An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs)

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

Sponsor

Caroline St-Hilaire  Bloc

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

Status

Not active, as of Sept. 28, 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.

Public TransitOral Questions

October 3rd, 2005 / 2:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, most parliamentarians in this place have given their support to passage on second reading of Bill C-306, which proposes a tax credit for users of public transit. Spiralling gas prices, highway congestion and air pollution all point to the urgency of taking action to encourage greater use of public transit.

Can we not only count on government support to accelerate the passage of this bill at all stages, but also on its commitment to implement the bill promptly once passed?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2005 / 7:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to add my voice to that of my colleague from Alfred-Pellan, whose riding is not unlike mine.

It gives me great pleasure to speak today on Bill C-306, which was introduced by my colleague, the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher. I salute her determination and perseverance with regard to this file.

In 2001, a similar bill, Bill C-209, reached first reading and was well received by numerous stakeholders, including the Canadian Urban Transit Association, CUTA. Unfortunately, the then Liberal government did not support this opposition bill. So now, four years later, we are experiencing serious problems related to infrastructure, pollution and, now, the spiralling costs of fuel.

My constituents in Vaudreuil-Soulanges have expressed their dissatisfaction to me, and they expect the federal government to take concrete action. My colleague told the House about innovative initiatives in his riding. The Festival des couleurs will be held in my riding on October 8 and 9. I invite the people of Montreal to use public transportation and the commuter train service. This solution put forward by the Bloc Québécois is simple, practical and effective. I am certain that everyone agrees.

Recently, the Société de transport de Montréal, or STM, indicated a great interest in this issue. For the past 10 years, the STM and a broad coalition of organizations have been unsuccessfully requesting that governments provide tax deductions for public transit users.

A tax credit compensating those who choose transportation habits more beneficial to the community and more responsible is but one option to encourage private vehicle users facing increasingly long traffic jams and urban problems such as parking shortages to jump on the band wagon.

In reaction to soaring gas prices, the Bloc Québécois recently proposed a series of measures, which included the tax credit for low income families and the tax credit for public transit users. By easing the burden of these families, we are also helping to prevent an economic downturn.

Monday night's emergency debate on the spike in gasoline prices was an opportunity for many of us to propose detailed solutions, such as a tax credit for public transit users.

Bill C-306 essentially provides Quebec and Canadian taxpayers with a tax deduction for the purchase of a pass in order to encourage them to make more use of the various modes of public transportation. The public must be encouraged to use modes of transportation that are far more economical and better for the environment, as well as contributing to reducing the traffic on our roads.

Such an initiative is long overdue. A number of countries are far ahead of Canada in their support of public transportation.

There have been a number of studies proving that it is very much in a community's interest to focus on the efficiency of its public transportation system for the sake of its competitiveness and prosperity. In order to gain full benefit from public transportation, moreover, the system must attract maximum ridership.

If people are encouraged to use public transportation, there is less pressure on urban infrastructure. The result is less investment in construction and repair, and improved traffic flow. This is good for both the economy and the environment.

The initiative proposed by Bill C-306 will attract new users. If the change can be made successfully, it will also help Canada achieve the Kyoto protocol objectives.

Earlier I was talking about the strategy to reduce pressure on transportation infrastructure. Allow me to give the example of the Université de Sherbrooke. Their innovative initiatives focus on the community choosing to make a firm commitment to use public transit. This fall, at the beginning of the new school year at the Université de Sherbrooke, roughly 5,000 students were given free passes to use the Société de transport de Sherbrooke, or STS, public transit. Instead of building more parking lots, the university recognized the long-term benefits of adopting a policy to encourage the use of public transit. In addition to stabilizing Sherbrooke's transportation network by increasing the student clientele from 16% to 20%, there is less congestion and more possibility for developing the university's property in the future.

A study by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal also found that congestion costs nearly $1 billion a year in the Montreal area alone and that public transit contributes directly to reducing losses incurred through congestion.

So, a 2% increase in the modal share of public transit means 19 million fewer car trips in the Montreal region. The economic benefits total more than $150 million annually. That is why it is important to promote the increased use of public transit. These are just a few, albeit very significant, examples.

However, there is one principle that we must keep in mind: the federal government must respect Quebec's jurisdictions.

There are many solutions to help public transit and reward users. The Bloc Québécois is proposing this tax measure, namely a tax credit that remains within federal jurisdiction.

I invite all members of this House to support Bill C-306. It has to with people's quality of life, environmental protection and economic vitality. Today's decisions will impact on the future.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2005 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

St. Catharines Ontario

Liberal

Walt Lastewka LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to private member's Bill C-306 which proposes to amend the Income Tax Act to provide an income tax credit for expenses incurred by individuals for public transportation.

As I understand the bill, eligible costs would include those incurred in travel by bus, subway, commuter train and light rail. To be eligible for a tax credit, individuals would need to submit supporting receipts indicating the amounts paid for use of an eligible public transportation system.

Let me start by emphasizing that the government supports encouraging more individuals to use public transportation systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, addressing the climate change challenge is one of the government's priorities and encouraging greater use of public transportation could certainly help us move toward this objective.

However, as stewards of the public purse, we, as members of Parliament, have a public responsibility to fulfill, the responsibility to ensure that the policies we put in place are in fact the best methods of achieving our goals. Although I agree with the intent of the bill, it is flawed. The consequences and the effects of the bill have not been considered and we should not be in the business of considering flawed legislation.

Regarding the specific option of a tax credit for public transportation costs, there are significant effectiveness and fairness considerations that need to be taken into full account before voting on the bill.

Let me take moment to explain some of the difficulties that the bill raises. As I stated, the bill is flawed and the thought process in presenting the bill has been insufficient.

Initial evidence has shown that a tax credit would have a limited impact on public transit usage. The federal government's transit pass pilot project has shown that only 10% of eligible participants actually took part and just over 5% of those participating were new to the system. Therefore, the pilot project attracted very few new users to the public transit system even with a financial incentive. This pilot project will be evaluated this fall and at the very least we should wait for the final analysis rather than drafting and passing legislation that is flawed.

We all know that the cost of public transit is one of many factors coming into play in an individual's transportation choice. Costs are weighed against other considerations such as accessibility, convenience, comfort and personal preference.

Ten thousand people leave the Niagara region and St. Catharines each and every day to work in the Hamilton and Toronto area. I would rather have infrastructure money to extend the GO Transit to Niagara Falls for the convenience of those people who would use and require such facilities. I am convinced that if there were $240 million to $300 million per year available, this would be a valuable thing to do.

In addition, for effectiveness we must also consider the fairness of introducing such a measure and the bill also fails on this ground. Indeed, the measure would mostly benefit individuals living in large urban centres with extensive public transit systems. Individuals living in small centres and rural Canada where accessible and convenient public transportation is not available would not benefit at all from this measure. Only three in ten of the communities in the Niagara region would benefit. What about the other seven?

The bill requires much more research. Nor would the measure benefit those Canadians who are already using more environmentally friendly modes of travel like walking and bicycling. For those people who have moved into an area and have the ability to walk or bicycle to work, would they get tax credits? These individuals also contribute to help achieve our environmental objectives and they would argue that they also deserve tax relief.

Modest income Canadians such as those receiving social assistance, the unemployed, seniors and students represent a good fraction of transit users, but would not fully benefit, if at all, from a tax credit as many of them do not pay income tax in the first place.

Moreover, there are other concerns about the bill as currently drafted. Let me elaborate. The bill appears designed to provide assistance for costs incurred for public transportation. However, the bill's definition of public transportation is very broad. It could potentially encompass costs incurred outside of Canada. I certainly hope that was not the member's intention.

Let me give some examples for illustration. For instance, based on the current wording, taxpayers could potentially claim a credit for vacation travel costs or travels by bus between cities. It could also cover the cost of local hop on and hop off tour buses. I know this was not the intention, but the bill needs a lot of work.

Imagine having taxpayers at large pay for others being able to claim their costs for having taken the London underground, for example, while on vacation. I know that was not the intent, but the legislation needs to be refined and worked over. Is it the hon. member's intention to cover these types of costs? I do not think so, but a lot of work needs to be done on the bill.

It is also important to remember that the government is pursuing a range of other initiatives which contribute toward better public transit and environmental goals. This includes initiatives such as infrastructure support, a new deal for cities and communities, and our climate change plan.

Since the mid-nineties, the federal government has invested $12 billion in infrastructure programs. A portion of this funding is going toward various transit projects. This includes funding for the Richmond airport; Vancouver rail transit lines; the GO Transit expansion to, hopefully, Niagara Falls some day; capital renewal at the Toronto Transit Commission; and light rail transit in Ottawa.

As well, the Minister of Finance announced in the 2005 budget a commitment of more than $5 billion over five years for environmentally sustainable municipal infrastructure, including public transit. This builds upon the federal government's commitment to deliver a full rebate of goods and services tax and the federal portion of the harmonized sales tax for municipalities. This will provide municipalities, including those seven that got left out in the Niagara region, with about $7 billion in new resources over the 10 years which they can use and they can choose to allocate toward transit priorities.

Last but not least, the federal government will be moving forward on climate change with a plan for honouring our Kyoto commitment which will guide the federal government's approach to reducing greenhouse gases. The 2005 budget targeted over $4 billion in investments over the next five years for key initiatives included in the plan. As a result, total federal spending in support of measures to address climate change has climbed to over $6 billion since 1997. The government is committed to do more as resources permit and as we learn from our investments in international experience.

I am sure all hon. members present today, like myself, would agree that increased use of public transportation systems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the question is whether providing tax relief for public transportation costs would be effective toward achieving this goal. To this question, I trust that hon. members will agree that the answer is a resounding no.

I want to thank the member who brought forward the debate tonight because it is debates like these which make the House productive.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2005 / 7 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill C-306, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs). The aim of this bill is to amend the existing legislation in order to allow an individual to obtain a tax credit for public transportation costs.

I congratulate my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for having introduced this bill, which satisfies one of the commitments I had made in the last election campaign.

My riding of Alfred-Pellan includes the entire eastern portion of the city of Laval and is located just north of Montreal. My riding is, however, extremely large, because its urban areas skirt a vast network of farmland. This rich farmland is protected by Quebec legislation, and my constituents are proud of this resource.

My riding has a still active and dynamic population and significant communication needs, given the distances between things. The addition of highways and bridges connecting Laval to Montreal has failed, to date, to successfully resolve problems with traffic jams. People have to leave home increasingly early in the morning in order to avoid running into traffic. Existing highways are nothing more than endless parking lots.

There has been a proposal for a new freeway between the eastern part of my riding and Montreal for 30 years. So far, the enthusiasm of our governments for this project has been tempered by the exorbitant cost. The current government has suggested a new project, although it is proposing to cover the costs through user tolls. It is not even certain that the tolls would be sufficient to cover the construction, operation and maintenance costs.

This project has been questioned by municipal authorities in Montreal. They want four major public transportation projects to be completed instead because Montreal's road system could not absorb the additional traffic. Quebec's transportation department estimates that between 48,000 and 62,000 drivers would use the new bridge every day. The reasons for Montreal's hesitations are certainly clear.

The Conseil régional de l'environnement in Laval has concluded that it cannot support this project, despite the economic benefits, because of its negative impact on health and the environment. Instead it recommends the creation of a Montréal-Laval-Mascouche commuter train to serve the same area.

In view of the lack of ideas from our governments for improving transportation networks, most people support this bridge project all the same, hoping once again that it will improve traffic.

Like Montreal, all big cities are realizing how effective public transportation is. With the recent, although insufficient, injection of public funds announced by the government in June, a few projects have been proposed.

It is true that the development of each urban area is the responsibility of the cities and provinces, and the Bloc has always insisted on respecting the jurisdictions of other areas.

While complying with this principle, the government can encourage public transportation directly through a user incentive that would give users a tax credit for the costs they incur.

I would like to cite a few examples to this effect.

In Europe, in November 2002, the Observatory on Transport Policies and Strategies studied the public transportation situation in the countries of the European Community.

In Belgium, for example, the federal sustainable development plan is the major environmental approach. The various stakeholders and politicians have already taken a number of measures to encourage sustainable mobility, and these measures have been integrated into the tax reform.

These measures include, for example, increasing the opportunity to deduct the cost of transportation from one's home to one's work when using public transit as well as providing a total tax exemption for employers' contributions to the cost of public transit passes.

Nearly 20 years ago, the U.S. government made the costs of public transit tax-exempt, in order to encourage people to use it. Public transit companies and private enterprise responded by adopting a strategy in which everyone came out a winner.

In November 2000, Bill 137 was introduced in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. This is a bill to amend the Income Tax Act, and also includes a tax deduction for users of public transit.

In connection with that bill, the municipal council of the City of Ottawa issued a decree that read as follows, “Public transit is an important public good for Ontario, which must be promoted.”

They went on:

By encouraging people to use public transit, many benefits result. For instance, harmful greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and traffic congestion and gridlock are eased because fewer motorists will be on our province’s roads.

In order to encourage people to use public transit, it is important to give them incentives. One way to achieve this is to permit taxpayers to obtain a non-refundable income tax credit for expenses incurred for using public transit.

The utility of the tax deduction for public transit was also recognized by representatives of Quebec Transport. The department made the following recommendation:

Recognize for tax purposes, as an income deduction for employees using public transit, an amount equal to the real cost of a standard monthly pass issued by public transit companies. Invite the federal tax authorities to follow suit.

Moreover, the present Government of Quebec is contemplating a measure similar to the one adopted by the previous government.

Now, I would like to talk about the cost-effectiveness of public transit.

According to a Secor study published in December by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, public transit generates double the economic benefits of private transport by car, by generating 70% more employment across Quebec and 2.5 times more added value on each dollar in expenditures.

In addition, collectively, Montreal households using public transit regularly save an estimated $570 million a year in travel expenses, because of the much lower cost of public transit as compared to transport by car.

According to the Secor study:

Paradoxically, the provincial and federal governments, which invest little in public transport, garnered more than $300 million in taxes and revenues from the activities of public transport companies, 70% of whose expenditures are employee wages.

There are up to 8 million daily trips in the region, with only $1.1 million provided by public transport, representing 16% of all daily trips.

Still, Quebeckers are among the greatest public transit users in North America, and soaring gas prices are encouraging them to use it more and more.

Last weekend, the Comité stratégique pour le train de l'est in Montreal planned a symbolic trip. A commuter train overflowing with passengers travelled from Repentigny to the Montreal central station in order to make elected officials aware of the need to provide service to eastern Montreal, which has no direct connection to downtown. Some 500 residents, business people and municipal politicians took the trip from Repentigny to Montreal on the train chartered for the occasion.

The time for speeches is over. We want action, now. We want to put a stop to bumper to bumper traffic in Montreal.

That is what the mayor said.

Judging by the success of some of the current commuter train lines, Quebeckers have shown that they are interested in this mode of transportation. The spike in gas prices can only further encourage them to use public transit.

The government has awesome responsibilities. The public expects it to make good decisions that affect their daily lives and that will ensure them a high-quality future.

In light of the deteriorating transportation situation and commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, the government must act immediately and send a clear message in support of public transit.

The measure proposed in this bill is not a cure-all, but it would provide an excellent incentive to promote the increased use of public transit.

I want to point out that authorities from the city of Montreal have said they are pleased with the bill presented by the Bloc Québécois.

I call on my colleagues from the Liberal Party, and my colleagues from the other opposition parties, to support this bill that is so important to the Bloc Québécois.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2005 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to participating in this debate because, as has been often referenced by other members, there is a strong history and precedent in this chamber in support of such a motion. Frankly, I find it perplexing to watch the government stand in opposition to what has become a very sensible idea, an idea whose time has long since come.

Of course we are speaking in support of Bill C-306. Our transportation critic from Manitoba has spoken a number of times to this issue. As has been mentioned, in 1998 Nelson Riis introduced a motion which was very similar to this bill. His motion passed by a margin of 240 to 25. Clearly, all parties from all corners in the House demonstrated that this was a beneficial move, an intelligent way to organize the tax system within Canada to support Canadians who are making good choices in their travel decisions.

Yet, as we face growing congestion, increased smog and health related costs and frustrations from all sectors across Canada, we find a government strong on rhetoric but very weak on action. When a very sensible piece of legislation comes before the House, one which many of the government's own members who are still here supported when it first came forward, they now find themselves opposing it, saying that the tax system is not a tool that can be used, regardless of the fact that we have shown that the tax system in Canada has been a strong tool in supporting investment and trade, encouraging the diversity of our marketplaces. Other countries, particularly those in the OECD, have shown that sensible moderation of the tax system to encourage such things as the use of public transportation have been sound and wise investments.

The NDP has clearly stood behind such moves for many years. In seeing the successful passage of a private member's motion by such a wide margin, one can only be cynical when one sees a government still committed to inaction. Even when the House of Commons, to which we were sent to represent the views of Canadians across the country, expresses a very strong view and opinion to pass this legislation, the government still drags its feet.

I sit on the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. We heard testimony all through the Kyoto discussions and what this country needs to do about climate change. There is a need for serious consideration and action within the finance department, within the tax system, to support things that a broad range of stakeholders have supported, such as tax exemption for those who use public transit.

The Auditor General made recommendations a number of years ago that the finance department must take into consideration these changes. We heard testimony from that same finance department, and it was absolutely dismissive of the Auditor General's report. That department suggested that it did not need to act upon her recommendations and that it would continue on in a pattern dismissive of the calls and actions of Parliament and the officers of Parliament, and thus completely ignore the interests of Canadians who are seeking to have access to more affordable public transportation at the end of the day.

The government had a long awaited, much anticipated, and thoroughly underwhelming as it turns out, Kyoto plan. We are now less than two months away from the conference of the signatories to Kyoto in Montreal, which Canada is obviously hosting. My concern is that Canada will step on to the national stage, host leaders from around the world and be thoroughly embarrassed yet again. When we look at the cold hard numbers of the 28 countries in the OECD, Canada remains at the bottom of the list when it comes to sustainable development, when it comes to making the changes that we all agree need to be made.

While it is easy to stand in this House, as members of the governing party, for now, have done and talk about the benefits of sensible spending and positive taxation, when it comes time to actually vote on these same issues, the hypocrisy that runs up and down those benches is rampant. In the face of more than 100 smog days in Ontario and Quebec, increasing smog on the west coast, and Canadians calling for something to be done about the high cost of fuel and transporting themselves around their communities, the government is against a sensible measure. We have a measure which is both affordable and sensible, which would remove an enormous number of vehicles off the streets, which would lower congestion, traffic and smog, all the things we want to do in our cities to make them more liveable and the government finds its way to vote against it. The government supports very old traditional ways of thinking about our economy and the tax system.

Skeena—Bulkley Valley is an extremely rural riding and quite spread out. We have found that as the health care system has been gutted over the years that services have been concentrated in the cities and further away from my riding. A number of people, particularly those on a fixed income or a lower income, must rely more and more on public transit simply to access basic health care services. People in non-rural ridings do not find these services difficult to access because they are physically much closer.

Our communities in the northwest of British Columbia are trying to implement more and more public transit systems for people who are unable to pay for their own private transportation. Perhaps they are unable to provide their own transportation because they are suffering from some malady. This plan would offer some benefit to those people.

Former NDP MP Nelson Riis brought forward his motion in 1998. We have been looking at the government's inaction for almost seven years.

We are facing dire predictions of increased global warming. We are looking at communities that require a greater sense of cohesion and require greater options in their ability to move people around. We have seen gas prices spike over the last number of months. There are few predictions in the oil and energy sectors that talk about these prices really settling anywhere near where they were.

It will become increasingly expensive not only in the immediate cost of filling one's car and transporting oneself around, but there are long term costs and impacts on climate change. Members from all parties acknowledge the need for serious action, not false announcements, not repeated spending announcements which we hear from the government over and over again. We hear this as the numbers continue to worsen on the pollution front and on CO

2

emissions. The time for action is now.

We will be hosting the world in November. The government needs to stand proud in its actions. It needs to stand with this Parliament and remember the votes of the past that supported a progressive taxation policy. When we boil this down, that is exactly what this is.

The federal government and the provinces are faced with rising health care costs. The idea of preventive action and keeping people who are choking on the smog out of our hospitals is a strong, wise and sound investment.

There has been talk of the benefits of public transit. There has been much rhetoric from all sides in the past about what we need to do about our transit problems. The government vaguely talked about its contribution and its need to encourage public transit. Action only happened when we brokered the deal that saw significant funding go to the municipalities in support of their public transit. It was through the deal of the NDP which forced the government's hand to actually make some significant investments in public transit that Canadians saw action.

The transportation advocacy groups applauded our moves. We heard this also from the municipalities across the country. I heard in my riding what a positive move this was, to actually have the government seriously engage at the federal level with our municipalities in support of public transportation. Canadians saw that the NDP was interested in getting something done. Then in the midst of the chaos and the partisan fighting, with which Canadians quite frankly were disgusted, the NDP found a way to make positive action happen on this front.

The NDP introduced a motion in 1998. We are very happy to see Bill C-306. We applaud the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for taking this step. The spectrum of support is truly broad. The benefits that will be achieved through this bill are broader still. We look forward to the passing of Bill C-306.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2005 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of Bill C-306, an act to amend the Income Tax Act for public transportation costs.

For Canadians watching, this may well be a very interesting debate that is shaping up here. We have the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party and, I presume, the NDP in favour of a private member's bill that has budgetary implications, but I think it is past time that the House stop talking about people who are interested in having more access to public transit and actually move forward to helping that happen.

As the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher said when presenting her private member's bill, Bill C-306, in the House on May 31, her intent is to provide taxpayers with a deduction for the cost of their bus or train passes in order to further encourage them to make greater use of the various modes of public transportation.

This is an idea whose time has come.

In the past, governments have offered Canadians tax deductions for retirement savings, charitable donations, and training and education. In each case the idea has been that by providing the tax deductions to Canadians, the government could encourage them to embrace certain initiatives, such as self-improvement or providing for their retirement.

Just as various governments have taxed alcohol and cigarettes in an effort to discourage their consumption, those same governments have provided tax deductions to encourage Canadians to adopt other, more desirable behaviours. It has long been government practice to use the Income Tax Act in this type of stick and carrot approach.

Bill C-306 is no different. It proposes to modify the Income Tax Act to encourage greater use of the various modes of public transportation. In this way, it is 100% compatible with Transport Canada's “National Vision for Urban Transit to 2020”. Paragraph 14 of that document's urban transit policy goals recommends:

A level playing field from the standpoint of transit versus auto travel decisions based on consideration of real costs and affordability, including under-priced parking and rationalization of income tax regulations affecting allowable deductions and taxable benefits.

Thus, Bill C-306 springs directly from Transport Canada's own documents, yet the Liberal government opposes it. In his May 31 speech opposing Bill C-306, the Liberal for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel said that numerous studies suggest that tax assistance for transit passes is not the best method to promote an increased use of public transportation. Presumably he has not read Transport Canada's own recommendations.

He spoke in general terms of the promised federal money to municipalities for urban infrastructure and environmental purposes and about how some of these funds could be used to support urban transit. In addition, he spoke of specific federal commitments to urban transit projects in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, presumably aimed at attracting voters in those urban areas. He argued that these investments “will result in a significant improvement in public transit services across Canada”.

Essentially, the Liberals believe that in a pre-election period they can promise $1 billion to the urban transit authorities in our three biggest cities, encourage other cities to give transit authorities some of the money that would otherwise go into roads and sewers, and, in an instant, public transit will improve and people will abandon cars en masse and pay for public transit.

Unfortunately, it is not quite so simple. It is not enough for the federal government to promise funding for public transit. It has to go much further. MPs must become more familiar with municipal transit, not just in their ridings but right across the country.

A successful urban transit authority does not just offer transport to those who cannot afford cars. It has to encourage motorists to leave their cars at home. Just as the federal government should support urban transit, it should also take direct measures to encourage Canadian motorists to give buses a try.

Let us not overlook the fact that most people who today drive cars once were students and rode buses. Their memories of the transit systems of their student days may have nothing in common with today's transit systems, but unless they are given a real incentive to try urban transit, most will stay in their cars. That is the thinking behind Bill C-306. It proposes to give motorists a tangible incentive to try urban transit.

A background paper published by the Canadian Urban Transit Association states that when the U.S. government made employer-provided transit benefits tax exempt in 1984, transit ridership increased almost 25% among people who were offered the benefit. This confirms the thinking in Transport Canada's “National Vision for Urban Transit to 2020”, but then, the Liberals still have not read it.

However, the Conservatives have read it and on August 4 our leader, the leader of the official opposition, announced that the Conservative Party wants to allow commuters to “deduct the cost of their monthly transit passes from their income taxes as part of a Made-in-Canada clean-air policy that will promote increased transit ridership and result in reduced traffic congestion, smog and greenhouse gasses”.

Michael Roschlau, president of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, praised our initiative and was pleasantly surprised, in part because, in his words, “the government in power for the past 10 years has been resisting it”.

Our proposal is to institute a 16% federal tax credit for transit users which would apply to the purchase of any monthly pass for themselves and their dependants. It is a simple initiative, is very similar in spirit to Bill C-306, and is welcomed by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, Transport 2000 and Canadian members of the Sierra Club.

Bill C-306 is also similar to Bill 137 currently before the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. That bill, proposed by Durham Conservative MPP John O'Toole, was proposed on October 28, 2004, and would offer Ontario taxpayers non-refundable income tax credits equal to 50% of their public transit expenses. My office has been in contact with Mr. O'Toole's staff to support his worthy initiative in Ontario.

The bureaucrats understand the importance of promoting public transit. For more than a year, employees of Public Works and Government Services Canada working in the national capital region have been able to purchase discounted annual transit passes from OC Transpo, and the Société de transport de l'Outaouais for those who work and live in Gatineau, through monthly deductions. However, there is no federal assistance, no federal government participation.

The call on the Liberal government to use tax policy to encourage Canadians to use public transit is an old one. On November 4, 1998, Nelson Riis, the former NDP finance critic and member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, introduced Motion No. 360 calling on the government to “consider making employer provided transit passes an income tax exempt benefit”. During his speech in favour of the motion, Mr. Riis said:

It is interesting that both the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce and the Toronto Board of Trade are now calling on the government to allow this tax exemption to proceed. Businesses are voicing their concern over the impact and high cost of congestion. This is viewed as an important demonstration of the government's commitment to achieving emission reduction targets.

At the same time, the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, the member for Richmond Hill, spoke in favour of this motion, saying:

The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development has stated that it is incumbent on the government to ensure that environmental policy is not hampered by fiscal policy. It is unfortunate that at the moment Canada has not joined other industrialized countries such as the United States and several countries in western Europe in making employee provided transit passes a non-taxable benefit.

His statement is still true today, but he has chosen to flip-flip and now oppose what he once supported. What is interesting, however, is that Mr. Riis' motion passed the House of Commons on a vote with the Liberals in support. It passed by a margin of 240 in favour to 25 opposed on April 13, 1999. As in so many other circumstances, the Liberals voted one way and did the opposite. Their massive support for making employer provided transit passes an income tax exempt benefit never resulted in any concrete action by the Liberals. Worse, we are now at a point where the Liberal chair of the finance committee, who just spoke, is dead set against the idea despite a Transport Canada report that supports it.

Nonetheless, there is no denying that this is an idea whose time has come. Gas prices are high, and the Minister of the Environment and his colleague the Minister of Natural Resources are both on record as saying that high oil prices are here to stay and that Canadians should drive less.

Civil servants and employees at large institutions are buying discounted monthly passes at their workplaces in various cities. The government of Ontario is considering creating a refundable tax credit for transit users. As well, the NDP and Conservative caucuses are 100% behind this policy.

Genuine federal encouragement of increased public transit use can be the boost that will permanently increase ridership and change commuter patterns in our big cities. I call on Parliament to support this motion and therefore the Leader of the Opposition's proposal for a healthier environment and support for public transit.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2005 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, my congratulations to my colleague from the riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher on presenting this bill.

I am pleased to speak as the Bloc critic for national revenue to Bill C-306, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs).

A person might well wonder about the reasons behind this bill. Why give public transit users a tax deduction? In the course of my remarks, I will try to answer the question.

This is not the first time a bill providing tax deductions for public transit users has been debated in this House. In 1999, Parliament passed a motion, 240 to 25, calling on the government to examine the question of a tax exemption for public transit use. In 2001 as well, Bill C-209 proposed similar objectives. It was very well received by this House, and outside it, by user groups. However, the bill was blocked by the Liberal government.

The government has always contended that it was seeking a better future for everyone through a variety of programs. Any measure promoting greater use of public transit will certainly contribute to the achievement of the objectives in this report. Such a bill would really encourage people to use public transit.

There is a lot of discussion of the Kyoto protocol. In this vein, the Government of Canada could adopt a specific measure and thus accomplish two things at once, by promoting the use of public transit and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The measure could have an even more beneficial effect. It would help reduce highway congestion and the costs of building and maintaining roads and increase people's quality of life.

Clearly public transit is very economical for users. I might be allowed to demonstrate this. It costs about $8,000 a year to own a mid size car, which does not include the cost of parking. The cost annually of public transit, which varies according to where people live in Quebec, is between $500 and $1,000, which is a huge saving.

It goes without saying that some will object, claiming this is a discriminatory measure since it does not affect all Quebeckers and Canadians. My riding has several smaller cities in its regions. Residents of such small centres in rural areas with no access to public transportation will not benefit from this tax break. People living in rural areas do not always have established services like those in the cities.

Yet, this measure is beneficial to the entire population, since one of the most important parts of this bill is on providing a better quality of life for everyone.

The bill has not only a significant economic component but also an environmental component for improving quality of life for individuals.

In my opinion, the federal government must offer help to public transit users in the provinces and in Quebec to promote increased use of public transit.

Providing tax breaks will increase revenue for transit companies that could in turn provide better services in their community.

Despite the fact that Montreal—I think we must use Montreal as an example—is the place where public transit is used the most in North America, proportionally speaking, and that the use of public transportation continues to grow, unfortunately the use of the automobile is increasing at a faster rate. This phenomenon is seen in Canada, Quebec and other areas in the world.

Governments are facing a major challenge in motivating taxpayers to use public transit. To meet this challenge, the government will have to invest millions of dollars in renewing transportation infrastructure and equipment to ensure the sustainability and renewal of this community heritage. Just think of the metro in Montreal, which was built back in the 1960s; it will need a major facelift in the near future.

That is but the tip of the iceberg. Major investments are planned in Quebec. It is estimated that, over the next 10 years, the governments will be investing some $4.6 billion, as compared to $2 billion over the past 10 years.

In light of the many investments planned for the coming years, and given that part of the income tax, gas tax, and licence fees that taxpayers pay goes to public transit, I am wondering what measures governments could put in place to further encourage people to use public transit.

Bill C-306 has one significant advantage. First, by creating a tax deduction, the federal government is intervening directly in its own area of jurisdiction. Furthermore, this is a concrete measure that will undoubtedly increase the revenues of various public transit authorities. More taxpayers will purchase monthly or annual passes instead of individual tickets.

Second, this will also benefit the transit authorities on the outskirts of urban centres. If we use, as an example, the Société de transport du Saguenay, which, in my riding, has three major terminals: Jonquière, Chicoutimi and La Baie, and a budget of nearly $16 million annually, such a measure could mean increased revenues for this transit authority and act as an incentive for many residents thereby forcing some municipalities to add new routes and improve the public transit system.

In short, this bill is the ideal way to decrease traffic congestion in Quebec and Canada. If all users of public transit in the greater Montreal region were to drive, travel times would increase by 1.5 hours, tripling what they are now.

Such initiatives offer an affordable alternative to people who have become victims of rising gas prices.

Furthermore, our roads would last a little longer if we reduced the number of cars being driven. This would mean we would save millions of dollars each year on road maintenance and improvements.

I hope that Bill C-306 is adopted.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2005 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bob Mills Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the private member's bill, Bill C-306. Listening to the last speaker, I cannot help but comment a little about the bragging that went on as far as the Liberal government. Let us quickly look at the facts.

In terms of Kyoto, we are now 30% above 1990 levels. Our commitment was to be 6% below 1990 levels. We obviously have a big failing grade on that one.

We have all kinds of programs that were announced. Yet as far as the OECD is concerned, of the 29 industrialized countries, in 2003 we were 24th out of 29. In the last report for 2004, we are now 28th out 29 countries rated in environmental integrity by the OECD, the industrialized world. The last speaker probably should not be bragging about the Liberal record.

We have three cities still dumping raw sewage in the ocean. We still have about 10,000-plus federal contaminated sites, 50,000 other contaminated sites and no action on brownfields. We have the Sydney tar ponds.

I have been here since 1993. Every year I have heard the government say that it will clean them up. Guess what? Two or three weeks ago, we heard there would be another two year study on the Sydney tar ponds and that the government would clean them up. The poster child of the Liberal government is the Sydney tar ponds. I guess if I manage to survive here another 10 or 15 years, I will probably hear the government say that it will clean up the Sydney tar ponds.

We have boil water warnings. We have all kinds of environmental problems, such as smog days in Toronto, et cetera.

Before I got to the bill, I had to set the record straight from our last speaker.

The bill plans to give a tax credit for public transport. This is probably a good measure in the sense that it would go directly to the people who would be using it. Hopefully, it would have some effect on changing individual behaviour so public transit would become the way to go. Those are the kinds of things that we have to do.

For instance, I have a son and daughter who both live and work in Vancouver. They have great difficulties now because of increased costs. They are both using cars, both using transportation to take the kids to the babysitter, then going to work. In big cities like that it costs about $600 to $700 a month of cost for gasoline. They are still doing that.

However, I think if they were provided some kind of incentive, even though it might not be quite convenient, having rapid transit, or bus passes, or the subway or whatever, they probably would consider changing how they run their lives. The incentive of a tax break would probably have some effect on them.

We are trying to convince people that there are environmental benefits as well in using something like public transport. If we look at Canada's transport sector, we find that 27% of the greenhouse gasses released in this country come from transportation while .03% come from the various types of public transit. There would be a tremendous saving, whether it is sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide or particulate matter. All those things that result in smog obviously could be helped greatly if we were to improve our urban transit system and the use of it.

As well we must also try to find a way to do something for rural people who feel the effects of increased fuel prices and the difficulties of getting around. I must admit I do not have a ready answer but I have some ideas. As well we should be emphasizing the clean air that could be brought about by various types of rapid transit.

As the critic for this area, I have a lot of people who lobby me, as I am sure they lobby many of the members in the House, on behalf of the fuel cell industry, the fuel cell buses, the propane buses and the natural gas buses. Almost all of them say that we do not have them Canada. They have them in Los Angeles and Beijing. They have orders for 1,000 for the Olympics in Beijing, but there are none in the big cities in Canada. Something is wrong with our system of promoting rapid transit.

It is interesting that Calgary, as an example, is using wind energy with its light rail and has promoted it as “ride the wind”. It is one of the major purchasers of wind energy which runs all the light rail system in Calgary. That has become a major promotion item. It is amazing how many international guests comment on the fact that it is one of the first cities they have been in which uses a renewable energy source for its public transit. There is a great deal of pride there and an awful lot of bragging goes on by the people of Calgary. They are the envy of a lot of places.

What are the economic and social impacts of rapid transit? It reduces congestion, as the Bloc member pointed out. Congestion is a major problem in our big cities. Without building new roads, ultimately it becomes impossible to carry the loads of traffic that we might expect. There would be a saving there.

I have mentioned clean air and cutting out the pollution associated with that. There is more social mobility and reduced health problems. One of the reasons that countries like China and India are looking at some of these environmental problems in rapid transit is because of that health issue.

What we always have to remember, when we talk about Kyoto, air and what we might do, is we are a cold climate. We have large distances, few people and relatively little infrastructure to help us solve some of those problems.

A bill similar to this has been in the House before. It passed by 240 to 25. However, as with so many of the private members' bills that pass in the House, no action is taken on them. We hear about other programs and that there will be action. They are re-announced over and over, but the dithering that goes on in dealing with many of these is quite remarkable. I hope this bill passes and when it does, I hope something will done about it and there will be direct action to help people in this area.

We can go to corporations and ask them to provide some incentives to their workers to take different means of getting to work. They give them incentives now like free parking spots or covering some of their costs. That is part of many contracts under which people work. Maybe if we could use rapid transit as a carrot for some of these people, it would be something that industry might buy into, particularly if we were to give them some tax credits for that kind of a promotion. There is so much that we can do in this area.

If I have one fault with this bill, it is the lack of detail in terms of how we would do this and how much it would cost. All of that would have to be worked out.

When we look at the G-7 or G-8 countries, we find that most of them, with Canada being the one exception, invest quite heavily in public transit. Public transit becomes one of their major conservation issues and one of the major ways to deal with smog and pollution in their large cities. We can learn a lot. We could go south of us and we would find quite a bit.

There is a lot of benefit to this. I believe it needs some fine tuning. I see the chair of the environment committee here. I would hope the environment committee could deal with this, fine-tune it and come up with some real solutions that would help solve our air problems in our major cities, and let us not forget the rural people whom we might be able to help as well.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on private member's Bill C-306. The bill proposes that tax assistance be provided to those Canadians who use public transit. The intent of this measure is to promote the use of public transit in order to improve the environment. We all agree that this goal is a worthy one. However, the question is, is tax assistance for transit passes the best method to promote an increased use of public transportation? Based on numerous studies, the answer is no. There are much more effective ways than that.

For instance, the Liberal government has put in place infrastructure programs that make direct investments in public transit. Under the new deal for cities and communities we are making significant funding available to municipalities which they can use to address priorities such as public transit.

Since the mid-1990s the government has invested more than $12 billion in its infrastructure programs. These include programs such as the $4 billion Canada strategic infrastructure fund, the $2 billion infrastructure Canada program, and the $1 billion municipal rural infrastructure fund. We are using these infrastructure programs to fund projects across Canada, including public transit in our major urban centres. Let me take this opportunity to present some of these projects.

We have committed $450 million toward the RAV transit line which will link the city of Richmond and Vancouver International Airport with downtown Vancouver. This rail link is planned to be operational and in service in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games in British Columbia.

Significant federal funding is also being directed toward public transit projects in Toronto. Some $385 million is being provided to GO Transit to expand and improve its commuter services. A further $350 million has been committed to help modernize and invest in capital renewal of the Toronto Transit Commission.

We are also committing $103 million to renovate Montreal's metro.

The new deal for cities and communities is a priority for our government.

In fact, the first measures relating to this new deal were taken in 2004, including the full refund of the goods and services tax to municipalities. This measure will give municipalities new resources totalling some $7 billion over 10 years, which they can use for major infrastructure priorities such as public transit.

We decided to go even further. In the 2005 budget, we pursued our commitment to provide cities and communities with reliable, long term funding, to help them meet their needs. In particular, we confirmed that we would give them $5 billion over five years to support environmentally sustainable infrastructure, including public transit. The Minister of State for Infrastructure and Communities is already negotiating with the provinces and territories to reach an agreement on this funding.

These investments, and others, will result in a significant improvement in public transit services all across Canada. The improvement of these services will encourage people who normally use their cars to switch to public transit.

One of the key environmental challenges facing the world today is that of climate change. The government recognizes the importance of addressing these challenges.

In April 2005 my colleagues the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Industry released “Moving Forward on Climate Change: A Plan for Honouring Our Kyoto Commitment” which will be used to guide the federal government's approach to implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I am pleased to report that key elements of this plan were funded in budget 2005.

These initiatives include $1 billion for an innovative Clean Fund to further stimulate cost-effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and—in the event that the national interest is at stake, and Canadian businesses are contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions—for projects elsewhere.

There is a $250 million partnership fund to deliver targeted support for large strategic projects that are jointly agreed upon priorities for the Government of Canada and provinces and territories.

There is an expansion of the wind power production incentive and a new renewable power production incentive to encourage the production of electricity from clean, renewable power sources.

They also include expansion of the EnerGuide for Houses retrofit incentive program. A total of 500,000 housing units will have benefited from this by 2010.

An estimated $295 million in enhanced tax incentives through accelerated capital cost allowance will encourage investment in efficient and renewable energy generation.

In addition, a plan to develop a sustainable energy science and technology strategy in conjunction with the provinces and territories is scheduled by the end of 2006.

There is also a $300 million enrichment of the green municipal fund, which makes investments in innovative green municipal projects in areas such as energy and water savings, urban transit and waste diversion to strengthen the sustainability of communities. Half of this amount will be targeted to the cleanup of brownfields, which are abandoned or idle properties where environmental contamination is known or suspected and where there is an active economic potential for redevelopment.

In total, budget 2005 targeted over $4 billion in investments over the next five years for key initiatives included in the climate change plan, bringing total federal spending in support of measures to address climate change to over $6 billion since 1997.

Existing climate change programming includes measures to support science, impacts and adaptation research, international work, policy development, public education and outreach, such as the one tonne challenge, and technology development and demonstration, such as funding for sustainable development technology Canada.

We understand that more action will be required in the future. The government has pledged to introduce additional measures as resources permit. We will continue to learn from our investments and international experience.

This government believes that the plan and climate change measures introduced in budget 2005, in combination with climate change initiatives already under way, will shift Canada toward a clean energy future and increase the efficiency, sustainability and international competitiveness of the Canadian economy, while moving toward our emissions reduction objectives under the Kyoto protocol.

Many initiatives will also be important to spur activities and to change behaviours in ways that mitigate climate change impacts and generate other environmental benefits, such as meeting Canadian objectives for reducing air pollution, since atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions often come from the same sources.

In addition to addressing the problem of climate change, our government wholly supports the conservation and improvement of our environment. The government's commitment to this is illustrated by the environmental initiatives announced in recent budgets, over and above those more directly related to climate change, which have exceeded $7 billion since 1997.

These investments include measures to clean up contaminated sites; to design, implement and enforce framework legislation such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Species at Risk Act; to improve air and water quality and to invest in the development of environmental technologies.

Our actions show that this government takes our environment very seriously. We have invested heavily in infrastructure programs. We are putting in place a new deal for cities and communities. We have provided significant resources to address climate change and have developed a climate change plan for Canada. Clearly, we are doing our part and we are doing it through much more effective ways than providing tax assistance for public transit.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this questions and comments period as part of the debate on Bill C-306 introduced by my hon. colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.

Here is a bill that meets two fundamental objectives. First, it will reduce the pressure on our highway system. Second, this is the kind of policy that Canada should have put in place many years ago. Why? Because, in order to meet our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets—a commitment made by the federal government under Kyoto—efforts must be made to ensure that Canada's taxation policy plays its role to the fullest.

Naturally, reaching this reduction target requires that the regulatory process follow its course. Also, there should be a shift from a voluntary approach to a more compulsory one for industries and for all sectors of economic activity in Canada. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the tax policy and tax instruments available to the federal government are effective.

In Canada, the federal government often refuses to adopt environmental fiscal policy. What is environmental fiscal policy all about? It is designed to provide tax incentives, tax deductions and tax credits to those who switch to better environmental principles.

As my hon. colleague pointed out, the federal government could very well have responded to this kind of initiative in its budget by including tax deductions or tax credits for the purchase of hybrid vehicles. That is the purpose of Bill C-306: to provide tax credits to public transportation users. Still, the government stubbornly continues to put forward greenhouse gas reduction plans, even though the results are an increase instead of a reduction.

The government has come onside with the opposition in adopting measures consistent with environmental fiscal policy.

To conclude, because I am running out of time, I will ask my hon. colleague this. With this type of policy, can Canada reach its targets in terms of greenhouse gas reductions?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2005 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

moved that Bill C-306, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-306, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs). This enactment amends the Income Tax Act to allow an individual to deduct certain public transportation costs from the amount of tax payable.

Public transportation includes a public transportation service by bus, subway, commuter train or light rail. Of course, the definition included in the bill is not restrictive and could be expanded in time to other types of mass transportation.

In 2005, everyone believes that promoting public transportation must be a priority. The purpose of Bill C-306 is, essentially, to provide Quebec and Canadian taxpayers with a tax deduction for the cost of their bus or train pass, in order to further encourage them to make greater use of the various modes of public transportation. That was the basic objective of the bill: to encourage people to use means of transportation that are far more economical and ecological and at the same time lessen the pressure of vehicular traffic on our highway systems.

I do not think there is any point in making a long argument to demonstrate the benefits of making public transportation a priority, nor of the necessity of doing so. We all agree on this and there have been public awareness campaigns around it for some years. All manner of organizations have carried out studies to demonstrate its merits and are seeking solutions to increase its use.

However, despite all the virtues ascribed to public transportation, it has often been overlooked by governments. A tax incentive alone will obviously not set everything right and make it possible to achieve this objective. Some people will say that it is one thing to favour increased use of public transportation, but that does not solve the infrastructure needs. I agree entirely. And here, I must point out one important detail, and that is respect for the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces.

The federal government's actions must be in its own areas of jurisdiction. It should be remembered that funding for public transportation is an exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. It is obvious, though, that the needs are great and Quebec's financial capacities are limited—we all know why. For many years, there has been a serious problem with the fiscal imbalance, which undermines the Quebec government's ability to meet the needs of municipalities, particularly in regard to financing public transportation infrastructure.

The federal government has too much tax room in comparison with its responsibilities. We have been saying so for a long time, but we can never say it enough: the money is in Ottawa while the needs are in Quebec City. The Bloc Québécois has been denouncing this situation at every opportunity and will continue to do so as long as the federal government has not responded to the mounting pressure to increase transfers to Quebec, without any conditions, of course.

Quebec must be the master of its own choices and priorities, and most importantly, have the fiscal room to respond adequately. Instead of interfering in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction, as it has a great propensity to do, the federal government should use the tools at its disposal, in particular by changing the Income Tax Act to provide the tax incentive proposed in Bill C-306.

What must be kept in mind are obviously the economic and environmental benefits of this measure in both the medium and long terms, which will outweigh any costs involved in granting this kind of tax deduction. We must avoid shortsighted strategies and instead make responsible, sustainable investments beginning right now.

Insofar as sustainable development is concerned, I would like to mention two aspects that should be taken into consideration to ensure such a measure is sound. People must be wondering why an incentive should be favoured by means of a tax deduction.

I would say that one of the most important aspects of public transportation has to do with environmental issues.

Without question, public transportation promotes a better environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing energy consumption and enhancing quality of life and the urban environment.

This is the Kyoto era and we have a collective responsibility to find ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Public transportation is an effective way, is safer than transportation by car and provides better mobility. Heavy traffic in cities has an impact not only in terms of productivity, but also in terms of atmospheric pollution.

According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, between 2002 and 2003, the number of cars increased by 5.5%, which represents close to 18 million cars on the highways of Quebec and Canada. Just think about that; it is huge. If nothing is done to encourage alternative modes of transportation, there will be harmful consequences in the very near future in terms of increased atmospheric pollution, the ability to get around in urban settings and the possibility of achieving Kyoto protocol objectives. There is an urgent need to take action and promote responsible transportation choices.

One responsible choice is to encourage public transportation and that is precisely the purpose of Bill C-306, to give an incentive likely to influence users directly.

Allow me to provide a few figures that speak for themselves. A 60 km commute can cost up to 10 times less with public transportation than with a car. To get from Longueuil to Montreal on the metro might take 10 minutes, while sometimes you have to bank on over an hour by car, regardless of weather or traffic conditions.

The bus produces up to nine times less greenhouse gases than the car. The metro causes even less pollution since it runs on electricity. A full bus represents between 40 and 50 cars during peak hours, which translates into over 175 tonnes fewer greenhouse gas emissions a year. These figures confirm, beyond any doubt, that environmentally speaking, public transportation is paramount and a tangible way of contributing to a healthy environment.

When debating a legislative measure such as the one before us today, we must give its economic impact serious consideration, too. In this regard, it is obvious that public transportation also plays a major role, for example, by reducing the costs related to traffic congestion for companies and drivers. Economic growth in Quebec and the major urban centres depends on an efficient, rapid transportation system that improves mobility.

Clearly, everyone is a winner: companies will be more competitive, particularly in the context of guaranteeing just-in-time delivery, and users will realize substantial savings. This means direct economic benefits for the community as a whole.

I refer members to an important study published by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal entitled, “Public transit: a powerful economic-development engine for the metropolitan Montreal region”. According to this study, in 2003 alone, public transit enabled Montreal households to save almost $600 million in travel expenses. These savings resulted in increased household purchasing power, which generated significant economic spin-offs for the greater Montreal region.

According to this same study, economic losses related to traffic congestion in Montreal are estimated at nearly $1 billion annually, and public transit contributes directly to reducing losses caused by traffic congestion. Furthermore, a 2% increase in the modal share of public transit means 19 million fewer car trips in the Montreal region. The economic benefits total more than $150 million annually. That is why it is important to promote the increased use of public transit. These are just a few, albeit very significant, examples.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that this proactive measure received unanimous support from various organizations concerned with public transit. These organizations and urban authorities responsible for managing public transit are on the lookout for initiatives encouraging users directly to use their services.

For the past ten years, some of them, including the Montreal transit authority, have requested tax measures from higher levels of government to encourage people to leave their cars parked at home.

They have been waiting a number of years already for governments to act. In the meantime, a broad coalition has been established over the years calling for measures that are cost effective in the short term, but sustainable in the long term.

There is a consensus on such a measure. All that is lacking is the government's political will to proceed and promote increased use of an essential public service that benefits not only users but society as a whole.

I am taking advantage of this debate to invite the federal Minister of Transport to be consistent for once with his remarks on December 12 in the Gazette , to the effect that the government should permit a tax deduction for bus passes. As we saw with the most recent budget, the Minister of Transport's powers of persuasion do not reach as far as his colleague in finance. Still, I invite him to be a little more persistent and fight this important battle within his government. It is an opportunity for the minister to make political hay and serve everyone's interests.

In closing, I invite all my colleagues in this House to support Bill C-306. It concerns people's quality of life, environmental protection and economic vitality. Today's decisions determine the course of the future.

Income Tax ActRoutine Proceedings

December 2nd, 2004 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-306, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (public transportation costs).

Madam Speaker, I take great pleasure in introducing a bill that amends the Income Tax Act in order to allow individuals to deduct certain public transportation costs from their income tax. This is, of course, in keeping with the Kyoto Protocol.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)