus suffer the economic loss incurred in order to respond to a call for assistance.
In other words, Mr. Chair, when the beeper goes off, you go. With the exception of training, these individuals are always on call.
For the most part, others who volunteer are not called upon to confront personal risk, and neither are they expected to respond to a call without warning. Our voluntary emergency workers are expected to do both.
Bill C-219 offers those in the category of volunteer emergency workers a small degree of compensation in recognition of the financial costs they incur to provide their communities and their neighbours with this contribution. As important as the small degree of compensation is the fact that the federal government and the federal Parliament would, through this bill, recognize and appreciate their efforts.
I'd like to reiterate two key points presented to the committee this past Monday by the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I believe these points place the issue before the committee in perspective.
The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary is a non-profit organization made up of 4,200 volunteers across Canada. The auxiliary provides assistance to the Coast Guard and Transport Canada with search and rescue and safe boating programs. This comes from their brief:
In 2007 alone, our members conducted a total of 1,829 search and rescue missions at the request of the Canadian Joint Rescue Coordination Centres. Since its inception, members of the CCGA have responded to over 48,000 maritime SAR incidents.
Every year, about 25% of all marine SAR incidents in Canada are handled by Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers. In addition to these taskings, the auxiliary also maintains the emphasis on training its members, who took part in almost 1,600 search and rescue exercises last year alone.
And the Federation of Canadian Municipalities stated this before the committee:
In fact, 91% of fire departments in Canada are served exclusively by volunteer firefighters and officers. Virtually all communities of less than 10,000 are served by volunteer fire departments, and most communities of less than 50,000 have a blended service. Indeed, actually the city we're in right now has volunteer firefighters protecting its rural areas. So this is a very widespread activity.
Where would these communities be without these volunteers? After reading some of the comments expressed at the committee, I can certainly tell you that they're not playing cards. They are definitely not playing cards. They take time from their business, they leave a crop in the field, they go and do the emergency, and they get back to their business as rapidly as they can.
The amendments brought to my attention as necessary by the principal parliamentary counsel for legislation are essentially housekeeping amendments. According to counsel, they make adjustments to the numbering of the provisions resulting from changes to the Income Tax Act that have occurred since Bill C-219 was first introduced. I've noted that when the committee last addressed the issue of the contents contained in Bill C-219 in its 19th report in November, 2005, the committee stated that “...the Committee is generally supportive of the intent of Bill C-273”, which was the previous private member's bill, “and feels that those who provide voluntary emergency services should be recognized by the federal government through the tax system”.
The committee did put forward a number of questions at the time their support was tabled, most of which I believe can be dealt with in a straightforward manner. I have answers to each of those questions if you want them read into the record.
I'd like to thank the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs for providing a copy of their responses to the questions raised in Bill C-273, which they have revised to address the issues raised during these hearings on Bill C-219. I have a full copy of the document they prepared, although it is not translated; I provided it to the clerk for translation and circulation earlier. I would urge all members of the committee to read the document prepared by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs if the questions raised in November, 2005, are of concern. As I said a moment ago, I can read those into the record if you like.
A report prepared by the Library of Parliament with respect to the issue of utilizing the Income Tax Act to respond to the contributions of voluntary emergency workers states the following:
The current Income Tax Act contains a provision exempting from taxation the first $1,000 received by an emergency worker for voluntary services performed as an ambulance technician, firefighter, or a person who assists in the search and rescue of individuals or in other emergency situations. Payments must be received from a government, municipality or a public authority. The emergency worker must not be regularly employed, or paid as an employee, for their services as an emergency worker by the government, municipality, or the public authority. This exemption was enacted in 2001.
According to the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance, in his remarks to the House this past February:
Under the current income tax rules, emergency service volunteers can receive up to $1,000 in such honoraria without having to pay any tax on this amount.
The provisions of Bill C-219, Mr. Chair, are in direct reference to those emergency service volunteers who perform the same tasks the parliamentary secretary refers to, but do not receive any honorarium.
I also noted from the testimony of finance department officials before the committee the last time similar legislation was discussed in June of 2005 that no reference was made to the provision referred to above, nor was the department able to provide the committee with any indication as to the costs that communities would incur without the assistance of volunteers generally and volunteer emergency workers specifically.
That's key, Mr. Chair. Volunteer firefighters out there take time away from their families to do training, and some of them in small fire departments do as many as 128 calls a year. What I'm hearing from them is that they're getting frustrated because this is costing them money and time away from their businesses.
They want to see some recognition. This small recognition, I believe, would hold them in their jobs and give the credibility with their families to continue as emergency workers.
The Department of Finance appeared then as well and remains more concerned, I believe, about the costs of such an initiative than about the necessity of the effort. Will there be a cost to government? Absolutely. Is the cost worth the effort? I also believe absolutely.
As was pointed out to the committee in the past, the question is not the cost to provide the small financial compensation to those who volunteer; it is to address the issue of equity for those who provide volunteer emergency services in rural communities that are not able to provide any remuneration or honorarium for that service.
The last couple of points, Mr. Chair—
June 12th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.
Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC
But out of respect for time--if need be, Mr. Chairman, I'll challenge you--I think it makes more sense that we deal with Mr. Wallace's motion, and then deal with Mr. Del Mastro's motion after we deal with everything on Bill C-219. That would avoid our having to carry on with Bill C-219 next week.
I mean no disrespect toward Mr. Del Mastro's motion--I mean, it just came out of nowhere--but perhaps we could deal with one subject matter at least, and then deal with Mr. Del Mastro's motion. If we expedite how we deal with Bill C-219, then I have no problem, but let's just deal with Bill C-219.
June 9th, 2008 / 4:50 p.m.
Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Gingras, according to your interpretation of this bill, the first deductible $1,000 or $2,000 replaces what already exists, that is a lack of income. In fact, an employer does not provide any proof that the first $1,000 was actually earned. Yet, the bill clearly states that “section 60 of the Income Tax Act is amended by... adding the following...” A $1,000 exemption is added if a taxpayer has, during that fiscal year, worked between 100 and 200 hours, and a $2,000 exemption is added if a taxpayer has worked 200 hours.
The interpretation of the Library of Parliament is in keeping with the same logic: “Bill C-219 would amend the Income Tax Act providing for emergency service volunteers to deduct $1,000...” Therefore, according to the interpretation of the library, the volunteer who has donated hours of work has the right to deduct $1,000 if he or she has served 100 hours, or $2,000 if he or she has served 200 hours.
The interpretation of the Library of Parliament seems to contradict your interpretation somewhat. To my mind, the first $1,000 is not taxable since the employer does not pay it. A person who has worked 100 hours can deduct $1,000. The total deduction could actually go as high as $3,000.
June 9th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
Michael Buda Acting Deputy Director, Policy, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for inviting us to appear.
We're here to speak in support of Bill C-219, and in particular we'd like to support the principle of recognizing and rewarding the dedication of volunteer emergency workers.
As I think you know, FCM represents 1,600 municipalities from coast to coast to coast that represent just about 90% of the Canadian population, and our board of directors formally supports the principles of this bill.
I do want to pass on the regrets of our new president, the mayor of Sherbrooke, Mr. Jean Perrault, as well as our CEO, Brock Carlton, who otherwise would have liked to be here today but for the short notice.
I also want to note that Brian Linklater, who represents the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, is actually in the audience today observing. He did not receive an invitation to speak today, I note, owing to the short notice. He has said that he'd be willing to answer questions if that would be of interest to the committee.
I'd like to begin my presentation by saying that emergency services are responsible for protecting, as you know, the lives and property of a significant percentage of Canadians. In fact, 91% of fire departments in Canada are served exclusively by volunteer firefighters and officers. Virtually all communities of less than 10,000 are served by volunteer fire departments, and most communities of less than 50,000 have a blended service. Indeed, actually the city we're in right now has volunteer firefighters protecting its rural areas. So this is a very widespread activity. Communities such as the town of Drayton Valley, for example, in the chair's riding, are served by volunteer firefighters.
In rural and remote communities, these volunteers are truly the backbone of front-line response. However, many volunteer services, including fire departments, are facing severe challenges related to recruiting and retaining the personnel required to protect their community. Without measures to encourage volunteering, municipalities will be forced to either reduce protection, as I believe Ruth had an anecdote there, or increase the burden on already overextended ratepayers. That's where we believe Bill C-219 can help.
While we support Bill C-219 in principle, we are interested in ensuring that the additional administrative burden upon rural municipalities in particular is minimized to the greatest extent possible. That's certainly one of the purposes for which we're here today, to ensure that we're not adding expense or diverting scarce resources, in particular from Canada's smallest municipalities, to meet the recording and reporting needs that are noted in this bill. It would certainly undermine the intent of this bill if municipalities were forced to take on an undue administrative burden.
That said, as you'll see in the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs pre-budget submission—I believe it was in 2007—that responded to the 10 points of this committee from its last appearance, record-keeping in volunteer fire departments is actually already very substantial. So in terms of responding to that particular issue, from this committee's previous look at this bill, that is not as much of an issue.
As I think you know, all municipalities, especially rural communities, are already stretched beyond their fiscal capacity. Out of every tax dollar collected, the federal government and provincial governments take 92¢. That leaves just 8¢ of every tax dollar for municipal governments. At the same time, municipal governments are also delivering a growing range of programs and services that far exceed their original mandate, including emergency preparedness and security. As was highlighted in our recent report on policing costs that was released just a few weeks ago, public security, which includes police and fire services, accounts for nearly 20% of municipal operating budgets. That's the single largest budget item. Fire and police protection is the fastest-growing area of municipal spending.
By using volunteer fire departments, many communities across Canada, especially those represented on this committee, are able to provide fire emergency protection in a financially sustainable way. In fact, in many of those cases, without volunteer fire services, as Ruth pointed out, those types of services would either have to be reduced or cancelled, or rate increases to payers of property tax would be very substantial.
In addition, as has been noted by all witnesses today, volunteer emergency workers risk their own safety to protect the lives, property, and businesses of others in their community and are forgoing income of their own. Without these brave individuals, ratepayers would be forced to pay an even higher rate for the cost for protective services.
FCM is willing to work with this committee and the federal government, especially the finance department, CRA, and other stakeholders, to ensure the successful implementation of Bill C-219—in particular, the administrative requirements.
I think the message you want to leave is that by working together, Canada's smaller communities and the Government of Canada can promote and retain front-line emergency workers in Canada's communities, and by doing that help support the sustainability of rural, remote, and northern Canada, which is certainly a prime interest of FCM as an organization and, I know, of all of Parliament. We see this as part of a larger partnership between the federal government and municipalities across Canada.