House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was troops.

Topics

The House resumed from February 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-219, 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 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to join in today's debate on Bill C-219, if for no other reason than to spend a moment talking about what emergency service volunteers, especially our volunteer firefighters, mean to communities across Canada.

I do not believe that anyone in the House would argue the notion that we as a society tend to have an elevated view, and rightly so, of those among us who don the uniform of the firefighter, if not for the risks they take, then for the noble purpose for which they take them in the service of others and their communities.

It is little wonder that Edward F. Croker, a New York City fire department chief in the early 1900s and a pioneer in the movement to safeguard against fire hazards, once remarked:

When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work.

That sentiment of gratitude and respect is especially true in smaller communities and towns in Canada, places where, amazingly to many of us, firefighters serve voluntarily in addition to their regular 7 to 3, 3 to 11 or 11 to 7 work duties. Or he or she may be a small business owner.

These men and women are ready to serve their communities at any hour, night or day. They serve in circumstances of grave danger to their own personal safety. As Mike Walsh, past president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, noted:

Volunteer firefighters are the first-line defenders against many domestic threats involving fire, medical emergencies, hazardous materials, motor vehicle accidents and rescues....

With every call and every fire, these brave men and women face consequences that we would rather not contemplate, because our heroes are not supposed to die.

But they do. They are heroes like Gary Bryant. Mr. Bryant was a member of the 24-person Wolfe Island volunteer fire department in the Kingston, Ontario area. A few years back, Mr. Bryant tragically passed away in the line of duty. His colleagues and friends remembered him as a human being who put his community before himself. As one close friend noted, “To Gary, everybody came before him”.

Wolfe Island volunteer fire chief James White recalled a man who was very eager to join the fire department because he wanted to “give back to the community”, a community for which he would make the ultimate sacrifice, a sacrifice few of us have the inner strength to even consider. That is why, as Chief White sombrely remarked, we should “be proud of him because he died as a hero to us”, a hero to us in life and in death. And so we honour and thank them all.

As legislators, though, we can and do thank them with more than mere words. We can thank them by supporting their efforts. That is why I was so pleased when my government's last budget included an important measure to assist firefighters to ensure they have the training they need to safely and effectively react to emergencies.

A key part of that means helping them deal with hazardous materials, including chemical and biological emergencies. Do members know that volunteer firefighters are an integral part of our emergency measures plans all across Canada? That is why budget 2007 provided $1 million to the Canadian arm of the International Association of Fire Fighters to help put in place a hazardous materials training program, which is available to all first responders such as firefighters.

IAFF general president Harold Schaitberger hailed that announcement as a major advance for public and first responder safety in Canada and expressed his gratitude to the government for “listening to the IAFF and acting decisively on this issue”.

Local fire departments also welcomed the announcement. Bruce Carpenter, a firefighter in St. Catharines, Ontario, and the IAFF's 13th District vice-president for Ontario and Manitoba, said:

With the announcement in Budget 2007 to fund the IAFF's training programs in Canada, the Conservative government has demonstrated that it's serious about public safety and about protecting Canadians and Canadian first responders from the aftermath of a haz-mat or CBRN incident.

The income tax system also includes measures to support our emergency service volunteers. Presently under the current Income Tax Act rules, volunteers can receive honoraria from a public authority of up to $1,000 exempt from income tax, meaning they pay no tax on the first $1,000 they receive from a public authority.

That brings us to the measure under debate today, one that is very similar to two unsuccessful ones proposed and previously debated in the 37th and 38th Parliaments, one of which, in fact, was voted against by the Liberal member sponsoring this bill.

This proposal, somewhat like the previous two, seeks to establish a tax deduction for emergency service volunteers who do not qualify for the existing $1,000 income tax exemption. More precisely, the proposed bill would allow qualifying emergency service volunteers to deduct from their income tax between $1,000 and $2,000 depending upon the number of hours volunteered.

However, as we move forward, we must recall that very similar proposals have been defeated twice after concerns were raised by members of this House and at the Standing Committee on Finance, concerns ranging from equity, physical cost and complexity to the definitional issues and effectiveness.

For example, some people have suggested that such a proposal would provide no relief for volunteers with little or no taxable income. Others contend that it will only add administrative complexity for both the volunteer organizations and the volunteers themselves, while yet others feel that it fails to clearly define who should be considered an emergency service volunteer. These concerns and many others were raised by the all party Standing Committee on Finance when it recommended that the House not proceed with a nearly identical piece of legislation in 2005.

What is surprising, considering that a Liberal member has sponsored this legislation, is the degree to which some of his current colleagues have been critical of similar legislation in the past and the tenor of that criticism.

Let us consider that his Liberal colleague from Richmond Hill once stated that such a measure:

--would hardly be fair or reasonable from the perspective of other persons who also contribute to society.

For instance, consider the plight of a single parent of young children working at a fast food restaurant. This person probably has little time to devote to volunteer activities and thus could not gain access to the deduction because he or she is raising young children, and yet the worker's income is fully subject to taxation.

Or what about his Liberal colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, who scorned such a proposal, remarking that it would be “difficult to justify to other Canadians who work at low wage jobs” and that it would “put a value on one type of volunteerism as opposed to others”.

As well, the Liberal member for Halifax West dismissed a similar bill by simply saying:

I do not see that this bill is going to make it more likely that we will have more volunteers in our society.

Plainly as we move forward there will be certain questions that must be addressed when undertaking a thorough examination of the issues surrounding such a proposal, but what cannot and will not be questioned is our unresolved gratitude and admiration for those brave men and women who give of themselves so selflessly, heroes like Gary Bryant.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, speaking to a bill like this one is a wonderful way to start the week. This bill would improve tax deductions for volunteer firefighters. It would also apply to volunteer ambulance technicians and to volunteers who assist in the search and rescue of individuals or in other emergency situations. It would apply to anyone considered to be a first responder.

The initiative of the member for Malpeque deserves our support; however, we must be careful not to turn this into a partisan issue.

The maximum deduction for a volunteer firefighter is currently $1,000. I have represented a rural area for 15 years, and I know what a valuable contribution volunteer firefighters make to society. There are a few women, but the volunteers are primarily men. These men have other jobs and agree to training so that they are prepared to fight fires. They also work hard on fire prevention.

I currently represent the regional county municipalities of Montmagny, L'Islet, Kamouraska and Rivière-du-Loup, but I have also represented Témiscouata and Les Basques in the past. I had the opportunity to attend several competitions in these regions to showcase the work done by these volunteers. I can say that one does not agree to be a volunteer firefighter in order to fulfill an administrative role. These people must carry heavy equipment and be prepared to face dangerous situations, and are occasionally called on to save lives.

In turn, our society has decided to offer them a $1,000 tax deduction, to which I think they are fully entitled. The member is suggesting that we increase the deduction to $2,000 when an individual volunteers 200 hours in a year. This is not too much to ask. This amount better reflects the current reality facing these volunteers. I hope that, after the debate in this House, the vote will enable us to examine this bill more closely.

My Conservative colleague who spoke before me alluded to previous debates, when it was argued that this measure was not totally warranted and would not necessarily help boost volunteerism. We have to consider these remarks as constructive proposals.

The committee members will have to make sure that this measure is in keeping with the spirit of the Income Tax Act, but also that this additional recognition is feasible. The men and women who do this work do it voluntarily; it is a choice they make. They are compensated for what they do, but often this compensation amounts to no more than they are already making at their regular jobs.

People tend to make a personal choice to become a volunteer firefighter. They are contributing to the quality of life in their community. Essentially, their aim is to prevent, as much as possible, fires that cause property damage and sometimes cost human lives. There have been disasters in the past.

Volunteer firefighters have been around for some time now. Decades ago, there were far more fires out in the country than there are today. Mutual insurance companies had to be created so that people whose homes had unfortunately been destroyed by fire would have a future. A number of prevention measures were developed, and one duty of volunteer firefighters is to promote them.

Initially, volunteer firefighters stepped forward out of the goodness of their heart in the event of a fire. Over the years, their job has become increasingly complex. They have to take a number of training courses, and the cost of that training is not necessarily covered by the tax deduction. It covers only costs associated with fighting fires or providing emergency assistance.

From the standpoint of recruitment to renew the ranks of volunteer firefighters, this measure serves as an added incentive or benefit for someone who has obtained his employer's authorization to leave work when called to respond to an emergency. Such a person should not be penalized, but should be able to benefit from this very minor tax advantage, which at the very least would enable him to keep on volunteering.

Under the bill presented by the hon. member for Malpeque, a person who meets specific criteria—they get a $1,000 deduction for the first 100 hours of work and up to $2,000 when the number of hours worked in the year reaches 200—is sent a T4/Relevé 1 form by the government for this income. The first $1,000 will be excluded from the slips since that amount is not taxable.

The purpose of Bill C-219 before us is to improve the tax exemption by making it $1,000 when a person has worked 100 hours and $2,000 when that person has worked 200 hours, in order to take into account roughly the average salary that a volunteer firefighter could make.

However, if the person is employed in a non volunteer capacity to provide the same services or similar services, then they cannot benefit from the federal deduction. It is not a question of granting a deduction to someone who already performs a similar task in their regular job, but to someone who made the personal choice to devote themselves to this type of role in their community when they already have an entirely different job.

The big cities have permanent and regular firefighters. Throughout rural Quebec and Canada the people concerned have to take very rigorous and demanding training to help them not only prevent fires, but also develop a sense of discipline to cope with any emergency situation. On occasion I have seen—with my own two eyes—that this training means people react properly and quickly to cardiovascular problems, when a person has a heart attack for example, or to any other difficult situation. The fire training they receive can also apply to many other situations. Often this results in a life being saved to carry on in an acceptable manner, rather than resulting in a death.

In that sense, our society, which must be judged not only by its capacity to produce wealth, but also by its capacity to share it, has an opportunity to recognize in a much more valid and sustained way the work done by volunteer firefighters. The members of the Bloc Québécois and I, personally, will support this motion. We hope the discussion in committee improves the situation. According to information we have received from volunteer firefighters, this measure would truly be welcome and would correspond better to the current reality in our various municipalities. We believe the initiative of the hon. member for Malpeque deserves our support.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the federal NDP, it gives me great pleasure to rise on this important bill. I want to thank the hon. member for Malpeque for bringing it forward.

Most of us in our ridings across the country have volunteer firefighters and they do an outstanding job. Every Tuesday in my riding is a training night for all the firefighters. They train hard and afterwards they get together in a camaraderie on what they are doing.

It takes a very special person to answer a call at three in the morning in a winter storm and go to a house fire or to deal with an issue of a medical emergency. These people do this with very little or no pay whatsoever. In fact, they do not even want a thank you. They do it because they know they are serving their community. They know it because they feel in their heart of hearts that what they are doing is just and it is right.

On Sunday on the CBC in Nova Scotia there was a half hour show talking about what is happening in rural Canada. Many communities are starting to lose their volunteer firefighters. They are not losing them because of a lack of interest, they are losing them because of the economic reality of rural Canada. I remember very well in Newfoundland and Labrador during the cod crisis of the early 1990s many communities basically lost their best and brightest. The first thing to go, besides people moving down the road, was the firefighter.

Can we imagine a community that loses its volunteer firefighters and can no longer provide any kind of fire coverage for its community? The insurance companies come along and if we do not have fire protection of some kind they are not sure if they are able to insure the particular homes or properties. That puts these communities and families at great risk.

At the end of the day, there will be volunteer firefighters across this country willing to answer the call. In many cases they know they are risking their lives for the benefit of everyone. That is why this bill is important. That is why it should be supported across all political lines and it should be done fairly expeditiously.

I would like to expand on a bill that I have and not just piggyback on volunteer firefighters, but we need to look at volunteers in this country as a whole. In Nova Scotia alone volunteerism generates approximately $2 billion of economic activity. Imagine what it would be like in Ontario, Quebec and the bigger provinces.

Without volunteers we simply would not have the society that we have today. I am sure that many of my colleagues in the House of Commons and in the Senate have volunteered many hours of their time and their family's time over the years to benefit their community. That is the beauty as many of us, as busy as we are as MPs, still in some way manage to volunteer to help out in our community, be it fundraising, looking after our community or whatever it may be.

If it were possible to expand the debate, I think that all volunteers who show a certain number of hours per year, and my bill specifically says 250 hours, should be entitled to a $1,000 tax credit.

Years ago when I represented the Eastern Shore as far as the Ecum Secum Bridge in Nova Scotia, I knew a Lions Club member that would volunteer to drive people from Sheet Harbour all the way into Halifax, which is well over an hour drive, and he did this on his own. He did not ask for remuneration or anything of that nature and that was when gas was at 75¢ a litre. Now, at $1.18 a litre in Halifax, we can imagine how expensive it is for that person to volunteer to do that. However, he still does because he knows it is the right thing to bring people with disabilities or people with very low income into Halifax to either do major shopping or see their medical professionals.

It is people like that who we need to honour every day and not just in this House of Commons but in the Senate as well. At this time I want to send a special kudos over to our colleague from London who himself was a long term firefighter before he entered the halls of Parliament. He deserves a great round of applause for his great work as well.

My own brother-in-law was a firefighter at the Vancouver airport for over 32 years and he has just retired. He fortunately never had any major incident of any kind to affect his health or his life and he feels very blessed by that.

However, he knew many other firefighters who came down with various illnesses and cancers because of the chemicals they were exposed to. These were paid firefighters. Imagine the number of volunteers out there.

The volunteer firefighters in the areas of Fall River, Musquodoboit Harbour, Lake Charlotte, Chezzetcook, Eastern Passage, the whole crew, are some of the best citizens in this country. They love what they do, but the reality is they need more support.

The city I live in has only so much money to provide in terms of equipment and everything else. The government and all parliamentarians need to understand that giving them a little stipend like this may be beneficial to at least cover the costs.

I again want to thank my colleague from Malpeque for bringing this very important bill forward and I hope it will pass very soon. In fact, it would be lovely if it was in tomorrow's budget, but we will have to wait until four o'clock to see if indeed that is the case.

Once again, a tip of the salt and pepper cap to all volunteer firefighters and especially their families. Those who volunteer also have families who worry about their return. I want to thank the families, the individual members, and all communities right across this country.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to this particular initiative.

First I want to congratulate my hon. colleague from Malpeque for bringing this forward. We have been discussing, debating and voting on this for many years, certainly within almost the last decade.

What a gift this is. Someone earlier mentioned how this would entice people to get involved in the volunteer service for emergency workers. It will go a long way, especially in our rural areas for several reasons.

First, let us take a look at the incentive. Over 100 hours of service will provide a $1,000 tax credit and over 200 hours, which a vast majority do easily, a $2,000 tax credit.

What I like about this is that it is a beautiful gift and finally an acknowledgement by the Government of Canada to say that it believes in what they are doing.

I said it before and I will say it again. These are people who volunteer their time. When there is a fire or a disaster, these people are the first to go into that fire. More than that, when the community needs their support to raise money and raise awareness, volunteer firefighters are the first to get out. They come out for their community and they do it voluntarily.

I do rise in support of Bill C-219, a bill that would have a tremendous effect on all of rural Canada, especially in rural Newfoundland and Labrador and certainly in my own riding.

A couple of weeks ago in the House I rose to present a petition signed by thousands of people from all over Newfoundland and Labrador calling upon the government to put the bill into law and make the necessary amendments to the tax code.

Why do I support Bill C-219? I will flesh out some of the more important reasons. A lot of it comes down to numbers, quite frankly. I represent over 86,000 people in my riding. Over 115 communities in my riding are protected by 52 volunteer fire departments, ranging from 15 to 20 and beyond.

In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador there are 315 volunteer fire departments consisting of 6,200 volunteers, people who put their lives on the line and risk it all for the sake of safety, for the sake of their communities and for the sake of their families. There are also 27 ground search and rescue teams consisting of 872 volunteers, a phenomenal amount of volunteer time put into search and rescue.

When they leave the comfort of their homes, more often than not in harsh weather conditions, they do not know if they will return to their families. That is a fact of life that all emergency responders have to live with.

To provide an incentive of a $2,000 tax credit is a small gift but, beyond the monetary value, this would finally acknowledge that the Government of Canada sees what they are doing and it wants to reward them for it. We want them to be recognized across the country for what it is they do and the time they spend doing it, not just for safety but again for the community.

Most of us would not want to know the feeling of having someone seriously injured or worse, someone who has perished in a vehicle crash. These people are first on the scene. Most of us have never experienced the unique smell of burning insulation, the intense heat, the roar of a burning structure or the uneasy feeling of being unable to see anything upon entering a burning building to rescue someone in peril.

What must the volunteers be thinking as they respond to an emergency call: Is this a false alarm or is it a real fire? Will I return? Will I see my family once again when this is all over? The worse possible thing that could happen: is there a child inside? Does a child's life need to be saved?

Our ground search and rescue teams are there to assist in finding lost individuals, whether it be along our coast, in the forest or someone trapped on a rock face injured or unable to move for fear of falling.

Yes, it is a life-threatening task that we ask these volunteers to do and they do it so valiantly.

Our emergency volunteers carry out their duties in a professional manner in the same way that our paid emergency service workers do. Often, volunteers' street clothes are damaged or destroyed because they did not have time to change into their fire protection clothes or ground search and rescue apparel. They incur expenses with their personal vehicles getting to the fire hall daily for training. They spend countless hours at the fire hall training and cleaning their equipment and emergency vehicles with little or no compensation.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore touched on training night. In my hometown of Bishop's Falls, Wednesday night is training night. The feeling of camaraderie between men and women firefighters is second to none. They feel so good about their community. Once in a while they even let me attend. How noble.

I must say that the little bit that we can do here today by voting for this and seeing this into law is such a small thing for us to do but such a great acknowledgement for the sacrifices that they make.

I will give two examples from my own riding where volunteer services have become crucial and essential.

Emergency service volunteers were called into action because of floods in the town of Badger several years ago. It was a state of emergency. It was one of the most devastating floods the province has ever seen. The amount of hours that volunteers put in, not just volunteer firefighters, search and research workers and ambulance workers, but our town councillors and our municipal politicians, many of whom are volunteers as well, but they all do it for the sake of the community and the sake of their family.

I respectfully submit that we should support this as such a crucial element of us saying, yes, that these people are intertwined in our communities and are absolutely essentially.

I would like to take a moment to read something called “What is a Firefighter”.

He's the [person] next door...He [she] has never gotten over the excitement of engines and sirens and danger. He's [she's] a [person] like you and me with wants and worries and unfulfilled dreams. Yet [they] stand taller than most of us.

He's [she's] a fireman.

He [she] puts it all on the line when the bell rings.... A fireman is at once the most fortunate and the least fortunate...[they are people] who save lives because [they have] seen too much death. He's [she's] a gentle [person] because he [she] has seen the awesome power of violence out of control. [They are] responsive to a child's laughter because [their] arms have held too many small bodies that will never laugh again. [They] appreciate the simple pleasures of life--hot coffee held in numb, unbending fingers--a warm bed for bone and muscle compelled beyond feeling--the camaraderie of brave men [and women]--the divine peace and selfless service of a job well done in the name of all [people].

Those are the people we have come here to talk about today. We need to acknowledge these people and the volunteer time that they put in to ensure the community comes first. It is a sacrifice that is not compensated whatsoever and it is about time the Government of Canada said yes to these people. A simple measure is all we ask: a $1,000 tax credit up to a $2,000 tax credit. It is absolutely essential.

I asked that this House pass it unanimously but was unsuccessful. However, despite that, I still call upon the government to include this in its budget. Maybe time is short but imagine these volunteer firefighters in the middle of a blaze, in the middle of a situation that is life or death. Now we are talking about time being short. We are talking about finally being able to thank them for all they have done and to thank their families.

I believe in our volunteer emergency people because they are the backbone of rural Newfoundland and Labrador for what it is today.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity today to address the hon. members of the House on Bill C-219.

The bill, if adopted, would entitle emergency service volunteers to claim either a $2,000 deduction if they volunteer 200 or more hours or a $1,000 deduction if they volunteer at least 100 hours or more but less than 200 hours.

Today I would like to use this time to acknowledge the role of emergency service volunteers and others to talk about their motivation and to acknowledge the valuable contributions these Canadians make to our country.

First, I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. member for Malpeque on the principle of the bill. Emergency service volunteers deserve to be recognized for their valuable contributions to the safety, security and well-being of our communities.

There are numerous examples that come to mind in which emergency service volunteers have played an important role in this nation: the tornado that whipped through Edmonton in 1987 and left large numbers of Edmontonians homeless; the Manitoba and Saguenay floods; the crippling 1998 ice storm in Quebec and eastern Ontario in which my family was trapped and became victimized; the 2003 forest fires in British Columbia; Hurricane Juan, which battered the east coast in the fall of 2003; and, of course, on a day to day basis, intervening to rescue Canadians from danger and to alleviate their pain and suffering.

In all those instances, disaster relief volunteers provide crucial assistance at critical times. They aid distressed victims and help bring calm out of chaos and generosity out of calamity. They all make me feel proud to be Canadian.These fine citizens make us all proud to be Canadian.

There are many kinds of volunteers who deserve recognition and there are many different ways to recognize these contributions. This may be surprising to some members of the House but Statistics Canada estimated that there are approximately 11.8 million Canadians from all parts of this country who volunteered in 2004. As we can imagine, each one of these volunteers makes a valuable contribution to their communities in many different ways. Some volunteers help to improve the quality of life of our seniors. Some coach our children's sports teams. Some prepare, serve and deliver meals to others in need. Some provide education services and advocate on important issues. Some help to protect our environment by monitoring ecosystems and cleaning our beaches, just like in my own riding of Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale where the Hamilton Area Eco-Network does a great job of managing one of the UNESCO biosphere reserves in this country.

In 2004, volunteers freely donated over two billion hours of their time, which is an average of 168 hours per volunteer. I know it would never happen but since we are talking about 11 million Canadians and two billion hours of their time, we should think for a moment what would happen if, just for a week, all volunteers stopped doing what they had been doing and what kind of country this would be.

Imagine how overrun the regular resources of local police departments would be if the auxiliary police were not available.

At every sporting event I have ever attended I have seen the St. John Ambulance van, our historic volunteer emergency medical service, sitting over on the side ready to help anybody in a medical emergency. Imagine if it were not around.

Imagine if Roots youth drop-in centre in Dundas, Ontario were not there to help youth make the right decisions rather than get on the wrong track and end up in a lifestyle of crime.

How about Mission Services, Good Shepherd, Wesley Urban Ministries or the Olive Branch that is in downtown Hamilton that serve meals, pick people up off the street and ensures that those who are on the margins of society are helped so they can become contributing citizens.

Two weeks ago at the Ancaster food drive 70,000 pounds of food was collected. That would be consumed in three weeks alone. Imagine if those kinds of people were not around but, fortunately, we never need to be concerned about that.

We do need to be concerned about why these volunteers give their time so generously. For context, I will take this opportunity to describe the findings of a recent Statistics Canada survey that sheds light on this question. Perhaps it should not be surprising that the survey finds that most Canadians do not appear to expect financial assistance or incentives as a reward for volunteering.

The Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating conducted in 2004 found that none of the principal reasons for volunteering are related to financial gain whatsoever. For example, 92% said they volunteered because they wanted to make a contribution to their community. Seventy-seven per cent volunteered because they wanted to put their skills and experience to work. Almost 60% volunteered because they had been personally affected by the cause of the organization that they support.

Canadians cited several other reasons for volunteering as well. They see volunteering as a way to explore their own strengths. They have friends who volunteer and they want to share in that experience. They want to fulfill religious obligations or beliefs. For some, volunteering is a way to demonstrate or acquire skills in order to open doors for new opportunities for themselves.

The same Statistics Canada survey asked Canadians why they did not volunteer or why they did not volunteer more. We have to search well down the list of reasons to find financial cost.

In fact, Statistics Canada found that the main barrier preventing individuals from increasing their volunteering contributions was a lack of time. Seven in ten Canadians cited time limitations, not financial considerations, as the reason for not volunteering more or not volunteering at all.

Time is not the only barrier to volunteering. Some find they are unable to make a year-round commitment to volunteering. Some might consider becoming a volunteer but have never personally been asked to do so. Perhaps they just need an invitation to get them started. Still others cite health problems.

Although recognizing this important group of volunteers is something I am sure all Canadians would agree is worthy, I do believe that it would be irresponsible to have this discussion without exploring the motivations and expectations of our volunteers.

I also think that during the course of this discussion we should explore additional methods to acknowledge and encourage efforts at volunteering because there are many ways. Sometimes it is simply raising awareness of the volunteers' cause or enhancing the experience of volunteering. For example, one way we can recognize the efforts of volunteers in Canada is through public awards and honours. There are a multitude of awards distributed each year that recognize the outstanding contributions of all volunteers. For instance, the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award is bestowed on a long service volunteer who has contributed substantially to families and groups in his or her community.

Volunteers, including emergency service volunteers, are also recognized by the Government of Canada through the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award. This award was established by the Government of Canada in 2001 during the International Year of the Volunteer.

Provincially there are many examples as well. In British Columbia, the provincial emergency program recognizes volunteers annually in each of its five programs: search and rescue; emergency social services; air search; amateur radio; and road rescue.

The Ontario volunteer service award ceremony acknowledges, among other achievements, the bravery of those who serve as police officers and volunteer firefighters. In addition, many emergency service volunteers have also been awarded the Ontario Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Bravery.

In conclusion, all of us in this House support and respect the work of emergency service volunteers. On that we have unanimity. However, we have a responsibility to all Canadians to do our homework when making policy.

Once again, I want to commend the hon. member for Malpeque for bringing this legislative initiative forward and for recognizing the significant contribution emergency service workers make to our communities. That being said, there are still some questions about this initiative that I look forward to hearing the member address both here in the chamber and perhaps at committee in the future as well.

I believe we need to study this measure carefully to make sure that it is the appropriate way to acknowledge the work of emergency service volunteers to whom we are all grateful for their service.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to participate in this debate and support the hon. member for Malpeque who has brought a very important issue to the House regarding the contribution that firefighters and public safety officers in general make to society.

The International Association of Fire Fighters has been the lead group to speak on behalf of public safety officers. It has dealt with a number of areas, whether it be the treatment of hazardous goods or the markings on train cars with respect to an emergency plan should there be a derailment.

There is another very interesting point which has been advocated for in this place for a number of years. It is the public safety officers compensation fund in the event that a public safety officer loses his or her life in the line of duty.

The bill that was previously before this place on behalf of firefighters and other public safety officers was to provide for the families and the survivors of police officers, firefighters and other public safety officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty. This bill has been advocated for by the IAFF because a similar fund has existed in the United States for a number of years.

In fact, the amount of money paid in the United States initially was $100,000. It was paid by the United States government to the families of public safety officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty. After 9/11 that amount was increased because there were many firefighters and volunteers who had lost their lives during that horrific event. The government raised the amount to $250,000 on behalf of those public safety officers. Many of those public safety officers are now suffering from serious long term illnesses as a consequence of being in an environment that contained dangerous fumes and toxic substances.

All of this leads nicely into the bill that the member for Malpeque has put before the House. Those of us from urban centres can talk about the excellent firefighting services that deal with the concentration of populations in urban centres and the economies of scale in having that kind of a service. However, in the suburban, rural and remote areas of Canada, those who are called on to serve Canadians and to put their lives on the line are not part of a major policing or firefighting authority. They are volunteers.

I was once told that only about 15% of what firefighters do actually deals with fighting fires or other fire related emergencies. Firefighters spend the rest of their time educating the public, supporting community events, raising money and being on call. Firefighters are always on call. They are the ones who go in to a burning building when everyone else is running out. That is the difference. This is the characteristic that we are trying to recognize in this bill.

Volunteer firefighters do not receive the same kind of recognition . They are there and are ready to do the same job. It is similar to military reservists who are trained to the same levels as are full time military personnel. The reservists go into theatre and put their lives at risk. It is the same with these volunteers. They have to have the same kind of training. When an emergency occurs, when property and lives are at risk, they are called on at a moment's notice to go in when others are running out.

I want to congratulate the member for Malpeque for bringing this bill forward. It is an important bill from the standpoint that it is a recognition by Parliament that if recognition cannot be done in terms of a public safety officers compensation fund or some other blanket support, this is one additional step to show the respect, trust and reliance that is placed on these professionals, who are prepared to risk their health, safety and lives on behalf of Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service) be adopted at second reading and be referred to committee.

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Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would seek the consent of the House to allow the member for Malpeque to have a few brief moments to thank the House with regard to his bill since he would not now have his normal right of reply.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.