Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to such an important issue for tradespeople across the country.
The bill introduced by the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain would allow skilled workers to deduct from their taxable income travel and accommodation expenses. It would also allow them to maintain employment at a construction site that is more than 80 kilometres from their home.
This is a much-needed bill. Tradespeople are the engine of our economy. Construction is the biggest private sector industry in the country. It boasts 17,000 companies and employs a million Canadians. It creates more than 12% of our gross domestic product.
Skilled tradespeople include heavy equipment operators, electricians, welders, carpenters and so on. These workers are essential on construction sites. It is impossible to do the work without them.
However, the trades are facing significant challenges, including a shortage of workers and workforce mobility issues.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates that Canada will need at least a million more skilled tradespeople by 2020. In Quebec alone, more than 730,000 professional and technical jobs will open up in the coming year alone. Some of the most sought after workers include industrial mechanics, welders and industrial management supervisors.
The construction industry estimates that it will need an additional 252,000 workers.
These trades require solid math skills, creativity and technological know-how. The pay is good. Skilled professionals earn 3.1% more than the average Canadian.
However, there is a recurring issue and that is workforce mobility. I am not talking about interprovincial mobility, just regional mobility. The placement of work sites in Canada is based on need. In construction, mining and infrastructure, major work sites are often in regions that are far from major cities.
Workers who want jobs far from home have to pay for their own travel and accommodations while still paying for their permanent residences. Those costs eat up a significant portion of their earnings and are not deductible under the Income Tax Act. That makes working far from home a less attractive proposition, not to mention that these people are also away from their families.
According to the building and construction trades department of the AFL-CIO, mobile workers spend an average of $3,500 of their personal savings to relocate temporarily.
While some regions of the country are experiencing high unemployment, others are suffering from a labour shortage. The bill introduced by the member for Hamilton Mountain offers a two-fold solution to the problem. Workers working at job sites at least 80 kilometres away from home would not have to take a financial hit. This solution is needed all the more because of the Conservatives' employment insurance reform, which forces workers to accept jobs within 100 kilometres of home.
In addition, Bill C-201 would boost government revenues because the cost of these tax credits will be outweighed by the employment insurance savings this bill will generate.
We also have to consider employers. They will have access to a larger pool of skilled workers, and Canadians will have access to jobs. Employers will no longer have to resort to temporary foreign workers.
Tradespeople have been waiting for a solution to this problem for a long time. The construction trades have actually been asking for this law for the past 30 years. The Conservatives and the Liberals have done absolutely nothing. The NDP has put forward a real solution.
I would like to congratulate my colleague from Hamilton Mountain because she has been fighting for this for years. In 2006, she introduced Bill C-390 and in 2008, Bill C-227. Now she is at it again with Bill C-201.
If the members of this House really want to support tradespeople, they must support this bill. It is time to pass this bill.
This bill will enable mobile workers across Canada to maintain their residences while relocating to get work. The tax credit would cover travel, meals and accommodation reduce amounts paid by employers for those purposes.
The 2008 budget provided this kind of tax relief to truckers as a way to minimize mobility issues in that sector. Everyone in the industry agrees. This bill will really help workers relocate to job sites.
According to the president of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Local 67, Geoff Roman, we have become too reliant on skilled workers to foot the bill when the country faces a labour shortage.
Robert Blakely, Director of the Canadian Affairs Building and Construction Trades Department agrees. He said:
The baby boomer generation, which no one expected was ever going to retire, is going to retire. We have spaces for nearly 2,500 people to enter the construction industry in the next five years, and another 163,000 people in the five years after that...If we have trained people all across the country, we need to be able to move them.
In Quebec, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 568, strongly supports the bill. Financial secretary Laurent Talbot stated:
The math is simple. More tradespeople working equals a lower unemployment rate.
It is true. There are roughly 1.6 million construction workers in the country and 10% of them move every year. At an average cost of $3,500 per worker per year, a 15% tax credit would cost the government $525 per worker per year, for a total cost of $84 million a year. For the same number of tradespeople receiving on average $393 in EI benefits a week for an unemployment period of four weeks, the government would pay $251 million in EI benefits a year, or nearly two and a half times more than under the bill, if it were passed.
The tax credit proposed in Bill C-201 would translate into a net savings of $167 million a year. That is not insignificant. This solution has been advocated by a number of experts. The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities made two similar recommendations in 2008 as part of a study on employability.
Last year, the committee addressed the issue of labour shortages again and made the following recommendation:
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada study the anticipated cost of introducing new fiscal measures that would help people who find jobs far away from where they live, for example a tax credit for travel and lodging if a person must work more than 80 kilometres from his or her residence, and that it study the potential impact of such measures on labour mobility and labour shortages.
After eight Conservative budgets, there still is no measure to correct this problem, which this government does not seem to take very seriously. Conservative members have said they support labour mobility, which is inconsistent. This is true of the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca and the member for Prince Albert. Liberal members should also support this bill, given that it affects the entire country and there are construction workers in all ridings.
I hope that the bill introduced by my colleague from Hamilton Mountain, Bill C-201, passes. Tradespersons need to be supported across Canada, and they need to be treated with respect, like all workers in Canada.