Mr. Speaker, you caught me just a touch off guard, but I do thank you for the recognition.
First, on behalf of my family and my constituents of Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, we want to recognize the two fallen soldiers, who in reality are our greatest volunteers. Those people who volunteer for our armed services and put their lives on the line for us show true valour and earn our enduring recognition. Coming from Holland, where my parents were liberated by the sacrifices of the Canadian military, let me say that we forever shall remember them.
In regard to the bill of my colleague from Alberta, I fully support his initiative. As has been stated in many other debates, if it were not for volunteers in this country we would be a lot worse off than we are now. I came here from Halifax this morning after seeing the devastation done by hurricane Juan. Although we have emergency services and work crews doing the very best they can, if it were not for the volunteer efforts of people from the Red Cross and many others, we certainly could not get the job done, especially for seniors or people who are having a very difficult time without the services of water and electricity. For that, they should be congratulated.
That is why this bill is very fitting. We need to ensure that people who volunteer are recognized not only with awards or plaques, and not with platitudes, but with a small remuneration.
Many friends of mine are members of the Lions Club. On their own time, many of them from Sheet Harbour drive people into the city to see their doctors and for various appointments. It is a good hour's drive. This costs them a great deal of money. We believe that a small remuneration through the tax system would greatly offset this. Also, it would encourage volunteers, because we know that these volunteers will just put that money right back in again.
It falls in line with three of my own private members' bills. One we are going to debate tomorrow is on fees for amateur sports, whereby people who register for amateur sports, either for themselves or their children, should be able to claim that sport registration fee. It should be similar to a charity tax donation. As we know, if people are physically active and if they remain competitive, either in sports or in individual concerns, they will reduce the costs to our health care system along the way, and a healthy nation is a prosperous nation.
As well, I have Bill C-207, not yet up for debate, which states that volunteers who give 250 hours of their time or more a year should be able to claim a $1,000 tax deduction. The bill we are currently debating offers up to $3,000. I would love to see that. I would have loved to raise the amount in my own bill, but the reason I left it at $1,000 was to make it more palatable for the government. In opposition, we MPs constantly lobby and we throw what we call softballs over to the government, saying, “Here is an idea. Why not run with it and make it happen?” As my colleague from Alberta knows, in the end people do not care who comes up with an idea as long as it is initiated and helps them. That is why the hon. member from Alberta should be congratulated for this bill.
We have another bill as well, Bill C-296, also on the Income Tax Act, through which people who volunteer in certain organizations such as the Lions Club, for example, or the Kiwanis club or the Rotary Club et cetera, would be allowed to have the dues paid to be part of that club completely tax deductible. For example, a Lions Club member in my riding who pays an annual fee of $50 a year should be able to claim that amount as a tax deduction. Those who volunteer their time should not be financially penalized for volunteering. This would be just another small recognition from the government and members of Parliament of the great efforts of volunteers in our country, let alone our greatest volunteers, of course, those who join our armed forces.
The purpose of the bill is not just about the $3,000 the member is proposing. He is talking about the actual recognition and the value that we place on volunteerism in this country. I remember the debates last year; in Nova Scotia alone we estimate that volunteer efforts produce about $2 billion for our GDP. When volunteer efforts are calculated in a monetary sense, that is the value to Nova Scotia. That is incredible.
Coming from the maritimes, we are very proud of the tradition of volunteerism. I know many people who are members of the Lion's Club, the Knights of Columbus and the local legion. In Eastern Passage we are proud to say that we have the Buffalo Club. There are not many of those associations throughout the country but it is an organization that does a lot of good by raising and distributing funds throughout communities to those who are most in need.
We saw the value of community efforts and volunteerism when governments, such as the government of Mike Harris, started cutting back on programs that Canadians and Ontarians value. When governments cut back on those programs people have to rely upon the efforts of volunteer groups.
I can recall the shame that I felt many years ago when the minister of health at that time, Jamie Muir, in the province of Nova Scotia, cut back on a program that covered the costs of people who drove their children, whether they were diabetic or whatever, from Parrsboro, for example, to the IWK hospital in Halifax to keep appointments. If the child had an appointment the parents could claim a certain mileage. For example, if it were 400 kilometres return they could claim that as an expense. The provincial government seriously thought about cancelling that program.
I will never forget the comment by Mr. Muir, attributed to him in a quote, who said that maybe those people could rely on the good graces and services of the Lion's Club. In other words, the government no longer would be there for people and they would have to try a service club, the volunteers. I thought that was completely uncalled for but at least Mr. Muir was honest.
What happens when governments cut programs, be it municipal, provincial or federal, is that people who rely on those services have to then fall upon service agencies like the United Way, the Lion's Club, the Kinsmen Clubs and others.
I know my hon. colleague from Yukon is well-known throughout the Yukon for his many volunteer efforts, unselfishly I may add. I have many friends in Yukon who are very proud of their member of Parliament for the relentless effort that he gives to volunteers. He will walk down the street and help out, do anything at all, without asking anything for himself. That is the kind of people we have throughout the country from Yukon to Nova Scotia to Newfoundland to B.C.
Volunteerism is really the backbone of a society. It is who we are. Offering volunteers a small $3,000 remuneration through the tax system would be a small way of saying “right on, good, and let us carry on”. Many people think it is not enough, and I know the government treasury has certain limits, but this is something I think everyone would support. It is something that we in the NDP are proud to support.