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.