An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Rodger Cuzner  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of March 7, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

June 12th, 2008 / 12:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

I've read the interpretation of both bills. And the fact of the matter is that the bill we voted against in the House only applied to paid volunteers. And what we have been trying to do with the previous Bill C-273 and this one is to deal with those unpaid volunteers who are out there.

June 12th, 2008 / 11:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

I know first-hand that the situation exists, certainly in Prince Edward Island, and I believe all members of this House representing rural constituencies can attest to communities in similar circumstances.

The final point is that the provisions of Bill C-219, which were raised in the previous legislation, Bill C-273, address the issue of equity in terms of the ability of volunteer emergency workers to recoup some of the expenses incurred. The least government can do is to provide a small degree of compensation in recognition of that contribution.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2008 / 2:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in this debate today. I want to congratulate my colleague from Malpeque for making sure that this issue gets the opportunity to raise its head again. It is one that has been around for a number of years. I had the pleasure in the last Parliament of introducing it as Bill C-273.

In clarification of some of the points brought forward by the parliamentary secretary, I stood shoulder to shoulder with the member for Malpeque, who seconded my private member's bill in the last session, as well as the member for Lethbridge, who is respected in this House for the work he has done on behalf of firefighters across the country. Under a previous government, he brought forward similar legislation.

We stood shoulder to shoulder. We went to committee to represent this bill. Tough questions were asked, but it was never defeated by the finance committee. If the parliamentary secretary remembers, Parliament was dissolved. We went to the polls. The writ was dropped and the legislation died on the order paper. That is the history of the bill. That is in essence what happened with Bill C-273, so let us be fair about that.

I certainly thought at the time that the House supported the intent of the bill. I thought it supported the principle of the bill. Certainly not everyone was in line. I know that in our caucus we had to educate some of the people from urban Canada. There were some comments made about members of my caucus who really did not support the bill and were concerned about the merits of the bill. I guess people who live in one of the bigger centres take for granted the fact that there is a professional firefighting service. When they go to bed at night, they believe there are professionals who are going to respond to the call.

What many of us in our caucus did was try to educate those people from the cities and show them that in rural communities this is not the way it is. The guys who respond to alarms in our communities are the same guys rotating tires at the local garage. They are the guys running cable and wiring houses. They are the guys and the women who are serving in any of the sectors of the economy, but when the pager goes off, they respond. These are the firefighters we have in so many of the rural communities. It is for these brave men and women that we stand here today. Hopefully we can get some support from the government on this bill.

In my own riding, I have 50 volunteer fire departments. I take any opportunity I can to go to an installation of officers or whatever the function might be in one of those fire departments. I have been to Inverness, Albert Bridge and Glace Bay. I was in Dominion last weekend, where Chief Hugh MacDonald brought seven new members into his department.

There is a consistency throughout these departments. We can see it. These firefighters consider themselves to be carrying the same weight as the professionals. They have the same responsibilities as professionals.

We place so many expectations on these men and women. There is an expectation that when the alarm and the pager go off, they are ready to respond, whether it is three o'clock in the morning or they are on the golf course with three of their friends. Whatever it might be, they are going to be there. There is that expectation.

There is the expectation that once they get to the scene of an accident or a fire they know exactly what to do. There is the expectation that they are as well trained as the professionals in the larger centres.

There is another expectation that sometimes we just see past and try to see through, and that is the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual expectation that we put on these individuals.

I have some friends who work with the Mira Road fire department, which has just acquired a new set of jaws of life. They did the fundraising and what had to be done to get this set of jaws of life and they did all the training involved.

Let us think about it. Let us say that two guys who are going about their business get the call. They respond to the call out on the highway bypass where there has been a head-on collision. They get out the jaws of life.

The expectation is that they respond to the call, know how to use the equipment that is there, go through the procedures and scrape a 17 year old kid off the dash of a car. We have an expectation that they are going to be able to leave that scene, deal with it emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and then go back to their day jobs. That is a very great expectation to put on volunteers.

I will put in my volunteer time, like most people in the House. Everybody has a volunteer background. I certainly spent enough time in the rinks across my riding coaching lacrosse, soccer and hockey over the last number of years. I hold in high regard those people who volunteer. That is what makes communities.

However, there is something different about these men and women we are discussing. They are the people who are running into the building when everybody else is running out. They deserve our respect. They deserve more than the average volunteer. They stand apart from every other volunteer. That is what this bill is all about.

They are not motivated in any way by financial reward. That is not what motivates somebody to join a volunteer fire department. They are motivated because they feel they can do something to help their community. They feel they are able to contribute to their community for the better.

I would hope that this small measure in some way would perhaps recruit, retain or reward those individuals who give of themselves on a regular basis over extended periods of time throughout their entire careers as volunteer firefighters.

I am disappointed with the actions of the government on this. I thought this was the time that the bill would proceed. I am sure that the member for Lethbridge is disappointed with this.

I hope the government can find its way to come through on this and support the bill. I know that the member for Lethbridge would be happy. I know that firefighters across this country, the men and women who volunteer from coast to coast, would be happy. I know that the people who hold them in such high respect in the rural communities of this country also would be very pleased.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2008 / 1:50 p.m.
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Macleod Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, this is an interesting discussion. I suggest for the hon. member for Malpeque, in response to his answer to my question, that perhaps the more effective role at that time, rather than voting no, might have been to suggest an amendment, which may have made the private member's bill better for the firefighters.

However, I welcome the opportunity to acknowledge in the House the tremendous work and the efforts of emergency service volunteers, especially volunteer firefighters. Firefighters put their lives on the line responding to emergencies at a moment's notice, as my hon. colleague has suggested, making our neighbourhoods safer. Every community and every Canadian benefits from their selfless acts of heroism.

That is why I was so pleased to see our government recognize in budget 2007 that firefighters must have the proper training to effectively respond to emergencies.

The government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, provided $1 million to the International Association of Fire Fighters to support the hazardous materials training program, a move hailed by IAFF general president Harold Schaitberger in a March 21, 2007 press release, as a major advance for public safety in Canada, one they thanked the government “for listening and for acting decisively on this issue”.

These men and women, for whose contributions we all will forever remain grateful, protect our families, homes, businesses and the communities in which we live. Consequently, some volunteer firefighters and other emergency service volunteers often receive honorariums, most commonly in the range of only a few hundred dollars, in recognition of their vital contribution to the community.

I am not sure what amount of money could ever truly compensate an individual for putting his or her life on the line for others. However, these honoraria are paid by municipalities and other public authorities.

Under the current income tax rules, emergency service volunteers can receive up to $1,000 in such honoraria without having to pay any tax on this amount. If a volunteer receives an honorarium that exceeds $1,000, he or she would only have to include the amount above the $1,000 in income. In other words, if the honorarium were $1,200, only $200 would be added to the volunteer's income for tax purposes.

This special treatment is well deserved. It is a way to recognize the crucial role played by emergency service volunteers across Canada, who routinely give of their time and put themselves in harm's way with virtually no expectation of payment and in doing so, exemplify all the traits that we respect and admire. This is especially true in our smaller rural communities and towns where volunteer firefighters play a vital role, which many in larger cities may not fully appreciate.

As columnist Robert Aaron once noted, and I will paraphrase, it is in these places where neighbours look out for each other, where they are willing to risk their lives for each other.

Mike Walsh, past president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, echoed that sentiment, remarking that volunteer firefighters “answer the call every day, literally putting their lives on the line for the people of their communities”.

A few Septembers back in my home riding of Macleod, I had the honour to be part of the High River Fire Department's 100th centennial gala. It truly was a memorable evening, as I heard first-hand of the contributions that our firefighters had made throughout the years, the good they had done, the sense of community that they had fostered, and I witnessed the respect and the admiration their neighbours felt for them.

This is why I always look forward to meeting with firefighters, such as the Lethbridge Fire Fighters Association, which myself, along with my colleague from Lethbridge, had the pleasure of sitting down with this past April. If I may take a moment, the member for Lethbridge has consistently been among Parliament's strongest advocates for firefighters and emergency service volunteers in his years in Ottawa, and I applaud him for that.

The legislation before us today seeks to recognize the importance of such emergency service volunteers, proposing a graduated income tax deduction that would see the size of the deduction increase with the number of hours volunteered.

To be more precise, emergency service volunteers would benefit from $1,000 deduction from income if they volunteered for over 100 hours or more and a $2,000 deduction if they volunteered at least 200 hours.

This issue is not new, though. In recent years very similar private members' bills, Bill C-325, introduced in the 37th Parliament, and Bill C-273, introduced in the 38th Parliament, similarly sought a deduction for emergency service volunteers based on hours volunteered.

I note, however, that Parliament declined to endorse both pieces of legislation. Indeed, the Standing Committee on Finance, after undertaking a thorough review of Bill C-273 in November of 2005, recommended that the House of Commons not proceed further with the bill based on a litany of concerns, such as: the definition of the term “volunteer emergency services” and what would it include; the definition of the term “emergency” and what it would be restricted to; the activities that would qualify in determining the number of hours of volunteering; the existence of accurate, reliable record keeping and reporting capacity to determine the number of hours of volunteer emergency services; the extent to which the number of hours of volunteer service in the proposal had been set at the appropriate level; whether the authority responsible for keeping records would be a municipal authority or an entity approved by the municipality; whether the term “volunteer” would be synonymous with unpaid; the relative merits of a tax deduction versus a refundable or non-refundable tax credit; the extent to which provincial, territorial tax revenues would be affected by the proposed measure; and the extent to which this type of measure should be designed, only following consultation with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Many of these concerns are still present in the legislation before us today and will require further examination as we progress. Among them is the recurring question of fairness and equity that has arisen during previous incarnations of this debate. Basically the issue, as portrayed by certain observers, is whether this measure would be fair and reasonable from the perspective of other volunteers who also selflessly volunteer their time, but are not classified as emergency service volunteers. To illustrate this, examples of people who work in hospitals, or with people with disabilities, or with children in need are often evoked.

Ironically enough, in previous debates on similar legislation, it has traditionally been Liberal members who have made such claims. Indeed, on October 6, 2003, in this very chamber, the current Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine articulated just that when she remarked:

—I fear that the hon. member's proposition may go too far. While it is very generous toward emergency service volunteers, it may be perceived as being unfair to other taxpayers who are also volunteers.

I recognize that emergency service volunteers want to be recognized for what they do, but...I am concerned about the fact that we are asking the House to put a value on one type of volunteerism as opposed to others.

Clearly, as the House acknowledged previously, a rigorous examination surrounding the proposal outlined in Bill C-219 is merited as we move forward.

I think often of our volunteer fire departments in our own communities, those of us who have the privilege of representing rural ridings. As my hon. colleague from Malpeque mentioned, many who represent their constituents in the House have been volunteer firefighters.

We all agree that we need to look at this in the most appropriate fashion. However, we need to recognize that we have to be very cautious in picking winners and losers and who will receive a tax credit and who will not receive one.

I think of one of the individuals who actually opposed me in my nomination process in 2004, with whom I got to be very good friends, Gordon Colwell, from the town of Okotoks in my riding. He is an amazing, compassionate individual, one who is the prime example of the volunteers we are discussing here today.

We all have friends. There is the mayor of my hometown of Clareshome. He is a firefighter who spends countless hours involved in putting his life on the line for the rest of us.

I also had the experience just last fall of having a fire on my farm. I was not even present. I could not count the number of neighbours who arrived at my farm with water trucks and firefighting equipment. That begs the question, do we acknowledge and offer tax credits to those individuals who did not ask for it, who came to help?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2008 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker, I almost feel sorry for my colleagues opposite to have to listen to me. Everything happens at once I guess. Maybe it is that good things happen all at once, I do not know.

I certainly move that Bill C-219, seconded by my colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso be read the second time.

This private member's Bill C-219 is really about fairness. I am shocked at the approach that the Government of Canada took yesterday in trying to deny the opportunity for the bill to be debated.

However, in your ruling, Mr. Speaker, you agreed that the bill was proper and should be debated. Even though the government attempted in a backdoor way to deny volunteer firefighters and others a tax deduction, the Speaker ruled, I believe wisely, and hopefully this bill will pass and meet the needs of those volunteer firefighters and others.

The bill is about ensuring that those who serve their communities by placing themselves at risk, by sacrificing time from their families and from their businesses, will have that time honoured and given recognition.

Most significantly, Bill C-219 is about acknowledging one of the fundamental principles behind the success of our rural communities and indeed urban ones as well. It is volunteerism.

I am referring to those who are volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance attendants, those who volunteer for search and rescue operations, and all of whom are required to attend training sessions and actively participate in preparation for those activities.

The principle contained in the bill has been presented in previous private members' bills in the past. In 2005 the member for Cape Breton—Canso presented Bill C-273. In 2002 the member for Lethbridge presented Bill C-325.

It is fair to say that members of all parties in past debates have basically been supportive of this approach. I was pleased to support both of those bills and wish to extend thanks on behalf of the volunteer emergency workers. This legislation will assist those members by providing recognition to those volunteers for their efforts.

It is important to note that each of these bills received the support of the House and most recently, Bill C-273 received the support of the Standing Committee on Finance.

The reason this legislation has not been passed already is not I believe been because of any particular partisan political issue. What should be acknowledged is that members of Parliament from all political parties have agreed with this legislation. That was shown with the last bill.

The problem is this. The problem has been the bureaucrats at the Department of Finance. They seem to be finding any way to stymie this bill in its tracks.

We are the politicians. We are the people who should be making the decisions. That is why I was so shocked that the deputy House leader for the governing party tried to stop the bill again because there are many people in that party who support this approach to assisting firefighters and others who do good volunteer work.

The officials of the department have been able to provide numerous reasons why they cannot comply with the legislation. What we need in this town is common sense. We do not need 16 reasons why it cannot be done. We need one reason why it can be done and that is what we want the Department of Finance to do. It is to find that one reason and make it work.

Yes, there were questions in the finance committee the last time around. There are ways of addressing them and they need to be done, so that we can assist the volunteers in rural communities.

In terms of the specifics, Bill C-219 proposes the following: that the Income Tax Act be amended to allow voluntary emergency workers to deduct from their taxable income the amount of $1,000 if they performed at least 100 hours of voluntary service and $2,000 if they performed at least 200 hours of voluntary service. That needs to be done.

Many of us rub shoulders. In fact, some people in the House have been volunteer firefighters. It is not like being a volunteer at a club. I myself, a little over 24 years ago to be exact, had a major fire and there were four fire departments in the yard. It was a day in May. Many of those firemen were farmers, too, or businessmen. As soon as the buzzer went off on their belts, they were there. It did not matter whether they were baling hay or it was threatening to rain. They left and tended to the fire.

Those people ought to be recognized. They put their businesses in jeopardy. They leave their families. They leave their businesses, they leave their families, and they leave their farms to work for the benefit of others in the community.

Liberals had this problem as well when they were on the government side fighting for the contents of this bill. There already is a payment to firefighters along the lines of this bill, though not quite as high. It is called voluntary firefighters, but only voluntary firefighters receive an honorarium.

In my community volunteers do not receive an honorarium. They take the money out of their own back pockets for their training, to buy equipment, and to assist in fundraising. We absolutely have to recognize the volunteers and what they do.

The Library of Parliament, in a paper examining Bill C-219, stated:

The current Income Tax Act contains a provision exempting from taxation the first $1,000 received by an emergency worker for volunteer services performed as an ambulance technician, firefighter or a person who assists in search or rescue of individuals or in other emergency situations. Payment must be received from a government, municipality or a public authority. The emergency worker must not be regularly employed, or paid as an employee, for their services as an emergency worker by the government, municipality or the public authority. This exemption was enacted in 2001.

The premise behind this legislation is to ensure that those who do not receive an honorarium from a government, municipality or other public authority, and yet provide the same type of service, are also given a form of compensation for that participation. That is what the bottom line is.

We need to support those voluntary emergency services out there. The point of this legislation is to have the sections, which officials acknowledge are not there, implemented and become effective for what we could call volunteer volunteers.

The finance committee, in its examination, raised a number of questions. I do not have time to go through them, but all of the questions were technical. Some of them related to record keeping. That is easily done. We do not want to impose a paper burden on anybody in terms of the administration of this bill. That is not what we are asking for. Those records are kept by fire chiefs, in any event.

For heaven's sake, can the Minister of Finance or the deputy minister of finance or whoever is in charge of the bureaucracy at the Department of Finance not trust a fire chief who is willing to put his or her life on the line, to assist in the community? I would think so. Those answers can be found and they need to be dealt with so the bill can be implemented.

I would submit that one of the key roles of the Department of Finance, given the fact as has been demonstrated by research undertaken by the Library of Parliament, has already presented the fact that the Income Tax Act currently accepts the first $1,000 voluntary emergency workers receive from taxation. It should apply the same definition to the provisions of Bill C-219, that voluntary emergency workers, not paid emergency workers who do not receive an honorarium, receive the improved income tax deductions outlined in the bill.

To conclude, for all the reasons outlined, volunteer emergency workers are people in our rural and urban communities not paid for what they do. They put themselves at risk. They take training which costs money. They have to drive back and forth to fire halls and other places for that training and for weekly meetings, taking money out of their own pockets. They have to exercise and stay in shape with the costs of doing that and buying equipment. They have to go to emergencies on the call of the buzzer. It does not matter what they are doing, whether they are in the middle of a hay field, or attending to business, or selling a widget to a client.

Firefighters and other emergency workers need to be treated fairly. They need to be recognized for their efforts. Bill C-219 will give them that recognition and assist them a little bit financially. Certainly, their families would recognize and be more supportive of their activities if Bill C-219 would be passed and carried.

The best way to deal with this would be for the Minister of Finance to just put it in the budget and be done with it because many members support it in this House.

Bill C-219--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

February 1st, 2008 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on a point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning the need for Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), standing in the name of the hon. member for Malpeque, to be preceded by the adoption of a ways and means motion.

I wish to thank the hon. parliamentary secretary, as well as the hon. member for Malpeque and the hon. member for Mississauga South for their submissions on this matter.

On January 31, 2008, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons rose to argue that the provisions of Bill C-219 to allow volunteer emergency workers to deduct certain amounts from their taxable income needed to be preceded by the adoption of a ways and means motion because they would have the effect of replacing several tax relief measures enacted by Parliament following the adoption of the Budget Implementation Act, 2006. He contended that removing such alleviations of taxes would result in an increased tax burden on taxpayers.

In his response, the hon. member for Malpeque argued that on the contrary, Bill C-219 would reduce taxes, not increase them. He pointed out that a very similar bill in the last Parliament, Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service) had been accepted as being properly before the House and that there was no reason to judge it to be otherwise in the current session.

The Chair has carefully reviewed the provisions of Bill C-219. As has been pointed out, the bill provides for volunteer emergency workers to deduct certain amounts from their taxable income. It would thus reduce the amount of taxes payable. It does so by adding to, not replacing, parts of sections 60 and 60.02 of the Income Tax Act. Let me explain.

It is true that these same sections of the Income Tax Act were amended by the Budget Implementation Act, 2006, but those amendments dealt with very different issues than Bill C-219. Specifically, they provide tax relief in relation to the universal child care benefit, the Canada Disability Savings Act and income splitting for seniors.

On reflection, I believe that the House will conclude with the Chair in the first place that the sponsor of the bill could not have intended to amend provisions which did not even exist at the time of the introduction of his bill, Bill C-219.

Furthermore, Bill C-219 does not explicitly repeal provisions of the Income Tax Act, nor does it concern in any way the issues addressed in the subsequent amendments brought by the Budget Implementation Act, 2006. Instead, the bill deals with deductions for volunteer emergency workers.

In light of this, the Chair simply cannot accept the arguments put forward by the hon. parliamentary secretary. If and when the bill is referred to committee, the Chair has no doubt that any clause numbering inconsistencies will be corrected.

Accordingly, I find that Bill C-219 is properly before the House and that debate on the motion for second reading may commence as planned.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2005 / 5:20 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I would like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 97.1(2) I am designating Wednesday, November 30, 2005, as the day fixed for the consideration of the motion to concur in the 19th report of the Standing Committee on Finance. This report contains a recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-273, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service).

I am designating Thursday, December 1, 2005, as the day fixed for the consideration of the motion to concur in the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. The report contains a recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-283, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

November 21st, 2005 / 3:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of presenting, in both official languages, the 19th report of the Standing Committee on Finance.

Your committee has considered Bill C-273, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service). Pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, your committee recommends that the House of Commons do not proceed further with the bill.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

September 28th, 2005 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties concerning the recorded division scheduled for later this day on the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Finance and I believe you would find consent that the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Finance, concerning an extension of time for the consideration of Bill C-273, be deemed concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

September 27th, 2005 / 3:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-273, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, deduction for volunteer emergency services.

The committee is requesting an extension of 30 sitting days to consider Bill C-273, an act to amend the Income Tax Act.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2005 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to stand today in support of Bill C-273. It is great to see that all parties in the House are in favour of the bill.

I must say I was in support of this issue the last time it was before the House. I hope that this time the finance department will listen to the House and do something that is correct.

As I stand here today I hope I am not in conflict because I am a former volunteer fireman. For 14 years I was a member of the Downie-Ellice fire department. I was very proud to be part of that great group. I know how disappointed those firefighters were the last time when the motion to give some income tax relief was defeated in the House.

It has been mentioned here a couple of times that some of the remuneration that might be received by volunteer firefighters or volunteers in the service industry has to be added to their income tax forms at the end of the year. Sometimes that will put the person into a higher tax bracket. I do know that some people who made maybe $1,400 or $2,000 as volunteer firemen added that amount to their income and it put them into a higher bracket. They had to pay $2,500 more in income tax, which meant that it cost them $500 just to be volunteer firemen. Not only in recognition for the fine work they do but also in fairness, as they sometimes put themselves in peril, they should at least be reimbursed for their expenses.

Volunteer fire departments sometimes do not have all the equipment that they might want to have. I can remember after being at one particular fire for the better part of a day, there were dirty hoses lying all over the place and there was really no way to get them back to the fire hall. A lot of volunteer firemen own pickup trucks, so they brought their trucks to the scene, threw all the dirty hoses into the backs of their trucks and took them back to the fire hall. Needless to say those trucks are not owned by the fire department and the volunteers are not reimbursed for that service. That is an example of the things that volunteer firefighters do.

Volunteer firefighters and volunteers in other service groups, become families. They are trained as pairs and work with partners.

I have always said that I resigned from the fire department because I got a little bit heavy and I did not want to put--

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2005 / noon
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Liberal

Andy Savoy Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-273. Like the member who spoke previously, I would like to congratulate the member for Cape Breton--Canso, the member for Lethbridge, and the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore on this wonderful bill. It shows a true commitment to rural Canada.

It is said that the wisdom of children is not always apparent, but when I ask my children who their heroes are in life, unfortunately they do not respond that their heroes are politicians. They respond that their heroes are firefighters, members of our police forces, nurses, doctors, people who support our society, people who take care of our society, people who protect society. In that case children's wisdom is very pertinent. I think all Canadians support that the people who protect us and spend a lot of time on call, 24 hours a day in the case of volunteer firefighters, are critical for rural Canada.

In the Mactaquac region of my riding an ambulance service was being considered for discontinuance. Thirty members of the community came together, took their training and became emergency first responders on their own. They are volunteers who work shifts, on weekends and during the week. Thirty normal citizens have come together to do this. It certainly shows a true commitment to their rural community. That is a case of first responders.

If we look at rural Canada in general, in my riding of Tobique—Mactaquac the two largest towns have 6,000 people and the rest of them are anywhere from 300 to a few thousand. A lot of them have volunteer firefighters. Much of the quality of life in rural Canada that we enjoy is dependent upon volunteers. Within my riding there are thousands of volunteers at various levels.

Probably the most critical volunteers in terms of quality of life in a rural community are our firefighters. In deciding on where they are going to relocate, people look at health care. People in rural Canada travel distances for health care. Education similarly requires travel. Recreation has the same situation with economies of scale. It is sometimes difficult to have the level of services that are available in urban Canada.

The key services that people consider are policing and fire fighting when relocating to rural Canada. We have to look at the quality of life in rural Canada and how we can support it. Bill C-273 is very important because it does that. It reinforces volunteerism specifically for our emergency services whether they be firefighting or emergency response. The bill not only speaks to the volunteer firefighters but it speaks to the quality of life in rural Canada.

As I said, there are hundreds of volunteer firefighters in my riding, but in general, volunteers in rural Canada are very critical. Volunteers face stressful situations. These people put their lives on the line many times. They will go into situations where they will see an infant die or they will see people who lose family members through fire or other accidents. Volunteer firefighters and first responders go through very stressful situations. The impact it has on an individual's psyche warrants the passage of Bill C-273.

The 24 hour on call was mentioned. That is critical family time for people with children. The volunteers know when they go on a call it could put them into danger and it could be jeopardizing their own family. It is not just the volunteers who make sacrifices. The volunteers' families make sacrifices as well. This must be recognized. Not only is there the safety aspect but there are the stresses on the family life as well.

We have all been wakened up by the sounds of sirens at night. We can often picture the destinations of the volunteer firefighters and first responders, fires and situations where their lives will be put in grave danger.

I live beside the beautiful Tobique River. I was playing with my daughter on the front lawn one afternoon when the sirens went off. Across the river we could see a number of emergency response vehicles, including a fire truck. My daughter asked me what the sirens were about and I said that when there are sirens, people are responding to people in need. She asked what that meant. My daughter is five years old and does not have a concept yet of emergencies. I said it could be a fire or a number of different situations but the people riding in the vehicles are the people who protect us. That is when she asked if they are our heroes and I said yes, they are the heroes in our communities.

It made me think of the wisdom of children. It made me think of our emergency responders and firefighters. They do so much for Canada's rural communities. They do so much for our quality of life.

Those individuals make a financial commitment as well. There is a variety of set-ups across Canada in terms of volunteer firefighters. Some are given virtually nothing and they still volunteer their own time and money to perform that great service for their communities. We have to look at the situation where they are not only volunteering time but they are also putting their money on the line.

During the year of the volunteer the UN studied volunteerism around the world. We know from that study on volunteerism around the world that Canada was rated number one in terms of people volunteering their time, and number one in terms of people volunteering their money. Volunteer firefighters are the backbone of the volunteer community. They have to be recognized for that.

That is why Bill C-273 is so important. It talks about the volunteering of time, because time has a cost to it. Not only that, it speaks to the money volunteers are committing, whether it be in terms of equipment, the gasoline they use to get to the emergency situations or the time lost away from work. Fortunately in rural Canada many employers recognize the necessity of volunteer firefighters and they give volunteers time off. We have to understand there is a sacrifice for taking time off. It may not be financial, but there often is a sacrifice when people miss critical times at their jobs.

In closing, I speak in full support of Bill C-273. It is very critical to the quality of life in rural Canada. It is critical to recognize the time that volunteer firefighters and emergency response personnel take. It is very important to my children and their heroes in their communities.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2005 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Malpeque P.E.I.

Liberal

Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-273 which is a private member's bill that is basically similar to one that I had proposed in the last Parliament. After consultations and the approval of all parties in the House, this legislation has been very much improved.

I congratulate the member for Cape Breton--Canso, the member for Lethbridge, and the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore for their efforts in terms of improving this bill. These amendments have modernized this bill by ensuring that the level of compensation through the deductions permitted is increased to a more appropriate level.

The purpose of the bill is to provide some direct financial compensation for those who have made a commitment to sacrifice their time away from their families and their businesses to assist others in their communities in an emergency.

The provisions in Bill C-273 are about ensuring equity through the extension of tax benefits for those in a large number of rural communities who volunteer their time as firefighters or other emergency services and receive no honorarium for the time they have committed to those services or for the risks they have taken.

Currently, the federal government will provide, through the tax system, a benefit to volunteer firefighters or other emergency volunteers on the basis of an honorarium received; however, those who receive no such benefit or no such honorarium are not given that recognition through the tax system.

In fact, previously, when the current measure, that is given to those who have an honorarium, was brought in by the now Prime Minister and former minister of finance, many of us were under the belief that it would apply to all firefighters and emergency workers whether or not they received an honorarium, but that was not the case. This bill is designed to remedy that inequity. It is extremely important that this inequity is in fact straightened out.

Bill C-273 would amend the Income Tax Act to ensure that volunteer emergency firefighters and workers are able to deduct from their taxable income up to $1,000 for 100 hours of service and $2,000 for 200 hours of service. The intent of the legislation is to begin by ensuring a level of equity with all those who provide emergency volunteer services with a view to improving the system in the future.

There are some who would argue that this should apply to all volunteers, whether it is a Boy Scout leader or some other situation. The reason this bill does not go that far is because those volunteer emergency workers and firefighters are on call at the buzz of a beeper. They cannot organize their time around a family event or around their work. These individuals, who are involved as emergency firefighters, carry a beeper on them 24 hours a day. When the call comes, they go. They do their work to ensure that they assist their communities to put out a fire, assist in terms of an accident, or whatever.

Beyond that, they have training that they must go to, which they can schedule and it is not at the drop of a hat. They have equipment to purchase and it is a substantial financial burden to those individuals. This measure would certainly recognize them for those efforts and give them some assistance in terms of their taxes in order not to draw on the incomes of families as a result of the efforts they are making for their communities.

There is no question that the Department of Finance is concerned about the process by which tax measures such as this are addressed. It is being debated in the House. The department does not dispute the merits of what is contained in this bill or the merits of other private members' legislation that are concerned about this process. According to the Department of Finance, the proper procedure for tax changes to be made is in the budget.

I explained a moment ago that we thought we had this measure in the 1996-97 budget, somewhere along there. Somehow someone within the Department of Finance changed it, so that it only applied to volunteers with honorariums.

I come from a rural area and we consider volunteers to be real volunteers. Those people do the same kind of work as others who receive an honorarium. The only difference is that they do it at greater costs to themselves personally.

I would say to the Department of Finance that, yes, we are in this process in this House now because the Department of Finance failed to address the measure when we asked it to previously. We have all party support. The House of Commons is basically demanding that this goes through. We are demanding that the Department of Finance recognize that this is a serious matter. It is serious to volunteer firefighters. It needs to be addressed by the Department of Finance in a way that those people have that tax benefit as well. If there were a commitment by the Department of Finance to accept the provisions of the legislation as proposed, we would not have to go this route today.

As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food with responsibilities for Rural Development, I strongly support this effort. Those who volunteer are on 24 hour notice. They are committed to leaving family and business to assist neighbours in trouble and they are prepared to take risks in doing so.

I have had some personal experience with firefighters. It is almost 20 years ago that I had a major fire. There were three volunteer fire departments at the fire. Most of those people were farmers or small businessmen. At the drop of a hat, they had to leave on a nice spring morning, when they were trying to get a crop in the ground the same as I was, and some of them spent 30 hours on site. There were three volunteer fire departments dealing with what was for me personally a major fire.

They drew away from their business and their time to assist me and my family in terms of our difficulties. They do it quite often to assist others in the communities in terms of the tragedies that often occur. They absolutely deserve to be recognized for their efforts. They also need the tax measures to assist them in terms of the extreme costs that some of them face in terms of their efforts as voluntary firefighters.

Bill C-273 has received unanimous support in the House. Members supported amending the bill on the floor of this chamber to ensure that voluntary firefighters will be able to have their service recognized. We have expanded the number of hours from 50 to 100 hours and from 100 to 200 hours, and have replaced the amount of $500 with $1,000 and the amount of $1,000 with $2,000.

One of the most critical components of rural communities is the volunteerism which supports some of the most important activities vital to community life. It is incumbent upon politicians of all political parties to look carefully at measures which can assist those residing in rural communities, to be able to provide the necessary services similar to the level of service which urban communities take for granted.

This bill meets that commitment. I appeal to all in the House and I especially appeal to the Department of Finance to take the direction from this House in ensuring that what is proposed in Bill C-273 becomes the law of the land, so that those volunteer emergency workers and volunteer firefighters are treated with recognition, honour, and respect, and that they be given the benefits in the tax system that they are absolutely entitled to.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2005 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on Bill C-273, to amend the Income Tax Act to allow a tax deduction for volunteer emergency workers. I am especially proud since, as a former mayor of a smaller municipality, I had the opportunity to work with some of these men and women—because many women are now joining community emergency services—who do not hesitate to give up time to help their fellow citizens.

All too often, in smaller communities, they are paid on an hourly rate fee for service basis. When I speak of smaller communities, we could easily think of municipalities with a population of 10,000 and under, which cannot afford to pay anyone, be it firefighters or other citizens, on a full time basis. So, they rely on the goodwill of men and women who have the calling. One has to have seen these men and women at work, as volunteer firefighters, rescuers or ambulance technicians, for example, to understand that it is often out of passion that they go out and help their fellow citizens.

The purpose of this bill is to permit tax deductions for the men and women who perform between 50 and 100 hours of service as volunteer ambulance attendants, volunteer firefighters, or volunteers in search and rescue activities or other emergency situations. If they render 50 to 100 hours of service, they will be eligible for a $1,000 income tax deduction. If they perform more than 100 hours service, the deduction will be $2,000.

That is just and fair. Often the remuneration offered to such people by small towns and villages, per hour or intervention, is added to taxable income. As we know, income tax rates are graduated. Thus, our tax bracket goes up as our income goes up, and the percentage of income tax paid increases with income. As a result, at the end of the year, these sums are added to the annual salary of these people when they file their tax returns.

These people are volunteers. Therefore we presume that performing such services for their communities is not their main employment. They have other jobs, and often the pay for those jobs is taxed at the highest rates, come the end of the year. This tax deduction will make it very easy for them to be fairly compensated for the emergency services they have provided to their fellow citizens.

It goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois supports this legislation. We hope that it will be passed at the earliest opportunity. We are talking about volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance technicians, volunteers who take part in search or rescue operations, but there are also many other types of emergencies.

In Quebec, for example, we experienced the infamous ice storm. Of course, that required phenomenal cooperation across Quebec, with everyone helping everyone else. Of course, situations such as the ice storm are unique, but they help people get to know each other better. In many cases, people got to know their neighbours by helping one another.

Therefore, it would be fitting to adopt this bill and allow these men and women who are prepared to give some of their time for the well-being of their fellow citizens in emergency situations to get a tax deduction if they get paid.

Again, performing between 50 and 100 hours of service in emergency situations would give them a tax deduction of $1,000. Beyond 100 hours of service associated with such situations, they would get a $2,000 deduction.

We really must recognize this service. This is a good way for members of this House to salute the work of our fellow citizens who give their time for what is truly a vocation. I had the opportunity to meet the reeve of the Papineau regional county municipality and the men and women who were volunteer firefighters in the 26 communities of the RCM. To act as volunteer firefighters or volunteer ambulance technicians is a vocation for these individuals.

In Quebec, we are currently upgrading fire services. The requirements are high. A framework for risk coverage was approved by every RCM in Quebec. We are increasing courses and training for these people. They must enjoy providing these services to their fellow citizens and they must also be trained to do so.

These people have to dedicate a lot of time to these services, even though they work full time in other areas and are otherwise busy in their daily lives. Moreover, they use some of their time to take courses, which is not always easy to do. They must spend almost 400 hours in classes over a given period of time.

However, the fact remains that volunteer firefighter or ambulance technician training or training for other emergency service providers is now included in the safety coverage plan. Training is essential. Emergency workers love their jobs and that is primarily why they are doing them. They want to serve the people in their communities.

However, I would say that it is less fun than it used to be. There is more training, which requires a greater time commitment. In terms of getting a tax credit for this income, I know that many municipalities remunerate such individuals for the time they spend training. The fact still remains that this bumps up their income and puts them in a higher tax bracket. However, when tax time rolls around, it is not easy when they report the amounts they received from the municipality for training and for the emergency work they provided during the year and they realize that, ultimately, they owe the government money because they received additional income.

So, yes, I believe that the measure before us today is extremely appropriate. These individuals deserve a tax credit as compensation for their service to the community. It would be a nice way for the members of this House to thank these individuals for the work they have done and are doing for our communities.

Clearly, the Bloc Québécois strongly supports this initiative, Bill C-273, particularly as amended and improved because, initially, the amounts were $500 and $1,000. They have been increased to $1,000 and $2,000. Obviously, we strongly support this and it is a pleasure for us to do this for our constituents, the men and women who have given and who continue to give their time to provide emergency assistance to their communities. This is a fitting initiative and I hope that the House will adopt it without further delay, so that our constituents can take advantage of it next year.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2005 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill as I spoke to the predecessor bill put forward by the member for Lethbridge.

It has been a very tragic week, and tragedy has struck in my part of the country as well. Contact was lost with a Beaver float plane which left Campbell River last week with a pilot and four young men who were going to work in the coastal inlets. The waters are now being searched for the plane as we are certain that is where it went down. I have had a lot of contact with the RCMP, the Department of National Defence and one of the families who had two sons on board. These are very tragic circumstances, along with the death of the four members of the RCMP in Alberta. I think people at home are feeling very much like they have had their hearts ripped right out of them.

Once again we are faced with a search and rescue operation that involves a lot of people, many of them volunteers, who are actually willing to do what search and rescue personnel and volunteer firefighters do, which is go to places where there is need. They go to emergencies. They create the circumstances where we can all feel safer or where we can be comforted that there are people who are actually willing to dedicate themselves to do those things that need to be done in an organized fashion and who are, very often, particularly in rural circumstances, volunteers.

This legislation attempts to give some form of recognition to those volunteers who do so much for our communities. As a matter of fact, I do not think many small communities would be in existence were it not for this spirit of volunteerism. Certainly it would not be a choice that people would make as easily as they currently do.

During the last Parliament, when I spoke to the predecessor legislation that led to this bill, I talked about the volunteer fire department in the community of Cumberland in my riding. It had just sent a volunteer team of firefighters to Ottawa who represented western Canada in the auto extrication competition. It was the world championships which were held for the first time ever in Canada, and it just happened to be here in Ottawa the week before the bill was presented here.

Our little community of 2,700 people not only managed to send a volunteer team to Ottawa, but it was the only Canadian team to win an award. These volunteers were up against fully financed, professional, full time firefighters from all over North America and, in some cases, Europe. It was quite an amazing bit of business.

That fire department has quite the history. It is the oldest volunteer fire department in British Columbia, getting its start in 1892 rescuing men from local coal mines. Since then it has been quite the foundation for building and rebuilding this tight knit community.

Fire chief Ken McClure is quoted as saying:

There's a real sense of camaraderie that goes with serving the community many of us grew up in. These people have got heart. Many of these people juggle family, full time work and firefighting while still finding time to coach baseball and play Santa at Christmas.

That is really what this is all about. The membership list for that fire department now consists of grandfathers, fathers, sons, and daughters in one case, all walking in the same big boots.

In 1933 there was an incredible fire in the business district in this community. I would like to quote from a story written about that fire:

Rumour has it the path of the fire was broken by resident Frank “Cracky” Crawford when he was enlisted to blow up the Royal Bank. Remarkably, there were no casualties.

Those are the kinds of colourful stories that come from the wonderful community of Cumberland and which display the type of behaviour and precedent that has led to the current situation where we have these very dedicated volunteers doing things that are creative and, in some cases, life threatening, with no personal financial reward whatsoever.

What this bill would do is create a circumstance where, in some small way, the government would recognize what these volunteers are doing and would provide a small financial contribution through a tax deduction on their taxable income for hours of service in this category. That is why many of us are now starting to get correspondence from emergency service providers in our communities.

The private member's bill that we are currently debating is Bill C-273 which was put forward by the member for Cape Breton--Canso. Volunteers give their time and effort to ensure their friends and neighbours are not alone when emergencies arise, whether these incidents are fires, accidents, medical emergencies, national disasters or terrorism. This has certainly come home to me and to many of us in many ways during this past tragic week in Canada.

There is no question in my mind that we should all support the bill. It would provide a $1,000 tax deduction from income for 100-plus volunteer emergency service hours in a year and $2,000 for anything in excess of 200 hours.

The member for Lethbridge who put forward the predecessor bill with respect to this issue is certainly happy to co-sponsor the bill. I believe the bill has all party support. Speedy passage at this time would be a small measure signalling to these people that the Government of Canada does value what they do in a major way. I am happy to lend my support to this most important bill.