House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was heritage.

Topics

The House resumed from May 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-325, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Lethbridge who has brought forward this private member's bill, Bill C-325, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service).

For my good friend, my colleague from Lethbridge, whose riding encompasses a lot of rural areas, this is extremely important. Volunteers are extremely important in rural areas as they man emergency services and are providing the quality of life and that valuable service which otherwise would be extremely costly for Canadian taxpayers. These individuals are volunteers in our rural communities who are manning emergency services. My colleague and everybody who lives in rural Canada recognize the importance of these individuals to their well-being and safety.

My colleague introduced Bill C-325 because, first, he feels there is a need to recognize these people and he actually wants to recognize the importance of the volunteer men and women in emergency services and our dependency on their services. Second, he wants to attract and retain volunteers in a time in which they are increasingly difficult to recruit. Third, he wants to compensate these courageous individuals for their efforts in providing a safe environment for people in rural Canada.

Let us talk about these three points in detail. Let us talk about the importance of volunteer men and women in emergency services. As I said in my earlier remarks, emergency services are very costly services to provide in small rural communities. These individuals who have dedicated their time and training and who work in emergency services, which we all know adds an element of danger to their lives as well, are unsung heroes in their communities.

It is time for us to recognize them. It is time for us to stop, look and see what they are doing. Volunteerism is a very important factor in Canada. This afternoon, in an S.O. 31, I also will speak about volunteers in Canada. Canada is considered the number one country in the world because of volunteers. Volunteers span the whole country from east to west; every community has its volunteers. It is very important that we as public policy makers recognize that those who volunteer their time for the betterment of others should receive recognition and our thanks. We recognize their contributions and this is a very small way of recognizing their contributions.

All we are asking is that the workers be allowed to deduct $3,000 from their taxable incomes from any source. It would help them in many aspects. It would help them in regard to recognition. It would be a small token of appreciation from Canada. It would be a little extra money for their services so that they would feel important, because they are important, and they would recognize that we have not forgotten them.

It is important for us to recognize our volunteers. Volunteerism is the essence of Canadian society. It is the stronghold and foundation of our society. It is what brings us the quality of life such that we are recognized around the globe as the number one country in the world.

In these difficult times we must also look at retaining volunteers. There are pressures of time at their work and for their children. All these things put extra pressure on people, who find that they now have less free time on their hands in which to volunteer.

Therefore, the first thing they will drop is volunteerism, because at the end of the day nobody wants to be burnt out. Those of us who come in daily contact with volunteers know that many of them are already burnt out, but they keep on working for that quality of life.

We must ensure that we do not lose this vital component of our society in Canada, volunteerism, and the best way to do that is to ensure that volunteers feel important, feel that they are part of society and feel recognized. Giving them a tax deduction is an aspect of letting them know that they are a very vital part of the community.

As we have stated, emergency services are considered essential services. Our laws ensure that people in emergency services are always available to provide those very needed services and safety features. So it is with volunteers too. We must make sure that is recognized. We must work to ensure that volunteers are available, because if they are not, then what do we do? Would it mean that these services would be reduced? That is not an acceptable option. Otherwise it would be a very expensive situation for us. A $3,000 tax deduction is not a very big sum of money. It would be a very small token of appreciation for these people.

Third, these are courageous people who have families and other work. They take time off from their work and their families to perform these services as well. They would welcome this reward, which would recognize those who volunteer their time and would make sure that those who live in rural communities or anywhere else have that level of comfort in knowing that emergency services are available in times of difficult situations.

Giving tax benefits is one of the small ways in which we can recognize those who provide services for society. We as politicians have given tax deductions, and generous tax deductions as a matter of fact, to those who contribute to political parties because we recognize the importance of political parties to the democratic system of our country. Hence, we have a system where we recognize quite generously those who donate to political parties. I do not see anything wrong with it. As a matter of fact, developing the system through Bill C-24, which is coming out, where the taxpayer now will foot the bill, is a recognition of the value of democracy in our country.

Here is one of the essential elements, providing volunteers, a vital service, at no cost to the taxpayer. So the recognition of a tax deduction of $3,000 would go a long way. We all know that to get a tax deduction based on one's income, it starts from 18% and goes up. It is not a very generous amount that would cost the Government of Canada a lot of money. The alternative is more expensive.

Therefore, I do not see why we would have difficulty in agreeing to the bill. It is not a big sum of money. It is not going to impact the finance minister's books. As a matter of fact, the government wastes more money on other things like the HRDC boondoggle and the gun registry. They have spent more money wasting it on those things, so why can we not recognize the people who really count, who make our country number one, with this small token of appreciation?

It is my pleasure to support my colleague's bill recognizing these individuals.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before we continue, I would like to inform the hon. member for Drummond that the members of the New Democratic Party have not yet spoken to this motion. I have no choice but to give them the floor at this time. The hon. member for Drummond will be next.

The hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, you caught me just a touch off guard, but I do thank you for the recognition.

First, on behalf of my family and my constituents of Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, we want to recognize the two fallen soldiers, who in reality are our greatest volunteers. Those people who volunteer for our armed services and put their lives on the line for us show true valour and earn our enduring recognition. Coming from Holland, where my parents were liberated by the sacrifices of the Canadian military, let me say that we forever shall remember them.

In regard to the bill of my colleague from Alberta, I fully support his initiative. As has been stated in many other debates, if it were not for volunteers in this country we would be a lot worse off than we are now. I came here from Halifax this morning after seeing the devastation done by hurricane Juan. Although we have emergency services and work crews doing the very best they can, if it were not for the volunteer efforts of people from the Red Cross and many others, we certainly could not get the job done, especially for seniors or people who are having a very difficult time without the services of water and electricity. For that, they should be congratulated.

That is why this bill is very fitting. We need to ensure that people who volunteer are recognized not only with awards or plaques, and not with platitudes, but with a small remuneration.

Many friends of mine are members of the Lions Club. On their own time, many of them from Sheet Harbour drive people into the city to see their doctors and for various appointments. It is a good hour's drive. This costs them a great deal of money. We believe that a small remuneration through the tax system would greatly offset this. Also, it would encourage volunteers, because we know that these volunteers will just put that money right back in again.

It falls in line with three of my own private members' bills. One we are going to debate tomorrow is on fees for amateur sports, whereby people who register for amateur sports, either for themselves or their children, should be able to claim that sport registration fee. It should be similar to a charity tax donation. As we know, if people are physically active and if they remain competitive, either in sports or in individual concerns, they will reduce the costs to our health care system along the way, and a healthy nation is a prosperous nation.

As well, I have Bill C-207, not yet up for debate, which states that volunteers who give 250 hours of their time or more a year should be able to claim a $1,000 tax deduction. The bill we are currently debating offers up to $3,000. I would love to see that. I would have loved to raise the amount in my own bill, but the reason I left it at $1,000 was to make it more palatable for the government. In opposition, we MPs constantly lobby and we throw what we call softballs over to the government, saying, “Here is an idea. Why not run with it and make it happen?” As my colleague from Alberta knows, in the end people do not care who comes up with an idea as long as it is initiated and helps them. That is why the hon. member from Alberta should be congratulated for this bill.

We have another bill as well, Bill C-296, also on the Income Tax Act, through which people who volunteer in certain organizations such as the Lions Club, for example, or the Kiwanis club or the Rotary Club et cetera, would be allowed to have the dues paid to be part of that club completely tax deductible. For example, a Lions Club member in my riding who pays an annual fee of $50 a year should be able to claim that amount as a tax deduction. Those who volunteer their time should not be financially penalized for volunteering. This would be just another small recognition from the government and members of Parliament of the great efforts of volunteers in our country, let alone our greatest volunteers, of course, those who join our armed forces.

The purpose of the bill is not just about the $3,000 the member is proposing. He is talking about the actual recognition and the value that we place on volunteerism in this country. I remember the debates last year; in Nova Scotia alone we estimate that volunteer efforts produce about $2 billion for our GDP. When volunteer efforts are calculated in a monetary sense, that is the value to Nova Scotia. That is incredible.

Coming from the maritimes, we are very proud of the tradition of volunteerism. I know many people who are members of the Lion's Club, the Knights of Columbus and the local legion. In Eastern Passage we are proud to say that we have the Buffalo Club. There are not many of those associations throughout the country but it is an organization that does a lot of good by raising and distributing funds throughout communities to those who are most in need.

We saw the value of community efforts and volunteerism when governments, such as the government of Mike Harris, started cutting back on programs that Canadians and Ontarians value. When governments cut back on those programs people have to rely upon the efforts of volunteer groups.

I can recall the shame that I felt many years ago when the minister of health at that time, Jamie Muir, in the province of Nova Scotia, cut back on a program that covered the costs of people who drove their children, whether they were diabetic or whatever, from Parrsboro, for example, to the IWK hospital in Halifax to keep appointments. If the child had an appointment the parents could claim a certain mileage. For example, if it were 400 kilometres return they could claim that as an expense. The provincial government seriously thought about cancelling that program.

I will never forget the comment by Mr. Muir, attributed to him in a quote, who said that maybe those people could rely on the good graces and services of the Lion's Club. In other words, the government no longer would be there for people and they would have to try a service club, the volunteers. I thought that was completely uncalled for but at least Mr. Muir was honest.

What happens when governments cut programs, be it municipal, provincial or federal, is that people who rely on those services have to then fall upon service agencies like the United Way, the Lion's Club, the Kinsmen Clubs and others.

I know my hon. colleague from Yukon is well-known throughout the Yukon for his many volunteer efforts, unselfishly I may add. I have many friends in Yukon who are very proud of their member of Parliament for the relentless effort that he gives to volunteers. He will walk down the street and help out, do anything at all, without asking anything for himself. That is the kind of people we have throughout the country from Yukon to Nova Scotia to Newfoundland to B.C.

Volunteerism is really the backbone of a society. It is who we are. Offering volunteers a small $3,000 remuneration through the tax system would be a small way of saying “right on, good, and let us carry on”. Many people think it is not enough, and I know the government treasury has certain limits, but this is something I think everyone would support. It is something that we in the NDP are proud to support.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I do each time I am called upon to speak to a bill, I have taken the time to consult my constituents about the impact of passing Bill C-325. I also took a few moments to reread what has already been said in this House concerning the bill introduced by the hon. member for Lethbridge.

Essentially, the purpose of this bill is to grant an income tax deduction of $3,000 to anyone who performs over 200 hours of volunteer service with an emergency organization. The deduction would be granted to a volunteer on providing proof of the number of hours given to the community.

Rereading the speeches, I was surprised to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health missed the point by mixing up all kinds of volunteerism. I would like to remind him that the bill addresses volunteer emergency service.

I made a brief list of the organizations found in my riding: volunteer firefighters, St. John Ambulance and the Service d'intervention d'urgence du Centre-du-Québec, or SIUCQ.

In each of these, volunteers not only give their time, but must take training to be able to act effectively in tragic circumstances. Once they complete basic training, volunteers must take part in a continuing education program in order to stay abreast of the latest intervention methods. Our communities cannot do without the presence of these specially trained emergency volunteers. They are all important; from the first aider to the volunteer ambulance driver, these people should be better recognized.

Thus, rather than being a payment, the tax deduction of $3,000 should be thought of as an incentive to aid recruitment. I do not think that passage of Bill C-325 would cause a huge rush to join these organizations. Bill C-325 is simply a small, tangible recognition of the many services rendered.

Here I am referring to St. John Ambulance volunteers . In this House, I often tell my hon. colleagues about activities going on in my riding. And St. John Ambulance volunteers are almost always involved. These volunteers go to sporting and cultural events alike, in order to help anyone who might get injured during the show. They would certainly appreciate the recognition provided for in this bill. Let us not lose sight of the tremendous work that they do. The St. John Ambulance attendants are needed by the people of Drummondville and all the communities in Quebec where they work.

Gratien Gagnon, assistant regional commissioner—region 4—for St. John Ambulance, told me that out of the twenty or so members in his organization, seven exceed 200 hours of volunteer work a year. For Mr. Gagnon, calculating the hours is not a chore, since St. John Ambulance already keeps track of these hours and publishes them in its annual report.

During a discussion, he said that the bill could be a good incentive for recruitment, provided that it does not involve more red tape for claiming hours worked. Mr. Gagnon did not hesitate to tell me that one thing is certain: this type of work is not really recognized. Organizations provide compensation, but in the end it is just so much paper.

I also inquired asked questions of the emergency response service known as the Service d'intervention d'urgence du Centre-du-Québec. Again, it is the same thing. There is a register of hours worked. Each volunteer is required to indicate his or her hours of attendance in writing. He or she must also sign the register upon arriving and departing the local chapter of the agency and any training activity. The presence of an agency such as the SIUCQ is a major asset for my region.

Although the various tragic events in our community are far from pleasant memories, whether the mini-tornado that hit part of Grantham Ouest in 1999 or the search for the lady with Alzheimer's reported missing in the summer of 2002, the 70 volunteers of the SUICQ have always played a very important role.

During the four-day search for this lady, the Centre-du-Québec emergency response services coordinated the volunteers. This is the mandate it has been given by the Drummondville public safety office. One would have to have seen them at work to have a clear idea of just what a great contribution they made to the search efforts.

In crisis situations like these, as we saw during the ice storm when the whole area was without power, these volunteers, who are also trained first aiders, helped affected individuals and families, as well as helping restore order after the storm.

In addition to the hours these volunteers spend searching for people, they are constantly involved in skills upgrading in order to take full advantage of the equipment made available to them.

Since by its very nature, disaster is rarely predictable, emergency service volunteers need to be readily reached. For this they need pagers, and the volunteers end up paying for these themselves, because their organizations lack the funds for this. As a result, I feel it is totally appropriate for the government to compensate these volunteers in order to support all they do.

Emergency response volunteers make a vital contribution to the quality of life of hundreds of residents in small communities who would otherwise not have access to fire or ambulance services or to search and rescue.

These services are essential to the safety of the community as a whole. We must not forget, either, that volunteers providing such services often do so at risk of life or limb.

I therefore wish to take this opportunity to draw attention to the work of the committed volunteers in my riding and to again tell them how much I admire them. As a result of that admiration, I support this bill unconditionally, since its purpose it to make a special tax deduction available to people providing these services, which I consider very important.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I speak to Bill C-325. I strongly support any measure to improve conditions of emergency service volunteers across Canada, particularly in rural Atlantic Canada.

I think many people from larger urban centres do not realize the degree to which emergency services in rural Atlantic Canadian communities are overwhelmingly provided by volunteers. They risk their lives and are subject to significant injury. They take time from their careers and their families to go out and potentially make the ultimate sacrifice in trying to protect us, whether it is in search and rescue operations, or in first response paramedic services, which many of our rural fire departments are now providing, or in simple fire protection.

There has been a tremendous increase in the burden placed on our rural volunteer fire departments and emergency service volunteer organizations in recent years. If we were to ever consider the cost to government, federal, provincial and municipal, of trying to provide adequate emergency services to rural and small town communities, we would find that providing a federal tax benefit, either a tax credit or a tax deduction, would seem to be a pittance compared to the actual cost of government run infrastructure to provide emergency services, or fire protection, or search and rescue or first response services to rural communities.

I live in a community called Cheverie in Hants county, Nova Scotia. This is the community in which I grew up. We benefit from the local fire protection of the Summerville volunteer fire department, as well as the Walton volunteer fire department. In many cases, when there is a fire, we see volunteer fire departments work together to deal with the situation. The level of emergency services that we enjoy in that small community or the protection we have against disaster there is extraordinary, and the services are all provided by volunteers .

The fact is it has expanded beyond simple fire protection, to the extent that if something were to happen to a member of my family or myself from a health perspective, a medical emergency, the first people to the scene in all likelihood would be the first response team of the Summerville fire department. They are well trained but they are still volunteers.

The idea of finding ways through the tax system to encourage volunteerism in our emergency services makes so much sense. I know one argument I heard during other debates in the House by members opposite, even in the debate about a motion that I presented to the House in 2000 to provide a tax credit for emergency service volunteers, was that if we provided a tax credit or tax advantage for volunteers in the emergency services, then we would have to do it for volunteers in youth recreation, sports, the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides or whatever.

Emergency service volunteers are by definition different from any other sort of volunteer. When we talk about emergency service volunteers, we talk about people who risk their lives to protect us from things whether it be our house burning down or a medical emergency, or to protect us during a search and rescue. It is during these life and death situations that these volunteers take time from their lives, their families and careers. It is an extraordinary commitment that goes well beyond ordinary volunteerism, frankly.

I have some excerpts from the 2002 annual report of the Windsor, Nova Scotia, volunteer fire department. It states:

We have been responding to unprecedented numbers of Mutual Aid calls over the past few years and indications are that this situation will continue into the foreseeable future...most of these responses occur during what are working hours for the majority of our volunteer firefighters, which makes it difficult for us to continue to muster up the people we need for an adequate response...on the other hand, we recognize the fact that we too require assistance on a more regular basis than we once did, as we are much more conscious of our obligation to keep our station adequately staffed during times when we are out on calls.

Based on the annual report of the Windsor fire department in Windsor, Nova Scotia, there are more and more calls for volunteer firefighters and those calls are happening during working hours. It is not just the firefighters themselves who are making a contribution. Their employers are also making a contribution indirectly by providing that level of career and work flexibility to enable volunteer firefighters to provide that level of protection.

With regard to the issue of finding enough local volunteer firefighters for the proposed South West Hants fire station, the Windsor fire chief cited a lack of funding and acknowledged that:

We have seen very few people in the area express an interest in becoming firefighters.

It is becoming harder to find emergency service volunteers. If we consider the sacrifice to careers, time with families, the risk of life and the dollar cost of being a volunteer, whether it is the cost for equipment or the cost for fuel and car expenses to travel to the emergencies, we ask a tremendous amount of our emergency service volunteers. If we were to consider the cost of providing this sort of infrastructure through a cooperative level of government, whether federal, provincial or municipal, without the involvement of volunteers, it would be basically impossible to afford the kind of protection that is taken for granted in a lot of rural communities.

I know a lot of people from urban Canada who, when they visit me in rural Nova Scotia, find it almost unfathomable that basic fire protection is provided by volunteers, but it is. We have to find a way to recognize the incredible contribution that our emergency service volunteers, our firefighters and first response paramedics, make on a day to day basis with a benefit through the tax system. Year in and year out these individuals are there to protect us.

I agree with the hon. member for Elk Island and his suggestion that it would be better to have a tax credit than a tax deduction. It probably would be simpler and it would provide a more direct benefit. The gross amount could be reduced to reflect the difference in terms of the actual tax benefit of a tax credit compared to a tax deduction.

I support Bill C-325 in terms of what it is trying to accomplish. I urge all members of the House to take a very positive step and recognize in a meaningful way the extraordinary commitment and contributions that emergency service volunteers provide across Canada. This type of legislation, whether it be a tax credit or a deduction, has been debated for many years in this place.

I have been here since 1997 and we have had these sorts of debates on various private members' motions, including my own. We have debated them ad nauseam. We have discussed this at finance committee as well as in the House during prebudget discussions. It is time for a multi-partisan response to the crisis that exists across Canada of the growing demands on our emergency service volunteers and the diminishing number of Canadians who have the time or the willingness to risk life and limb, to spend their own money, to sacrifice their career time and their time with their family to protect the rest of us.

The right thing for us to do would be to support this sort of tax deduction or tax credit and to move forward with a firm commitment to making Canadian communities safer while recognizing the extraordinary commitment of our emergency service volunteers.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-325 to amend the Income Tax Act to allow emergency workers to deduct $3,000 from their taxable income from any source.

This is a very good bill and the timing of this debate is very interesting from a personal standpoint. There are many stories out there but last week Ottawa hosted the World Extrication Championships. These are in categories called limited, unlimited, and rapid-ex. This is for emergency workers, most usually associated with a fire department, who attend the scene of accidents and remove people from cars. They basically have to be able to tear the car apart to get the people out and get them out safely, all in a timely basis.

There were 29 teams from around the world. For the first time ever this event was held in North America and because it was in Canada, Canada had quite a few teams. There were teams from Mississauga, Burlington, Scugog, Port Hope, Sooke in British Columbia, Halifax and Cumberland, British Columbia which is in my riding.

This is a rather interesting story, because Cumberland is a small community of about 2,500 people, all volunteer. This team went up against teams from all over the world, many of them from large communities and who are fully paid personnel, from Australia, the U.K., the U.S. and Spain. In many ways Cumberland is a large exception.

We have heard other people speak today about how important volunteer emergency workers are within our rural communities. For example, it takes 30 volunteers to run the fire department in Cumberland. Cumberland is located very close to the North Island Highway. Historically a lot of accidents happen on the North Island Highway.

The Cumberland volunteer fire department is quite the story. They have become very specialized. A group within those 30 individuals has become very specialized at auto extrication; that is, taking people out of cars and getting them the paramedic assistance they need in a big hurry. They have saved a lot of lives.

I call the specialty individuals the junkyard dogs because they practise in the local junkyard, and they do that to the point where they have become world-class. I want to congratulate Ken, the team captain, as well as Glen, Sean, Mike and Bob. This dedicated group has previously won the western Canada championship. Last fall they went to the world championships in Prague. They are great ambassadors for Canada.

This costs money out of their pockets. It took a total community effort. Members can imagine how expensive that is and how difficult that is for a community of 2,500 people. The province gave some assistance. Their member of Parliament gave them some assistance. There was a request to the senior minister from British Columbia for some small assistance. I did not receive a response to the letter I sent making that request, and that still sticks in my craw.

However, these individuals are fantastic emissaries for the country. They are proud Canadians. Members cannot imagine how proud I was to be with the Cumberland extrication team on Saturday at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata. This was the wrap-up awards dinner that was held after a week of contest events. I was a proud Canadian, and so were they.

Then they announced the first of the 12 team awards in the four categories for first, second and third place. Cumberland placed third in the limited category at the world championships. This is an all-volunteer force in a little community. No other Canadian team won an award. This was an amazing result. I can only say how proud I am and how proud we all can be.

What does this mean? It means another fundraising effort in order to be able to go to the world's in Plymouth, England, next year. Can the Cumberland team attend? The team is not sure. It costs the individuals out of pocket expenses to attend these championships every time. Four of the five individuals on the team are forest industry workers. We know how difficult it has been to maintain continuous employment over the last period of time because of the softwood lumber dispute. The captain of the team holds down two jobs to make ends meet.

Would this bill make a difference? Yes, it would. Cumberland only exemplifies what happens in many other communities. Not only do the individuals make sacrifices, but their families do also. They make sacrifices financially and this takes these individuals away from their families.

These are volunteer emergency workers, the very people who run toward trouble rather than away from it. These are people the population at large absolutely require to make our society work properly.

I wholeheartedly endorse the intent, the mechanics, and the specifics of Bill C-325. I congratulate the member for Lethbridge for his very good initiative.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to debate the bill which has been sponsored by the hon. member for Lethbridge.

As everyone in the House is aware, the bill proposes a $3,000 tax deduction for emergency service volunteers. The proposed deduction would be claimed against income from all sources. More specifically, it would apply to those who have given more than 200 hours of volunteer service over the year.

I understand and appreciate the hon. member's intention. Canada's emergency service volunteers provide invaluable services. I share his interest in finding ways to recognize their contribution. However, as parliamentarians we are obligated to all Canadians. On this point, I fear that the hon. member's proposition may go too far. While it is very generous toward emergency service volunteers, it may be perceived as being unfair to other taxpayers who are also volunteers.

If there is a principle upon which our tax system is based, it is that of fairness. Under this general tenet of fairness, a basic principle is that people with comparable incomes should pay comparable amounts of tax. The income tax rule should take into account all sources of income, including the person's earnings from employment, the return on their corporate stocks if they have them, other investments if they have them, and even their government benefits.

I would also go a step further. This income should be counted not only if it is paid in cash, but also if it takes other forms, such as in kind employment benefits. That principle applies for instance when a taxpayer receives an employer provided vehicle, awards or subsidized loans. Under the fairness principle of our tax system, the employee who benefits must declare it and there are taxes to be paid on that.

We must also be mindful of the impact of giving special treatment to income that is paid to emergency service volunteers. I understand that it feels good to be generous to some groups, but we must guard against being perceived as being unfair to other groups.

In this regard, the Income Tax Act provides a reasonable degree of recognition for the important role of emergency service volunteers. These individuals as of now can receive up to $1,000 in financial recognition from a public authority without having to pay any tax. Before 1998 this exemption was targeted at volunteer firefighters and it was limited to $500 annually.

This special provision is fair and reasonable. If a public authority finds reason to provide a small amount to compensate its emergency service volunteers because of the costs they incur in providing their services, the rules essentially say that the government will not diminish the value of this compensation by taxing it. The rules also relieve public authorities of the burden of having to prepare tax information slips for modest amounts they pay to our emergency service volunteers.

I fear that the hon. member's bill would be much more burdensome for volunteer organizations and the volunteers themselves. I do not state that as a fact, but it is an issue that needs to be looked at.

In order to fairly administer this proposal it would require public authorities to count the hours of service provided by each volunteer so that the volunteer, the public authority and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency all know when the eligibility criterion, that is the 200 hours of service, has been surpassed. This could be a burden that could be significant when we consider that there are more than 400,000 emergency service volunteers in Canada.

However, the hon. member's proposal goes much further. It goes beyond just providing recognition to emergency service volunteers and easing administration for public authorities. The proposed $3,000 deduction is a significant amount of money. It would allow emergency service volunteers to receive the equivalent to what would be Ontario's minimum wage of three months pay. In my view this would be difficult to justify to other Canadians who work at low wage jobs.

The House should look at whether emergency service volunteers expect or need financial recognition for their service. Statistics Canada has a done an interesting survey that finds that most Canadians do not appear to expect financial assistance or incentives as a reward for their volunteering. The respondents were more likely to say that they volunteered because they wanted to help a cause in which they believed, they wanted to put their skills and experience to work, or they had been personally affected by the cause that the organization supported.

Seven out of ten Canadians cite time limitations and not financial cost as a reason for not volunteering or not volunteering more.

I recognize that emergency service volunteers want to be recognized for what they do, but given the facts that have been raised by other members that Canada has the highest rate of volunteerism, and many forms of volunteerism, I am concerned about the fact that we are asking the House to put a value on one type of volunteerism as opposed to others.

Our whole fiscal policy as it relates to volunteerism should be looked at and that, in discussion with all Canadians, there should be a weight put on the different types of volunteerism rather than doing it piecemeal.

I only have to think of the 1998 ice storm in Quebec. It was not just in the rural areas that we had volunteers performing emergency services. When I think of my riding, which was the riding on the island of Montreal which was most affected by the ice storm, I think of literally the hundreds of constituents who gave of their time, 10 hours, 15 hours, 18 hours, 20 hours for up to 10 days at a time. We must look at the overall picture in order to determine how our fiscal policy should deal with volunteerism.

Emergency service volunteerism is one piece of that. I would hate to see us move in a piecemeal way, in a way that would cause other volunteers who perform other needed services to the community feel that their contributions were not seen as being as valued, as wanted, or as needed as those provided by emergency service volunteers.

I think this is an interesting idea. However, I think that it may be somewhat premature. We should be looking at our entire fiscal policy as it relates to volunteers in general. We should debate and discuss how we can better recognize not just with awards but with financial recognition if Canadians think that is required and needed, and then weight it.

When I think of people who give up many hours of their time in the urban centres working sometimes in conditions that are not as perilous perhaps on the face of it as emergency service volunteers in the rural areas but possibly perilous in the sense that they may be working with people who suffer from infectious diseases, I think that we need to have that debate. However, the bill is too limiting and therefore I would hesitate to support it. I would like to see a broad discussion and debate on the entire issue.

I wish to thank the member for Lethbridge for raising this issue and allowing us to have at least part of that debate.

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Noon

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank all members who have spoken to the bill over the last period of time.

The member opposite and the other Liberal member who spoke earlier said that there were 400,000 volunteers in this sector. There are not. I have confirmed this with the volunteer organizations across Canada. In firefighting and emergency responders there are 100,000.

We are not trying to say that one volunteer is more important than another volunteer. Hopefully, because of the comments that the member opposite just made, she will vote in favour of sending this to committee so this whole issue can be looked at, which is what I am asking. The bill needs to go to committee so we can have a look at the issue.

On the other issue of record keeping, it is already being done by the municipalities. Based on the 100,000 volunteers in the emergency responder sector, that is a $4 billion to $5 billion contribution that they make on a voluntary basis to this country for the safety of Canadians. I think a small recognition of that is in order.

I would like to thank a couple of people, John McKee and Ted Brown, who helped me work through this. They were a tremendous asset to me.

The thing that came out in the letters that I received from fire departments and emergency responder groups all across the country was that they needed help attracting and retaining people because it was getting harder and harder to do that. They wanted some recognition.

One of the issues is that a lot of volunteers do not get paid at all, which is why I am asking that they receive a credit or a deduction on the moneys they earn at any income level. It would help in their global income.

When it is -30°, three in the morning and a call comes in, these volunteers jump out of bed to go out and risk their lives to assist their fellow Canadians. This puts them in a special class. However this is certainly not to take away from all the other volunteers. My own wife is involved now with Interfaith Food Bank and Picture Butte in our home town and puts in a lot of hours. A lot of people do. We need those people and certainly we support that.

The volunteer emergency responders, firefighters, EMTs and search and rescue personnel are involved in many other ways in their communities. They do great work. Muscular dystrophy, for example, is one the fire departments have taken on. I know that in our community if there is a $10,000 or $20,000 shortfall for a project, no matter what it is, people can go to the volunteer fire departments and ask them to help raise money. They go out of their way to help and spend countless hours outside of their duties as firefighters to help the community.

Let us get the bill to committee. I want everybody in the House to vote for this to do that so we can look at the issues that have been raised. If there are some concerns, amendments and recommendations let us have a look at that. I am completely willing to be open in that aspect and make it as workable as possible for as many as possible in the country.

We must remember that these are the people who rush in when all others are rushing out. They are a special breed. I know that. I was involved as a volunteer firefighter for 18 years. To be able to serve one's community in this way is special, but it takes hundreds of hours to stay trained, ready and safe. It takes hundreds of hours of investment in each person's time to respond in a way that protects Canadians who are our neighbours and friends.

Hopefully, when this comes to a vote on Wednesday, we will support it in the House to be able to send it to committee so it gets another full and open airing. I believe there is merit in what we are trying to do here today. I believe there is merit and value in our volunteers who contribute to the safety of all Canadians. Without them, we could not have the society that we do.

We must all remember that we are talking about people who, on a voluntary basis, risk their lives for their fellow Canadians. These are the people who rush in when all others are rushing out. They are special and they need some special attention.

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Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 12:07 p.m., the period provided for the debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

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

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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.