Mr. Speaker, I am delighted this evening to have the opportunity to address Bill C-210, introduced by my colleague from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. It is not the first time that he has introduced this particular bill. In fact, he did so two years ago and it died on the Order Paper.
In his usual inimitable way of being very proactive, determined and dogged in pushing forward priorities on behalf of working people and children in our society, he reintroduced the bill, which is today in its second hour of debate. Very simply, we are dealing with an amendment to the Income Tax Act that would allow the deduction of fees paid by an individual for the participation of a family member in amateur sport or physical activity.
I noted with interest that the previous speaker critiqued the bill by saying this was a tax deduction for physical activity with sports involvement, but why was there no advocacy for lower taxes? It seems to me that typically the Conservative member has totally missed the point of the bill.
The bill is about addressing the reality that we have a major challenge in this country. As parliamentarians we have a major responsibility to be addressing ourselves not just rhetorically and with empty words but in concrete measures to deal with the issue of health promotion and prevention of ill health.
This is not just about families having more dollars in their pockets. This is about recognizing that it makes perfect sense to give people the opportunity, by financially removing the barriers for lower income families, to enroll either as adults or their children in sports activities that are specifically part of a comprehensive health care strategy.
I was very pleased on Tuesday, honoured in fact, to have the federal leader of the New Democratic Party in my Province of Nova Scotia launch the health care platform of the New Democratic Party.
I know the government is pushing off an election for as long as it thinks it can possibly do so. One cannot blame it for that because its focus is entirely on how to clean up its image in view of the scandals. Somehow then, it will make a run for it in an election campaign, where it has somehow persuaded people that it simply came back to life and discovered a lot of things it has been neglecting. In fact, it has been tearing things down for the past 10 or 11 years.
The reality is we are going to have an election. The election campaign is already underway. The writ has not been issued, but Liberal cabinet ministers are flying around the country at public expense announcing electoral goodies and gimmicks. The election is underway and that is why we have launched our health care platform.
I think this serves as one concrete example. It is not exhaustive. It is not going to change the state of health of the entire population. However, if we are serious about promoting good health and healthy fitness activity, then we should ensure that it is not denied to families who are going to have difficulty paying for the registration of, for example, a child participating in gymnastics at the YMCA or YWCA or a child joining a local sports team and so on. It is a very concrete measure.
The question has also been raised, and I welcome the question, about why this deals only with physical activity? Why does it not also deal with a proposed tax deduction for participation in artistic and cultural activities? This would also strengthen the health of our communities and give an opportunity for families to equally have access to that kind of participation for their own enrichment and creative development.
My colleague from Dartmouth introduced a similar private member's bill to achieve that. Of course, the Liberals voted it down, as they would no doubt on this occasion as well if we were having a vote today. This is a vote that will not take place today. I think that is obvious, but would be carried forward.
I regret to say that I see no sign that we have that kind of support from Liberal members for this measure to provide for a tax deduction for those participating in sports activity, any more than they were prepared to provide that kind of recognition for the involvement in artistic and cultural activity. One aspect was to strengthen the body and the health of the individual. The other was to support the mind, body and spirit through artistic and cultural activity.
I know some people are skeptical when they look at a private member's bill like this. They say, “Oh well, what is the point anyway in an opposition member introducing a private member's bill?”
The member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore has demonstrated on several occasions the value of members introducing a private member's bill, and keeping at it and at it until it finally finds its way into public policy.
Let me mention a parallel private member's bill. It can be seen as one that acts in parallel to the bill that has been introduced here. It deals with the compassionate leave provisions that are actually now in the process of being implemented.
One of the things about being in opposition is that a member has to be prepared to be stubborn, persistent, and constantly out there trying to persuade the public that this is something that can be dealt with. Finally, the government gets it sometimes.
It finally gets it because one of the things that we do as New Democrats is encourage people to ensure they let the government members know when they do support a private member's bill. In the instance of the provision for compassionate leave, this was an absolute passion for the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.
He kept coming back and back to the government, saying it was surely revolting for family members--in the final days and weeks, and we believe it should be months--of loved ones coming to the end of their life, facing terminal illness or in palliative care, not to be at their side because financially it was prohibitive for them to leave employment.
The government finally responded to this pressure, albeit inadequately and not as comprehensively as it should have. It has provided for six weeks of such passionate care. We believe that six months should be the minimum.
We think the bill should be extended so that it is not just the immediate parent or spouse of a dying relative, but the family member in the family unit who is in a position to leave employment and be there providing that care.
Let me return by way of wrap up to the specific tax deduction measure proposed here that would support healthy activity, participation in health promotion activity, physical activity, and involvement in sports to serve as a preventive measure in order to drive down the costs of health care. Those costs would get spent in the end because of chronic and acute illnesses that could have been avoided in the first place.
I urge all members to think about the plain good sense of this bill. The bill has a concrete application to a big problem that we have in this country. There is a very high and escalating health cost to care for people suffering from illnesses that could have been prevented through such measures.