Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise this early evening to address Bill C-209, which seeks to amend the Income Tax Act and allow individuals to deduct certain public transportation costs from the exorbitant amount of income tax the government opposite extracts from them each year.
I would like to commend the hon. member for Jonquière for bringing forward an insightful and innovative amendment to the Income Tax Act. The merits of the bill are numerous, not just for individuals but for society as a whole, and I am delighted to bring some of them to the attention of the House this afternoon.
Perhaps before I do, I will just digress for a moment from my speech to say that I was very disappointed in the remarks made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. It is quite obvious from his remarks that the government has decided yet again that it will be advocating that all the Liberal members vote against this particular legislation, and that should come as no surprise. The government is increasingly reluctant to offer Canadians any form of tax relief and of course that is what the bill sets out to do.
I seem to have struck a nerve over there because I hear them heckling even though hardly any of them are in the House.
The reality is that the remarks made by the parliamentary secretary dealt almost entirely with how the Liberals can shovel money out the door in all their grandiose programs and plans of how to spend tax dollars rather than offer Canadians tax relief. That is indicative of the way the government has operated and continues to operate.
As to the bill itself, the first benefit is the most obvious, that is, this amendment to the Income Tax Act would reduce the tax burden on Canadians, something the government opposite is reluctant to do and something our party has been advocating for years.
The bill will not go so far as to reduce taxes to the levels we have been promising Canadians, but it will nevertheless provide relief to some Canadians who so desperately need it. I am referring to the thousands of students, seniors and low income Canadians who rely on public transit as their sole source of transportation. For these people, driving their car to work or school is not an option since they usually do not have that luxury.
I need look no further than my eldest daughter, who lives with me in Ottawa and does not have the luxury of even owning a car. She is a struggling student, as so many are in our country, a fourth year student at Carleton, and she travels for about an hour and a half every day to get to university and then to get home in the afternoon or evening. She spends about three hours every day on public transit.
That is not unique to my daughter. Many students and many working Canadians in our country have to face similar long hauls on public transit. Without the public transit system, many of these people would be forced to quit their jobs or drop out of school. Without public transit, seniors would be unable to access essential services such as health care. Providing these people with a deduction for the expense of public transportation will not give them a windfall by any means. However, as anyone who has experienced the struggle of living paycheque to paycheque knows, every dollar does count.
There are also benefits to society beyond the immediate benefit to the individuals who use public transit. The implementation of this amendment would provide an incentive for commuters to leave their cars at home and begin or go back to using public transit. Often the cost of driving is only marginally higher than the cost of public transit. Most people usually elect to drive for no other reason than the sheer convenience of it.
The statistics on public transit highlight this trend. Only 19% of Canadians are frequent transit users and 11% of them are semi-frequent users while 22% are occasional users. An astonishing 48% of Canadians do not use transit at all.
This amendment will widen the gap between the cost of driving and the cost of public transit, giving public transit greater appeal and reducing the number of cars on the road. This single action is where the benefits to society begin.
One of the immediate benefits would be to the environment and consequently to the air we all breathe. For every bus we are able to fill, we are able to take up to 50 cars off the road. This is a critical number when we consider that six of seven major air pollutants come from cars and light trucks, which emit four tonnes of pollutants every year on average.
In 1997 Canada made an international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 emission levels by 2008-12. Despite the fact that Canada has yet to ratify the agreement, there is no reason for us not to at least attempt to meet our commitments.
We could simply follow the precedent established by our neighbours to the south and renege on our international commitment because of the downturn in the economy. However, this is not an option for Canada since we are consistently reminded by the Minister of Finance that Canada is immune to a recession.
Fortunately for the environment, this means that the Canadian government could withstand the minor tax exemption such as the one being proposed today.
Also of benefit to Canadians, which may not be as apparent as the immediate benefits to the environment, are the numerous benefits that accompany a reduction in the congestion on our roadways. Congestion is very costly to Canadians in terms of its impacts on the economy and road infrastructure.
Recent studies in Canada, the U.S. and Australia have estimated that congestion costs in urban areas are in the order of $1,000 annually per household. It therefore stands to reason that if businesses are able to move their goods to market more efficiently the cost of goods will go down. This is yet another example of how the bill would improve the lives of all Canadians.
The toll that congestion takes on our roads is self-evident. We have all experienced first hand the deplorable state of our national highways, the gridlock occurring in our major cities and the inability of growing towns to expand their existing road systems to accommodate population growth.
The government has made it very clear that it does not intend to spend any more than the current 4.1% of the $5 billion it collects in fuel taxes on improving our roadways. If we intend to retain the antiques we have, without further deterioration, we have to reduce the number of people using them.
The bill would hopefully provide the incentive for the people of Canada to take action where the government refuses.
I could continue with my praise of the bill, but I would like to take a few minutes to make a few comments on the whole issue of private members' bills and their place within the House. Each year the members elected to the House bring forward their ideas for improving the lives of all Canadians. More often than not, these ideas are allowed to fall off the order paper without having been given, in my opinion, due consideration.
I have been extremely fortunate that in the past two months my name has been drawn consecutively in the two private members' draws. This was an unprecedented opportunity for me to select and to present two of my six private members' bills.
The first, Bill C-237, was a bill that would have amended the Divorce Act to ensure that divorcing parents begin custody discussions on an equal footing. They would start out with joint custody and work from there. The bill was intended to remove children from the often bitter battles that accompanied marital breakdown to ensure that they could not be used as pawns during settlement negotiations. Put simply, the bill would have put the children's interests ahead of the divorcing parents.
However, the bill was not considered important enough to vote on by the private members' committee so it fell off the order paper after one hour of debate.
My second bill, Bill C-272, has not yet been debated but regrettably has been handed the same sentence: a one hour debate before it too drops from the order paper. The bill would have allowed adoptive parents a one time income tax exemption for expenses incurred during the adoption of a child. Unfortunately, the bill has also succumb to the same fate as my previous bill despite the apparent benefits to Canadian families and children.
While I appreciate the limited time the House has to consider legislation each year, I believe that as elected members we could be doing a better job of how we select and debate private members' legislation. An opportune time for us to examine these procedures is during the all party discussions on parliamentary reform.
As elected members, we owe it to our constituents to find a more effective means of bringing bills with merit into law. I am pleased that the process worked in favour of this particular private member's bill, Bill C-209, and I am pleased to express my support for the bill.
I will sum up by saying that I really hope the bill passes. I hope that it does not succumb to the same unfortunate treatment as my previous bill in the last parliament. That particular bill, after a lot of work and with the support of the majority government, the Liberals, was passed on to the justice committee. However, in the end, the Prime Minister called a premature election and the bill died at the committee stage.
The bill today, should it pass, would go to the finance committee where hopefully it will not suffer the same fate as my last bill. I urge all members to do support the bill and to vote for it.