House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.

Topics

Supply
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canadian Alliance members present vote yes, with the member for Selkirk—Interlake and the member for Calgary Southeast being added to our vote.

Supply
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5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, members of the Bloc Quebecois vote yes to the amendment.

Supply
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5:45 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, members of the New Democratic Party vote yes to the amendment.

Supply
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5:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, members of the Progressive Conservative Party vote yes to the amendment.

Supply
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5:45 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre.

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

Division No. 68
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the amendment lost. The next question is on the main motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the main motion?

Division No. 68
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 68
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5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Division No. 68
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

The Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Division No. 68
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5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Division No. 68
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5:45 p.m.

The Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Division No. 68
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5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Division No. 68
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5:45 p.m.

The Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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

Division No. 69
Government Orders

April 4th, 2001 / 5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

It being 5.55 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

moved that Bill C-209, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (Public Transportation Costs), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Sherbrooke, for seconding the bill.

On behalf of the residents of the riding of Jonquière, whom I have the honour to represent in this House, I want to say it is a real pleasure to speak today to Bill C-209, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, which was selected as a votable item by the subcommittee on private members' business. The bill would provide tax deductions to those who use public transit in Canada.

Some might wonder what brought me to introduce this bill. Why give tax deductions to the people who use public transit?

First, I have political reasons for doing so. I would like to remind members that in 1999 the House of Commons passed by a vote of 240 to 25 a motion brought forward by Nelson Riis, the former NDP member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, which asked the government to consider granting a tax exemption for the use of public transit.

Since then the Liberal government has taken no concrete measures on this issue. It has taken no action whatsoever, either by introducing a bill or a national policy to implement the motion.

Many stakeholders believed that the government was going to act and lobbied for such a bill to be introduced. To this end, close to 40,000 postcards signed by citizens were sent to the Minister of Finance.

Today I want to salute several of them, Claude Bonhomme and Georges Gratton of the Société de Transport de l'Outaouais, the Corporation intermunicipale de transport du Saguenay, Michael Roschlau and Amelia Shaw of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, the Centre for Sustainable Development, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Railroad Association and many others.

The fact of the matter is that when employees enjoy the benefits linked to public transportation, they have to pay taxes. However, most people who are entitled to free parking pay no taxes on this benefit. This situation is a major disincentive to using public transportation. It must be rectified immediately. As a matter of fact, some employers have already started paying for annual bus passes for their employees.

This solution is very forwardlooking but it could be improved upon. Giving a deduction to all public transportation users is desirable.

Clearly a person using public transportation saves a lot of money. I will show how. Owning and using a car costs around $8,000 a year, not to mention parking costs. A public transportation network pass only costs between $500 and $1,000 a year, which is a substantial saving.

In spite of this comparative advantage, public transit ridership dropped significantly in this country between 1990 and 1996, which is very serious because the drop in ridership is at the root of many problems including increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased traffic congestion, increased energy consumption, higher road infrastructure building and maintenance costs, and decreased quality of life in cities.

In my opinion, the federal government needs to provide assistance to those using public transportation, while respecting provincial areas of jurisdiction, in order to encourage greater use of these services. The bill does so by providing tax deductions to users of public transportation.

Bill C-209 is part of such assistance. It amends the Income Tax Act so as to allow individuals to deduct certain costs incurred for the use of public transportation when calculating their income tax. For the purposes of this section, “Public transportation” includes a public transportation service by bus, subway, commuter train or light rail.

In order to avoid abuse, the individual will need to provide documentation to support the amounts claimed for public transportation. I must point out here that this tax benefit will be available only to people purchasing monthly or yearly passes. This will make the accounting far easier, while avoiding potential fraud.

As well, it will encourage people to buy passes rather than tickets and this will substantially improve transport company revenues.

If anyone doubts the appropriateness of my bill, I will list a few of the advantages to this method of transportation.

The first relates to the development of outlying centres and areas. Hon. members may find this surprising but public transportation ranks second in popularity. According to recent polls 52% of Canadians in urban areas use it occasionally and 30% regularly. They contribute as well to the prosperity of the downtown core. In addition to taking people to work, public transit takes people to the shopping areas of the major centres. It is therefore a subtle but very present economic force. In addition to the aspect of economic force, there is an issue of equality behind my bill.

Access to employment, education, health care and community services depends largely on a quality and accessible public transit system. Public transit is extremely important to students, seniors and people on low income who do not have the means to buy a car or who decide simply to not have one. Also, to everyone looking for work, public transit is an exceptional incentive but it cannot cost a fortune.

As my party's critic for regional and rural development, I can say that in addition to fostering economic growth in the major centres, my bill would foster regional development, in particular.

We will recall that the communities' transportation budgets are not very high and service to low population density areas is especially limited. Permitting deductions will mean increased revenues for the transportation companies, which will be able to offer a better service in these areas. In my riding, I am thinking specifically of the municipalities of Larouche, Lac-Kénogami, Shipshaw and Laterrière.

The second benefit goes to the environment. The environmental contribution of public transit is this bill's essential element. Members know as well as I do that protecting and improving our environment is a major concern for many Canadians and Quebecers. In fact, from an environmental point of view, the bill is an ideal solution for the federal government.

In 1997, under the Kyoto protocol, the government undertook to reduce by 6% domestic greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2010-12 based on the 1990 level. The situation has only gotten worse since. According to some experts, Canada could exceed the 1990 level by 25%. Others, including the federal Minister of Natural Resources, think that this figure could be as high as 35%.

While stakeholders' opinions may vary, the fact remains that Canada is far from achieving its objectives. Ironically, the federal government is boasting about spending in excess of $1 billion over a five year period to deal with climate changes. Also, it is very unfortunate to see that the government is only investing that money in foundations that ultimately create duplication because such bodies already exist in provinces like Quebec.

Instead of investing $1 billion in duplication, the government should take immediate and concrete action. In this respect, my bill is a step in the right direction since it proposes a much cheaper solution than all the investments made by the Department of the Environment in its programs or foundations.

Incidentally, in his last annual report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development was very critical of the Minister of the Environment. He said that the government has trouble putting its words into actions in the fight against smog. I extend my hand to the government and to the Minister of the Environment. I am providing him with an opportunity to act. He should forget about the millions spent in all his bureaucratic organizations. The measure I am proposing will cost much less.

All these figures are not theoretical, for there is indeed an impact on society. Let us not forget that as many as 16,000 Canadians die each year from the effects of high pollution levels in major cities. The number of children hospitalized for asthma increased by 23% between 1980 and 1990.

Public transportation is therefore the ideal solution to this disastrous state of affairs because a single bus can carry as many passengers as 40 or 50 cars. In addition, its toxic gas emissions per kilometre are a mere one-quarter of those produced by the cars. As an example, the air pollution in a major Canadian city increased by 20% when public transportation services were suspended.

Environmentally, although it is vital that more people opt for public transportation, there is unfortunately no national transportation policy that would encourage them to do so. It is therefore clear to me that a tax deduction would have this effect and would improve air quality in this country.

Naturally some pettyminded souls will say that this measure is costly and hard to monitor. To them I would say that right now the federal government is not putting one red cent into public transportation. In comparison, the United States is investing $41 billion over six years in this sector. The problem of traffic jams and excessive fuel consumption continues to be an important problem which the bill is designed to correct.

In addition to all these benefits, there is also a benefit when it comes to traffic jams and energy consumption. The federal government should not be looking only at the numbers when considering this type of initiative. There are many qualitative benefits to be taken into account.

The reduction of greenhouse gases is only one of many examples of these benefits. It could also help reduce traffic buildups. Earlier, I mentioned that one bus could carry as many passengers as 40 or 50 cars. In large urban centres, 50% of the population already uses public transit.

For example, if all STCUM clients travelled by car, they could fill, bumper to bumper, a highway that would stretch from Montreal to Gaspé. That is over 900 kilometres. One can imagine what would happen if public transit disappeared overnight.

Despite the growing popularity of public transit in the greater Montreal area, rush hour traffic remains extremely heavy. This means that public transit does its share but there is still room for improvement.

It would take no more than a simple incentive, like the one proposed in my bill, to make public transit not only a way of going from place to place but a way of life. This incentive should be in the form of a tax deduction for public transit users.

Moreover, with gas prices on the rise, many people would like to use public transit to remedy this situation but if they do not have access to adequate service in suburban areas they have no choice but to use their cars.

I will say it again, Bill C-209 would lead to a huge increase in revenues for those transit companies providing the best service. My dearest wish would be to see us as a society manage to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels.

I would also like to address the advantages from the infrastructure point of view. The excessive use of cars is extremely costly to governments in terms of highway infrastructure. We need to realize that vehicles are hard on our roads, so it is our duty as parliamentarians to seek to reduce the harm done. I am sure that encouraging an increased use of public transportation will decrease the number of cars on the roads of Canada and Quebec.

Hon. members may wonder what degree of additional use of public transportation my bill would bring about. I wish to inform everyone here and those who have the pleasure of watching us this evening that in the San Francisco area public transportation use rose 31% among those benefiting from a limited exemption. When this was expanded, the figure went even higher. It could therefore be estimated that my bill might bring about a similar increase if it were passed.

In conclusion, the purpose of Bill C-209 is to do away with an inequity. Some people have employer subsidized parking, which encourages them to use their cars rather than take non-subsidized public transportation.

We know that cars are the principal source of exhaust emissions, which are harmful to human health. We also know that the number of children hospitalized because of asthma rose 23% between 1980 and 1990. It costs about $1 billion a year to treat diseases caused by noxious gases resulting from automobile emissions.

This bill is the best way to lower congestion. If all public transit users in the Montreal area were to take their cars, the duration of any trip would triple and come to an average of about an hour and a half. A single bus keeps 40 to 50 cars off the streets and one light rail train replaces 15 cars.

It would also provide an affordable alternative to consumers who are being gouged at the pumps. If cars are kept off the streets, our roads would remain in better shape for a longer period of time and we would not have to invest millions of dollars each year.

Before I close, I want to point out that the House will be asked to vote on this private member's bill in the next few weeks. I feel it is important to mention that it will be a free vote.

On this important issue, I urge all members to keep an open mind and vote in favour of the bill to ensure a safe environment for their children and grandchildren.