moved that Bill C-222, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of expenses incurred by a mechanic for tools required in employment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank my colleague from Sherbrooke who seconded this bill. On behalf of my constituents of Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans whom I am the privilege of representing, it gives me great pleasure to speak to this bill.
For the benefit of the members present and of our viewers, I should mention that this is a private member's bill that will be voted on after a three hour debate at second reading.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues on the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business for accepting my arguments that this bill is so important that it should be made votable so that we can get clear directions from parliament.
This subcommittee is non partisan by definition. The best proof of that is that the government is represented by only two members and that all four opposition parties are represented. Therefore, the subcommittee makes its decisions by consensus.
This is the second time that I have introduced a bill on this issue. Members will remember that, before the election, I had introduced Bill C-205, but I will come back to this later on.
The purpose of the bill is to allow mechanics to deduct the cost of providing tools for their employment. In the last 15 years, members from almost all parties have introduced private member's bills to ensure that mechanics could deduct the cost of their tools.
In fact, in the last parliament, I introduced Bill C-205, which was exactly the same as this one. It was not only voted on, since it was made a votable item, but it was supported by a majority of members, with 213 members voting in favour and only 11 against.
I see across the way the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance and member for Etobicoke North, who criticized my bill at second reading. But members were able to rise above partisanship and members from all parties ignored the directions coming from the finance minister.
I think the vote on Bill C-205, where 213 members voted in favour of it and 11 against, demonstrated that members understood the hardships faced by young mechanics and came together to offer them a modest tax break.
However, since the bill died on the order paper after the November 27 election was called, here I am once again promoting my bill.
There is so much support for the provisions of this bill that, in the last parliament, even the Standing Committee on Finance with its Liberal majority recommended in its prebudget report that this tax break be granted to automotive mechanics in Canada and in Quebec.
However, the support given to this bill is only one aspect of the importance of issues involved. Several other issues deserve to be addressed once again in the House of Commons and drawn to the public's attention.
We could talk about the inability of the auto industry to attract young people. We could talk about the pressure that mechanics, most of whom earn a very modest living, have to face to buy the best tools possible at a reasonable price.
We could also talk about the lack of fairness in a tax system that allows some tradesmen, but not others, to write off the cost of their tools and equipment.
This bill is becoming more and more necessary as time goes by. The amount of money mechanics had to pay to buy their tools when this issue was first brought before the House 15 years ago has increased tremendously.
We know that cars were far less sophisticated 10 years ago. Computer assisted components, which are now standard on most cars, are as much part of the new economy as the most recent Internet technologies and services provided by new high tech companies based in Montreal or in Ottawa.
I appeal to the common sense of my colleagues on both sides of the House because, after all, the main purpose of this bill is to help young people who choose this trade.
In our society, we cannot have white collar workers only, people who work with computers or in businesses where working conditions are exemplary. Our society cannot be made up of white collar workers and professionals only.
Some young people do not mind getting their hands dirty. Because they love auto mechanics, they are prepared to slide under cars. With our climate in Canada, cars often leak and oil and engine coolant literally drip onto the mechanics' faces. Just imagine what mechanics with 20, 25, 30 and 35 years of experience have gone through.
Unfortunately, since this has traditionally been a man's job, the field has been dominated by men and there are very few women auto mechanics. There are a few but, unfortunately, not many.
By the time auto mechanics reach the age of 50 or 55, their quality of life has dropped. For years on end, these people work hard to remove transmission parts, engine parts and tires and they wreck their backs or develop disc problems. They must be recognized for the value of the work they do.
Young mechanics, fresh out of school, often have to pay between $3,000 and $4,000 for the most basic toolbox. To get a job at a service station or a car dealership, an apprentice must have his own toolbox.
The first thing that a personnel director, or a garage owner or manager is going to ask is “Do you have your own set of tools?” In order to get hired, he must shell out $3,000 to $4,000 for his own tools, not to mention what he has often spent on tuition.
Some young people studying automobile mechanics may have parents who are comfortably off, who have paid all their tuition, but others are graduating with huge debts at the end of a lengthy occupational training course, such as we have in Quebec.
As for specialists, they must come up with close to $40,000, and this is no exaggeration.
When my office staff and I prepared this speech, and I take this opportunity to thank my parliamentary intern, Jonathan Weier, who worked very hard doing the research for it, I must say that I found $40,000 a bit steep.
But I checked this amount out. I went to service stations and car dealerships and I asked to see the toolkit of an experienced mechanic. They opened all the drawers.
When I mention the amount of $40,000, do not think, Mr. Speaker, that I am exaggerating because a set of tools for a specialist can easily cost as much as $40,000. I do not wish to suggest that you would do such a thing because I am sure that, like the member for Stormont—Dundas—Charlottenburgh, you too have had occasion to visit car dealerships and realize that I am right.
Cars have hybrid propulsion systems now. In all likelihood, in the future, the more cars will have computerized components or hybrid traction systems, the more parts and the toolkit of mechanics used to repair these hybrid systems will have to be adapted accordingly. As we will recall, last year Toyota introduced the Prius , which is part electric, part gasoline. This means more expenses.
The only difference between a newly hired mechanic and a young worker at Bombardier or somewhere else is that the Bombardier employee earns a fair amount more and has all the tools he needs supplied by his employer.
Interestingly, in its throne speech on January 30, 2001, the present government made a commitment “to support training programs, support the new economy and encourage continuing education among Canadian workers”. However, the government could give workers in traditional sectors some sign of its respect. Ongoing education and training programs seem to apply only to this new active population.
However, it is unfair and shortsighted to ignore those who play such an important role in the economy of Quebec and Canada in the 21st century, even though they work in a more traditional sector.
In a much more egalitarian, more fair society we must recognize that we need all professions. I paid for my studies by doing custodial work at the Chicoutimi hospital. I was just a student, but I was still in a position to understand that while a hospital had its physicians and surgeons, it still need its cleaners. Without a “mopologist”, as we called them at that time in Chicoutimi, to clean the ER and the OR, no great surgeon would operate, unless he was prepared to do so in conditions of minimal hygiene.
As parliamentarians, we have a duty to acknowledge the contribution of certain categories of workers in the rather more traditional jobs. We need to be open to the new economy and to make way for new employment sectors. I am not saying we should go back to horse and cart days. We need to recognize that there are workers who are entitled to help, even if they work in more traditional sectors.
The high costs associated with mechanical work will continue to put pressure on the automobile industry and will make it hard for young people to get into the trade.
In a June 1999 publication, the Canadian Automotive Repair and Service Council stated that “The biggest challenge facing the industry as the 20th century comes to an end will be to attract young people to its ranks”. This is one of the major issues in this sector: the serious shortage of young people wanting to join the trade, a shortage that does not seem likely to improve any time soon.
Among the factors that influence the attraction of this industry directly is the cost of tools for young apprentices and mechanics.
As I said earlier, a young person who graduates from high school at age 21 or 22 and wants to apprentice will have to invest several thousand dollars in his work. After paying off thousands of dollars in student debts, he will earn an average of $23,000, that is what apprentices make in Canada, while a mechanic with some experience earns $29,000. Whether it is $23,000 or $29,000, we are not talking about workers who earn $50,000 or $60,000.
Before being elected to the House, I was a director of personnel in the pulp and paper industry. I know the salaries that are paid in the pulp and paper industry. I am not saying these workers do not work hard; they work conscientiously and do quality work. These people are not at the top of the salary scale, with apprentices earning $23,000.
Most professionals in Canada are provided with the tools they need for their work, but not mechanics. For one reason or another, the automotive industry, gas stations, garages and other businesses employing mechanics decided that providing one's own tools was a condition of employment.
The idea is that mechanics will be more careful with their own tools and will maintain and adapt them to best do the work that they have to do. This is particularly unfair, since there are many other professions where workers are allowed to deduct, for income tax purposes, expenses incurred for their tools.
I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance will say: But what about electricians? What about plumbers? An electrician does not have the same tool kit as an automobile technician.
I do hope the parliamentary secretary has changed his mind after seeing 213 members voting in favour of my bill, but we will see soon enough. During his speech, I would like him to think about the performers, the musicians and the chainsaw operators who are entitled to deduct the cost of the tools of their trade.
What we and the auto mechanics and the automotive industry associations are asking for is simply justice and fairness.
This legislation has the support of members from all political parties. It has nothing to do with the differences of opinion between the right and the left, the sovereignists and the federalists. With this bill, and I am glad I was able to convince the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business, I want to rise above party lines. We have to put politics aside. Yes, I am a member of the Bloc Quebecois and I am the one who raised the issue. I was able to convince my colleagues in the House. I was fortunate to win out in the draw. However, I am just a messenger here trying to move forward a vision of fairness and justice.
By the way, I am not a car buff. I invite members to drop by my place and have a look at my toolbox. It is very basic. I have a hard time just putting oil in my car engine. I am not good around cars. However the people I have met during election campaigns and parliamentary breaks have convinced me that something has to be done about this important issue.
I would remind those who have doubts about the possibility of Bill C-222 being passed that the Income Tax Act is amended regularly throughout the year in order to bring it into line with new social realities. As for authorities being able to prevent the use of tools for personal projects, I say that we must trust people. There is no reason to question their honesty and goodwill.
Although the government expressed a certain sympathy, it has still not taken action to resolve the problem by introducing this tax credit in the budgets it has brought down since the 1997 report by the Standing Committee on Finance.
In addition to the broad support enjoyed by this measure in the House of Commons, I have received many letters of support from organizations in the industry, private citizens, labour unions and almost all groups with an interest in the issue. The Automotive Industries Association of Canada, for instance, pointed out the growing difficulty of finding qualified mechanics.
The increase in the number of car owners in Canada and in Quebec is increasing our dependence on the automotive industry. We must address this serious problem facing the industry. In my view, the bill is a matter of common sense, justice and good financial planning. Obviously, the majority of members on both sides of the House agree with me.
I call on all members who voted in favour of my last bill to vote in favour of this one. In the name of justice and common sense, I call on the 45 new members elected in the last general election on November 27, 2000 to vote in favour of this bill.
Finally, I call on the 11 Liberal members who voted against a similar bill to reconsider their decision.