House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the business of supply are deemed put, a recorded division is deemed demanded and deferred to the end of the period provided for government orders on Monday March 22, 2004.

Would the House agree to see the clock as 5:30 p.m.?

Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Income Tax Act is very clear in the interpretation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to acknowledge the efforts of my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who has the interests of his constituents at heart. This bill does not concern only his riding, but all the ridings where the forest is harvested.

First, it is important that the Liberal government understand one important thing about the softwood lumber crisis. The Liberals have been telling us repeatedly in this House that negotiations are ongoing with the Americans, that we are making progress, that an agreement will be reached, that it is forthcoming. Naturally, it is never their fault when things do not work out. The Liberal Party could buy-in to this type of agreement that is acceptable and feasible. We in this House can support the hon. member's bill and give a tax credit to forestry workers who use their vehicles for work.

We have to understand that forestry workers travel great distances. They need good vehicles, often four wheel drive vehicles, to be able to reach their work place. We have to understand how it is for them. Road conditions in the forest, particularly in bad weather, have to be taken into account. When travelling, these vehicles are put to the test.

I cannot conceive that members of this House could deny a tax credit to workers using their own vehicle as a tool. I would hope that, at a time when these workers are going through a crisis, we can show some sensitivity. It would be a good opportunity for all the members in this House to support the forest industry by approving the tax credit requested by my colleague. I would like my colleague to tell us what he thinks about that.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, my answer will be brief. I thank my colleague for his support.

Let me remind the hon. members that we went through a similar process in the case of mechanics' toolboxes. That bill was put forward by the hon. member who is now the whip for the Bloc Quebecois. He had to put it forward twice, but he finally won his point.

That is what encouraged me to be persistent, so that the same result can be achieved in this case. I hope that all members who need information on the issue will come to see me before we vote, to get a clear understanding of the reality.

However, I hope most of all that the next budget will follow the example of this bill and that this inequity will be rectified as soon as possible.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

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

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge that we in the New Democratic Party fully support the initiative of this bill and we will be voting in favour of it when it comes up for a vote.

However I do want to agree with the tail end of the speech by my colleague from British Columbia concerning the problems in the forestry industry. We believe the government should be attacking the softwood lumber crisis in a three-pronged attack.

First is the stabilization of the forestry workers in their communities by ensuring that those funds get to where they have to be. To delay it through bureaucratic means is simple nonsense, and that needs to stop right away.

Second, the government needs to go into the United States and, with their allies in the U.S. who are supportive of our initiatives, work toward changing the minds of those congressmen and senators.

Third, the government needs to continue the attack through the legal challenges of NAFTA and the WTO.

I have a very simple question for the member. When it comes to business deductions and expense deductions, what is the difference between a toolbox and a laptop? A business person with a laptop can travel across the country for his or her business and deduct those expenses, but a worker with a toolbox cannot. That has to change.

Although we do know what the member from the Conservative Party is saying, that this just targets one specific section of one specific set of workers, the fact is that we have to start somewhere. I am sure the hon. member from the Bloc would love to have included all kinds of people, like carpenters, metal workers, name it.

We have a tremendous amount of people who leave Atlantic Canada and move to the oil patch but they cannot write off their traveling and meal expenses, et cetera. However if they were accountants or lawyers they could write off those expenses. All we are asking is that there be a little fairness in the taxation system.

The Bloc member has done it very strategically. He has taken one section of the occupational workforce and one aspect of the tax deduction in the motor vehicle. We know this is a start, and no, it does not include all other workers at this time, but in opposition, sometimes we have to throw the Liberals a bone. Hopefully they will chew on it a bit, like the taste of the marrow and run with it, which is really what is required. We want them to say that it actually makes sense. We want them to ask what the difference is between a toolbox and a laptop.

My colleague from Yukon knows how many people travel up and down the Dempster highway, the Alaska highway and the Campbell highway to and from their jobs. If they are business people they can write off their mileage as an expense, but if they are forestry workers they cannot. We fully support the initiative of the Bloc member in this particular regard.

However, at the same time, we would like to see the government move fairly quickly in terms of including many other workers who come from here. We have workers from Nova Scotia, in the building trades for example, who have been asking for quite some time to be included in budgets, to be given the opportunity to deduct their meal expenses, their vehicle transportation costs and their lodging expenses. They do not want to sit at home and collect EI or welfare. They want to be able to follow a job somewhere else in the country in their trade because they have pride. However, if it is extremely cost prohibitive, if they cannot afford to get to a particular place, then they are behind the eight ball and that is unacceptable.

We need to allow these workers who wish to move to another part of the country, where they will have an opportunity for employment, to do so. We should be congratulating these people. We should be honouring the fact that they are willing to leave their homes in order to find work in other jurisdictions in Canada. We should be assisting them through the tax system so they are not prohibited from making that decision.

I do not want to be critical of the business community. If they are willing to move across the country and assist other businesses in their endeavours, that is great, but if they get to write off their expenses, then surely forestry workers should be allowed to do the same when it comes to their motor vehicles. When we as members of Parliament travel across the country to follow our critic areas, our expenses are covered.

We are just saying that if we are doing our job in terms of our constituents and the Canadian people, then we ourselves should apply those same types of principles to the workers of our country, especially to those forestry workers.

We thank the hon. member from the Bloc Quebecois for bringing this very worthy bill to the floor of the House of Commons where the debate should take place. We encourage the government and all opposition members to seriously look at this type of initiative to see where we can go forward on this to make it easier, especially financially, for workers who are transient in following their workplace.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

John McKay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I want to first congratulate the member for bringing this issue forward. I have brought my own private members' bills forward in the past and I know how difficult these things sometimes are. I regret to say, however, that I will not be supporting his bill.

The bill proposes to amend the Income Tax Act and provide a tax deduction for automobile expenses for forestry workers. We have already heard from previous speakers that they want to cover out of pocket costs in operating a vehicle, interest charges which might be incurred in the purchase of a vehicle and depreciation costs which are necessarily incurred both in driving to and from work and to other areas as well. There would immediately be some sort of a record keeping problem as to how to allocate depreciation among the various categories of what one would use the vehicle.

I fully appreciate that everybody who works has to get to and from home. There is probably not one member in the House who has held down a job outside this place and has not had to commute one way or another to work. Some of us have had shorter commutes than others. When I was practising law, I recollect that I spent a fair bit of time fighting GTA traffic to get to and from work.

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

Some members of the House may recall that there was a $500 deduction for employment expenses available prior to the 1988 tax reform. The general deduction recognized that all employees incurred some work related expenses, even buying clothes. My wife is in television and clothing is a significant expense for her.

During the tax reform, the employment expense deduction was integrated into the basic personal amount. The basic personal amount has steadily increased since 1988 and now stands at just slightly over $8,000 for the taxation year 2004. This amount is deducted from all income sources in calculating taxable income. It does not much matter whether one earned income from employment or from other forms of generation of wealth. Regardless, one gets that tax deduction and that acts as kind of a leveller, and the government is then treating everyone equally.

The bill proposes tax relief for specific expenses, which is long distance transportation incurred by a specific group of employees, namely, forestry workers. We have to ask ourselves whether it is in fact fair to single out a specific type of expense in a specific occupation group when there are employees in other occupations in similar situations. For example, as other members have mentioned, what about construction workers? What is the argument there? Why would a forestry worker be preferred over a construction worker?

My hon. colleague from Yukon said that at some point or another as one is driving north on the Dawson highway, the trees run out and the only thing a person drives for is to do some mining or some oil and gas work. Why would the mythical forestry worker be able to deduct his or her expenses going to cut trees, but the expenses of the person driving further up the highway to mine something or extract oil and gas would not be deducted? That does not appear to be fair to other taxpayers and other employees. It is not uncommon for these workers to be employed at work sites that are quite a distance from their homes.

Many other types of employees have asked for tax assistance. This is budget season after all. I am personally aware of quite a number of people who feel that they are entitled to tax assistance or tax relief in some form or other.

I must confess that I have difficulty saying that some of these employment expenses are more worthy of tax relief than others. I find it even more difficult to say that one group of workers is more worthy than the next, when both groups incur the same kind of expenses.

While a tax system must treat all people fairly, all hon. members must understand that tax relief for all employment related expenses would come with a very heavy price tag.

To illustrate, we will say that there is a flat $500 tax deduction for all employees. That calculates very quickly into $1.3 billion per annum which would be removed from the federal treasury. Hon. members opposite may think that is a wonderful idea. However, I point out that we are running a very small surplus this year, and I do not know why that category of employees would be entitled to eat into that surplus.

Instead of granting piecemeal and arbitrary tax concessions, the government has chosen to deliver major tax relief to all Canadians. Members will recollect that we are well into our five year tax reduction plan of $100 billion which was announced in the year 2000. We have cut taxes further in the 2003 budget. Therefore, $100 billion for all taxpayers is probably a better way to go. Then the government is not in the position of preferring of one category of taxpayer over another.

The tax deductions themselves were three-quarters personal and one-quarter business related. These tax reductions are providing a significant relief, particularly to low and modest income families with children, which is what the package targeted.

Federal personal income taxes are falling by more than 21% for the average taxpayer. The savings are even greater for families with children, as they come in at a 27% average. For instance, before the five year plan, the basic personal amount stood at $7,131. As a direct result of the $2,000 tax reduction plan, it is now up to just a touch over $8,000, probably with schedules to go higher. The higher basic amount benefits all taxpayers.

In the overall tax reduction package, we restored full indexation so the system itself would not eat into people's income. We lowered personal income tax for all taxpayers. We eliminated the deficit reduction surtax.

The child tax benefit, which has become basically a $10 billion program, is probably the most significant social initiative of this government. It is targeted to low and middle income families.

We provided additional tax assistance for those most in need of it, particularly those with disability. We substantially increased tax support measures to our students in post-secondary education.

I know that my hon. member's colleagues are enthusiastically awaiting what I might say next.

The 2003 budget also established a new child disability benefit for low and modest income families and for a child with a disability. That is something in the order of about $1600. I know my colleagues opposite are very enthusiastic and supportive of that initiative on the part of the government.

The bottom line impact on taxpayers for all these tax cuts is very impressive. For example, compared to what taxes would have been in 2004, a typical two-earner family of four earning $60,000 will save about 35%, and a typical one-earner family earning $40,000 will save about 60%. I know all hon. members will join me in applauding that initiative on the part of the government.

That is the government's way of trying to address, in a fair and balanced way, issues such as the one the hon. member has raised. I congratulate the hon. member on his initiative, but we will not be supporting this bill.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate the member who has presented his private member's bill for the House's consideration.

As my colleagues have pointed out, the government's intent with respect to the reform of the tax system is to make the system a progressive system, one that is equitable and treats taxpayers the same regardless of what regions they live in and what employment they are involved in. Generally speaking, there should not be any hyphenated taxpayers in this country. They should all be respected and treated as Canadians fully committed to an equitable tax system.

I remember talking about provisions in the tax regime that would look at mechanics, particularly apprentice mechanics. I remember that for a great deal of time the industry was asking for a particular tax regime that would recognize tools used by mechanics, especially during their apprenticeship, as being tax deductible and viewed as educational components.

At that time other arguments were put forward by tradespeople, arguments that had just as much legitimacy as the arguments relating to apprentice mechanics. The government struggled with that and worked toward finding an equitable treatment before it could go ahead and give a tax dispensation to people in a specific trade. I think the ultimate solution was welcomed by industries right across the country.

The forestry workers are obviously a very large, substantial and respected part of the economic life of Canada. If it were at all possible to provide, within that regime of progressive and equitable treatment, a dispensation or compensation for necessary moves, then obviously the government would like to try to do that.

However, the implications have been pointed out. I think it is important that when exemptions are made they should, generally speaking, fit into a category that is available to all Canadians. If individuals who are involved in the construction trades, those who are heavy equipment workers and operators, those who are involved in the steel industry or the mining industry or whatever it may be, need to go to another region of the country, then the amendments should be equitable and as of right to all Canadians.

In my humble estimation, the way to achieve that would be to have a moving allowance which would be deductible for the purposes of individuals relocating to another region in order to avail themselves of the opportunity to work in that region. That is the kind of mechanism that is available to workers, as I understand it, whether they are in the forestry sector or other sectors, and even students have particular access to the tax regime that allows them to deduct the costs of moving.

That is the way the tax system responds, equitably and right across the board to Canadians as of right. For that reason, while we laud the objectives of our colleague who has moved the private member's bill, we cannot support it because it really does treat Canadians as different classes and makes them either more or less equal before the tax regime. That is not the objective of the tax system.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Message from the Senate
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Message from the Senate
Adjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair.

I am here to respond to a question that was placed before the House and put to the Minister of Public Security and Emergency Preparedness.

When I first put this issue to the minister, I was under the impression that the government wanted to respond in a substantive way to this issue of terrorism. I was referring specifically to a report that came to the attention of Canadians some time ago, a U.S. state department report that was prepared by the Library of Congress, which alleged that in fact there was substantial and significant terrorist activity going on within Canada and that Canada was in essence being named as a safe haven for terrorists and for criminals.

The highlights of that report underlined that Canada was becoming a transit point, a place for raising funds for terrorist organizations, for criminal groups, and that Canada has provided safe routes for trafficking of humans and various illegal commodities into the United States.

The report went on to talk about some of the legislative action that had been taken. However, the report deemed that to have been an insufficient response and said that enforcement and full implementation would be the keys.

I asked a substantive question to the minister at that time, hoping that there would be a plan placed before the Canadian people, hoping that in fact the government would reflect a clear understanding of the serious nature of this problem. In fact, to highlight this further, in February of this year before a Board of Trade dinner in Toronto, United States Ambassador Paul Cellucci told the crowd there were still numerous hurdles to overcome with respect to the Canadian border. The ambassador cited marijuana legislation proposed by the Liberal government as a real problem. He said:

For us, marijuana is not really a policy issue, it's a border issue...the perception is that it will be easier to get marijuana in Canada. It may not be accurate, but that's what it is...it creates problems at the border.

What it tells us and what it tells Canadians, sadly, is that the government does not appear to understand the implications for some of its legislative action, some of its lack of policy in the area of responding to terrorism, both at home and abroad. This is but one of the examples creating this atmosphere of fear and concern.

I would say that these very legitimate concerns held by the Americans have further broad-reaching implications as they relate to trade. My point is that the government does not and has not put forward a blueprint in response to these problems, both at the border with respect to terrorism and with respect to a proposal that I and others in the Conservative Party have brought forward surrounding a North American security perimeter. We know that ports police were disbanded by the government, creating further vulnerabilities at our many ports in Canada.

We need an aggressive plan to address these shortcomings. We need an active border security protection against terrorism. The public safety minister should not disregard out of hand that Library of Congress report which outlines the shortcomings and calls upon the government and our country to act decisively. Unfortunately, this cavalier attitude, these platitudes, the rhetoric that it is all being addressed and is in hand, do little to satisfy our largest and most important trading partner and little to allay the fears of Canadians generally.

Canada's lax laws need to be corrected. Legislation must be put in place. Most importantly, there has to be a plan laid out with resources to back up this plan and to put the process in place right away.