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.

Sponsor

Wayne Easter  Liberal

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

Status

Not active, as of April 10, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Income Tax Act to allow volunteer emergency workers to deduct from their taxable income the amount of $1,000 if they performed at least 100 hours of volunteer service, and $2,000 if they performed at least 200 hours of volunteer service.

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.

October 29th, 2009 / 11:20 a.m.
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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.

Finance
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 16th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
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Conservative

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.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

The only difference between Bill C-273 and Bill C-219 is the numbers: $500 and $1,000; and $1,000 and $2,000.

There's a huge difference, though, in terms of what Bill C-219 and Bill C-325—which was the Casson bill—applied to and how it operated.

June 12th, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Concerning the difference between Bill C-273 and Bill C-219, I believe Bill C-273 had amendments.

June 12th, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Could you highlight for me the differences between Bill C-219 and Bill C-273?

June 12th, 2008 / 11:55 a.m.
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Liberal

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.
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Liberal

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.
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Liberal

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.
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Bloc

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.
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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.

Thank you.

June 9th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
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Malcolm Dunderdale President and Chair, Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (National) Inc.

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and ladies and gentlemen of the standing committee. I am pleased to be here. Thank you for your time.

I arrived here late last night from Canada's most westerly domain, the Queen Charlotte Islands. I want to speak for a few moments on this subject.

Just so you know, I am a volunteer.

The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary is a non-profit organization made up of 4,200 volunteers across Canada. The auxiliary has been in existence since 1978, providing assistance to the Coast Guard and Transport Canada with search and rescue and safe boating programs now for 30 years. 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 Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary have responded to over 48,000 maritime search and rescue incidents. Every year, about 25% of all marine search and rescue incidents in Canada are handled by the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers. In addition to these tasks, the auxiliary also maintains an emphasis on training its members, who took part in most of 1,600 search and rescue exercises last year alone.

Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary members donate not only their time, but also volunteer 1,200 privately owned vessels to the Government of Canada for search and rescue purposes. These vessels are expensive to own and operate, especially with rising fuel costs. Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary members are only reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses associated with an actual rescue, and receive no assistance in purchasing vessels or equipment. The resources made available to the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada are considerable, and the contribution of our volunteers is significant. We accumulated around 115,000 volunteer hours last year alone.

Among numerous recognitions, the Coast Guard Auxiliary received the 1997 award of excellence for outstanding contribution to transportation in Canada. In 1998 and 2006, our chief executive officers at the time were presented with the outstanding search and rescue achievement award by the National Search and Rescue Secretariat.

The auxiliary operates these search and rescue units with an annual allocation of $4.9 million from the contribution agreements signed by the Canadian Coast Guard. In terms of cost-effectiveness, a report produced in 2003 by the audit and evaluation directorate at Fisheries and Oceans Canada concluded that for each dollar invested in the auxiliary, the Canadian Coast Guard has access to $37 of service. That is, for every $1 expended there are cost savings of $37 to the Government of Canada.

Since 2001, the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary has been making representations to the Minister of Finance in order to address the inequity of the current Income Tax Act. We wrote several letters to Minister Paul Martin and Minister John Manley, and I have to say that the replies we got were very disappointing.

The current legislation allows emergency service volunteers to apply for a $1,000 exemption if they receive a payment of $1,000 as compensation from a public authority. When our volunteers, who do not get that compensation, spend their own money to purchase equipment such as floatation suits, helmets, distress flares, and strobe lights in order to ensure their own safety, they are not allowed to claim the exemption. Ironically, only a volunteer who is provided with money to buy safety equipment can claim that deduction. As it stands now, the Income Tax Act is penalizing our volunteers and discouraging people from joining a rescue organization such as the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.

In its current state, the act is unfair to the volunteer component of the national search and rescue system. Search and rescue volunteers who scour the ground when a plane goes down, search the bush when a child goes missing, or brave storms and gale-force winds to rescue a distressed mariner, receive no tax breaks for the inevitable out-of-pocket expenses they engage to conduct their volunteer lifesaving tasks.

We strongly believe that Bill C-219 will address and fix the inequity of the current Income Tax Act and provide a much-needed incentive for Canadians to volunteer and join search and rescue organizations such as the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada, and the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, all volunteer associations.

The legislation will ensure that those who do not receive honorariums from a government, municipality, or other public authority, and yet provide the same type of service, are also given a form of compensation.

Businesses receive tax breaks for entertaining clients, watching professional athletes from corporate boxes, while sports teams receive tax benefits. Yet volunteers who are prepared to slog through muskeg, brave blizzards, and go to sea in winter storms when others stay in safe harbours receive no tax breaks.

Are any Canadians more deserving of tax breaks than the search and rescue volunteers? I don't think so. So why do certain paid volunteers get a $1,000 tax deduction, while unpaid yet totally committed search and rescue volunteers get nothing? This is inconsistent and discriminatory to true volunteers.

The Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary is fully supportive of Bill C-219.

If you have any questions I'll be happy to take them.

Thank you.

June 9th, 2008 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conrad Sauvé Conrad Sauvé, Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Red Cross

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.

On behalf of the Canadian Red Cross, I wish to thank you for this invitation to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance.

My name is Conrad Sauvé. I am the Secretary General and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross. With me today is my colleague, Mr. Don Shropshire, National Director, Disaster Management Branch.

I wish to speak to you briefly about the mandate of the Canadian Red Cross before discussing Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service).

As you know, the Canadian Red Cross is a volunteer, humanitarian, non-profit organization with one single mission: to act as an auxiliary to the public authorities.

Thanks to the dedication and expertise of our thousands of volunteers, supported by our paid employees, we play an important role in activities related to emergency preparedness, mitigation, and recovery, in addition to response. The Canadian Red Cross acts as a bridge between government, civil society, and communities.

The emblems of the Red Cross and Red Crescent represent the most significant humanitarian movement in the world. It is made up of more than 100 million members and volunteers from 186 countries, and delivers programs and services related to emergency preparedness, development and recovery. Each year, the Canadian Red Cross sends more than 100 professional humanitarian workers abroad.

Today, I am here to state the support of the Canadian Red Cross for Bill C-219. This bill is a first step towards greater recognition and appreciate of volunteers who work with organizations such as ours to provide emergency social services and to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable. We support any initiative that seeks to support and reinforce the recognition, recruitment and retention of volunteers who make up the cornerstone of the Red Cross.

Nonetheless, we wish to share with you a few of our observations and recommendations concerning information that is either ambiguous or missing from this proposed legislation.

Mr. Chair, as the voluntary sector shifts in Canada, it is our view that Bill C- 219 is a positive step that can be a real added value to volunteer recruitment and retention. While volunteers do not join an organization for the purpose of getting something financial in return, Bill C- 219 demonstrates recognition for the real value of the work volunteers do within their communities.

At present governments at all levels depend heavily on the voluntary sector for emergency response expertise, specialized skills and resources, and an ability to quickly adapt and respond to emerging situations. It has capacities that the public authorities require in an event of an emergency, including the ability to mobilize volunteers, access local networks, and utilize acquired knowledge about the community. The sector also offers practical experience in logistics, communications, and event management.

In summary, the voluntary sector contributes not only its tangible human and physical resources, but also special means of activating them. Acknowledging the role of volunteers in emergency management means acknowledging the role and responsibility of well-prepared, proactive, and responsive communities.

No country—Canada included—can keep sufficient staff on standby, ready to respond when disaster strikes. That is where the important skills of the Canadian Red Cross volunteers come in. These volunteers are not traditional, and I join in what Ruth was saying earlier. By that I mean they are not the workers who set aside time each week to help a worthy cause. Rather, they are well-trained and on call to help at any moment's notice. This is what sets emergency response volunteers apart. Both government and non-government actors, including the full range of voluntary organizations, are key to enhancing emergency preparedness, response, and recovery capacities in Canada.

Therefore, we believe Bill C- 219 is good, in that it acknowledges the work performed by some emergency service volunteers. It will be important for the committee to ensure that the interpretation of the bill takes into account the whole spectrum of volunteer work related to emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation activities. This would be well aligned and supportive of the government's priorities in promoting public emergency awareness and preparedness across the country.

Mr. Chair, allow me now to discuss specific sections of the bill and suggest some changes.

Clause 1 talks about the taxpayer performing volunteer service as an ambulance technician, a firefighter, or a person who assists in the search and rescue of individuals or in other emergency situations.

The Canadian Red Cross's strategic focus, operational capabilities, and resources make us one of the principal entities in the voluntary sector in emergency management. In fact, I would suggest that the Canadian Red Cross is currently a national asset working very closely with all public authorities through pre-signed agreements in emergency management.

We signed an MOU with the Minister of Public Safety in 2006, which is indicative of a close and cooperative relationship with the federal government. Our MOU refers to enhanced collaboration in matters of emergency management, which includes activities related to emergency preparedness, mitigation, and recovery, in addition to response.

The Canadian Red Cross urges the committee to adopt a more inclusive and explicit definition of the type of volunteer service that a taxpayer could perform to be eligible for tax deduction. The type of volunteer service recognized should include all emergency phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Under clause 2, proposed paragraph 60.03(3) states that volunteer services would include time spent in training and in carrying out any related duties requested by the municipality or the public authority.

We are pleased with and supportive of this recognition of the time and money that volunteers invest in training to be able to perform voluntary emergency services. However, we suggest that the phrase “any related other duties that are requested” be more explicit and specify duties related to emergency preparedness education and training.

One of the many responsibilities of the Government of Canada includes a coordination role in the provision of assistance to provinces other than the provision of financial assistance, conducting exercises, and providing education and training related to emergency management.

Evidence of several major disaster operations--the ice storm, the Saguenay, the Manitoba floods, SARS--indicates that it's critical to secure and mobilize the appropriate workforce and materials when facing a large disaster.

The Canadian Red Cross has an important place in Canada's emergency preparedness and response plan, and can and must make a vital contribution before, during, and after an emergency. We need to build this surge capacity to mobilize volunteers and civil society organizations so we can adequately respond to natural and man-made disasters that can change lives and entire communities in a moment's notice.

Proposed wording for clause 1 of the bill is included with our submission to the committee.

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for your attention. I will be pleased to answer your questions.

June 9th, 2008 / 3:40 p.m.
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Ruth MacKenzie President, Volunteer Canada

Thank you very much.

Mr. Chair, members of the Standing Committee on Finance, I feel privileged to be invited here today. This is important work that you are undertaking, and it's notable that you have recognized the critical importance of emergency services volunteers, firefighters, ambulance attendants, and search and rescue personnel. Thank you for that.

For 30 years, Volunteer Canada has been the national voice for volunteerism. Our role at the national level is to promote and strengthen volunteerism so it remains a strong and vibrant force in our country. We develop programs that support volunteer involvement so that voluntary organizations on the ground and in communities can concentrate their efforts on their important missions. By accessing information and utilizing tools developed by Volunteer Canada, they know that their volunteer programs are well managed, the contribution of their volunteers is maximized, and the experience of volunteering for individual Canadians is the best it can be, so they continue to come back, and they continue to contribute to communities and to causes.

We also ensure that volunteering is considered and integrated in public policy dialogues, such as dialogues taking place today, to ensure that volunteerism is well understood and receives the support it deserves and needs.

Values related to volunteer involvement are strong in this country, with 45% of Canadians--approximately 12 million Canadians--contributing almost two billion hours of volunteer service each year, the equivalent of one million full-time jobs. But deeply concerning is that much comes from a few. Only 11% of Canadians contribute approximately 77% of the volunteer hours in this country. And more troubling still is that the 11% is made up primarily of older adults in the 65-plus age group.

If we do not find a way to engage older generations and future generations to ensure their contributions are maximized, volunteer involvement in Canada is at risk. And because volunteerism impacts absolutely every facet of our social fabric, our way of life, which we value so deeply, is also at risk.

Much of what we take for granted is delivered to us by volunteers: community health care; arts and heritage; environment; green space; minor sports; disaster relief, of course; fundraising; support for education; and social services. The work of volunteers is an essential service, but some work is more essential than others, and that's what brings us here today.

Let me start by saying that I absolutely support this bill that is up for discussion and consideration today, and I look forward to telling you why Volunteer Canada would support its implementation, but I also have some cautionary points.

I think most would agree that, broadly defined, a volunteer is someone who contributes their time of their own free will for the betterment of others, and does so without the expectation of financial remuneration.

There is a significant push for the voluntary sector to begin articulating volunteer involvement within an economic framework, both to articulate the cost savings of utilizing volunteers over paid staff, and to demonstrate impact through a social accounting model that integrates an organization's expanded reach or influence or results attained by volunteers. This is important, but it also necessitates consideration of the impact of articulating the economic value of volunteering in the longer term.

There is an entire foundation or ethos of volunteering that simply cannot be measured in numbers. How do you identify the dollar value of holding the hand of someone in a palliative care bed in their final days, or the sheer joy or renewed self-confidence of a young person with cerebral palsy who shoots his first basket after being coached for months by a volunteer? The fact that someone has been there because they wanted to be there and not because they are paid to be there is what volunteering is all about. You just can't measure that. And I worry that considering volunteering at times through an economic lens might lead to volunteering always being considered through an economic lens. The fundamental values of volunteer involvement need to be protected.

Economic incentives to volunteer also have the potential to impact the underlying concept of volunteerism. Tax incentives frequently benefit primarily those on the higher ends of the income scale. And further, there is little evidence that suggests we know definitively that this is an incentive. There are a number of unanswered questions regarding the real benefit or associated incentive of such an approach.

Does measuring volunteerism in economic terms detract from its inherent value and thereby diminish the importance of the underlying passion or qualitative component of volunteering? Do we know that providing an economic incentive such as a tax credit will result in increased engagement? Will individuals volunteering to the associated maximum number of hours then drop off? Will providing tax incentives for one cohort of volunteers have a detrimental effect on the engagement rates of other cohorts of volunteers who are not provided with such a benefit?

We also need to consider the administrative burden associated with the record-keeping and reporting necessary to ensure accountability of such a program, to ensure that we are not positively impacting volunteer involvement while negatively impacting our ability to manage those volunteers well.

That said, some acts of volunteerism are more essential than others, or are simply different. As such, a different approach may be required to address specific needs or issues. Again, in that regard I support this bill.

Most individuals who volunteer have the option of contributing their time when it's convenient for them or their families and it fits with their career demands. Obviously this is a key issue for emergency services volunteers. A fire or an avalanche does not wait until after 5 p.m. or until Saturday morning. The fact that these individuals make themselves available when their pagers sound, on the spot, regardless of where they are or what they're doing, means there's significant potential for their volunteer activity to impact their lives, their families, and their work, and that means economically. This needs to be considered and this needs to be supported through Bill C-219.

I cannot say it better than it has been said before in the context of these examinations: we ask a lot of someone whose job it is to run into a burning building when everyone else is running out. That's doubly true for those who do so as a volunteer. That needs to be taken into account, and this bill does that.

There is an economic barrier to volunteering. The degree of personal expenses contributed by those who volunteer for emergency services is significant. We are not asking for those expenses to be reimbursed--in fact, it would not likely be at all possible--but Bill C-219 is certainly a step toward recognizing and compensating for at least a portion of that.

Volunteer recruitment and retention is a huge issue sector-wide. We need to consider the impact of volunteer contribution dropping off as a result of our older generation of volunteers retiring and as a result of a variety of other reasons. Our communities, our social fabric, our way of life would all look dramatically different, but again, the impact of recruitment challenges for emergency services volunteers is even more dramatic.

I was in Yellowknife recently, and I had the opportunity to speak with someone from an outlying community. He told me that they no longer had a volunteer fire department at all. They didn't have any volunteers willing to take on that role. I know you all know what that means. If Bill C-219 can in any way ensure that this situation is mitigated, that people are motivated through this incentive to step up and volunteer for this vital role in their community--in even one community--the bill will have achieved its purpose and goal.

I spoke earlier of some cautionary notes. In conclusion, I want to say that those concerns are in no way insurmountable. In rolling this bill out, should it be passed, some carefully crafted messaging can present the unique and special context of volunteer involvement in emergency services as distinct from the broader volunteer cohort. Ensuring and providing at the implementation stages the necessary resources to manage the accountability and record-keeping will mean that this is not a further burden on an already burdened sector.

Volunteers are a vital and critical resource to our country and to our communities. They deserve to be recognized for the role they play in keeping our communities safe and healthy and vibrant. Bill C-219 is an important and enormous opportunity for this government to demonstrate that support in a way that is real and tangible and meaningful to voluntary organizations and to the citizens of this country who are our volunteers.

Thank you.

June 9th, 2008 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Chair, I appreciate that we're getting started on this private member's bill, Bill C-219, I believe it was. It was Bill C-273 before. I've continued to do some research on this in between, and I'm going to move that we ask for an extension, which we did last time but failed to get. I have a couple of reasons for that.

As I've done even more research on the issue, I have come to the conclusion that we need a more detailed response, and not just from the people here today. There are other people I want here as witnesses. I think the mover of the bill should be here, and I'd like to see finance department staff at the actual table to discuss the issue. So a number of meetings will be required for this.

I looked at the report on Bill C-273, which my colleague from the Liberals, who spoke against the extension last time, signed. There are some issues there. The bill was gutted before. I don't think there have been many changes, and I want to be able to discuss those changes. I don't think we can do it in the timeframe that's available to us. I am moving for the extension so we can deal with this properly in the fall.

June 9th, 2008 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

I would like to call the meeting to order.

I want to let the committee know that we're dealing with a private member's bill today. It's Bill C-219, an act to amend the Income Tax Act for deduction for volunteer emergency services.

We have with us the department, and we have a series of witnesses I'll introduce as I yield the floor to them. The department will be here to answer any questions.

Mr. Wallace.