Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-201, which would provide skilled trades workers with a tax deduction for certain work-related travel and accommodations.
I will be supporting this bill at second reading, so that it can move forward and be examined more thoroughly by the House of Commons finance committee.
Bill C-201 would help skilled tradespeople with the costs of travelling to work. It might help address some of the regional skills shortages that exist in Canada. This is an important issue, with a thriving construction industry being a vital source of good, well-paying, middle-class jobs. It is important that we do what we can to support these workers and their families.
Large parts of the construction industry are involved in short- to medium-term projects, and skilled tradespeople are often required to travel or temporarily relocate for work. In my part of the country and throughout Atlantic Canada we have a lot of workers and tradespeople who travel to other parts of the country to work for periods of time and then return to their families and make money in the meantime, which helps pay their mortgage, their family costs, and expenses in their homes in places like Hants County and Kings County of Nova Scotia. However, among construction workers, the cost of relocating is cited as a significant impediment to labour mobility. Not only would this bill provide tradespeople with some relief from the costs of relocating for work, but it would also provide them with a financial benefit that they or members of their family could spend in their home community, which would help support their local economies at home, such as in places like Kings—Hants.
By helping skilled tradespeople with the costs of travelling to work, Bill C-201 could also help address these regional skill shortages and potentially help to increase Canada's productivity. However, there are some important questions surrounding this bill that have yet to be answered, especially regarding the costs. I would hope the finance committee will be able to study the costs of implementing this kind of measure, once the bill has passed at second reading. It is important for parliamentarians to know how much legislation will actually cost before we make final decisions. As parliamentarians, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our citizens and Canadian taxpayers to fully understand the impacts on the fiscal framework in Canada of our decisions and the legislation we pass.
In the first hour of debate on the bill, the member for Hamilton Mountain estimated that approximately 160,000 construction workers in Canada could benefit from the tax credit in Bill C-201 at a cost of $84 million per year to the federal treasury. Then she estimated that when we consider economic spinoffs and potentially reduced EI payouts, the government could actually save $167 million per year under Bill C-201. On the other hand, the parliamentary secretary to the revenue minister argued that Bill C-201 would cost the treasury approximately $60 million per year at maturity. Therefore, there is a wide disparity in the numbers being cited in terms of what this would cost or potentially save taxpayers.
In cases where private member's bills are expected to have significant costs or impact on the fiscal framework, the finance committee in the past has asked the PBO to calculate what that fiscal impact would be before a second reading vote. However, the PBO has not been able to estimate the fiscal impact of this particular bill. The PBO told my office that it had tried to estimate the costs of this bill but could not. This is why. It stated:
There was not sufficient detail in the bill around the definition of trades persons nor around the details of what constituted travel for the purposes of commuting or for the purposes of relocating, nor was there sufficient data from stats can to allow any meaningful costing of this bill.
Therefore, it appears that Bill C-201 is still lacking details that are essential to providing a meaningful cost estimate, and the PBO has said that its office is having difficulty costing it because of that lack of granularity.
Still that is no reason, necessarily, to throw out the baby with the bathwater on this one, because there still may be some positives in the intentions to provide some level of support to skilled tradespeople and their families, and an opportunity for us to do this. We at the finance committee, perhaps, can pass some clarifying amendments that can help address some of these concerns, can better define “skilled tradespeople” exactly in terms of how we would constitute it for this application, and also more clearly define “relocation” or “commuting expense” so we can actually cost the bill and the PBO can actually cost it.
Another area where we have some questions is around the distance a worker must travel to qualify for a tax deduction. Bill C-201 proposes that a skilled tradesperson would qualify for this tax deduction if the worker travels at least 80 kilometres for work. The threshold of 80 kilometres may result in a large proportion of the benefit potentially going to daily commuters in the Toronto area or other metropolitan areas, workers for whom this credit is not necessarily intended.
For instance, workers who commute between Barrie and Toronto travel 96 kilometres each way, and those who commute between Guelph and Toronto would travel 95 kilometres each way. We would want to have this discussion. Is that the intention of this bill? Perhaps it is, but I am saying that there may be some definitions of what defines appropriately a commute for financial benefit considered under this bill. These are areas where there are good roads, infrastructure, strong or reasonable public transit, which help to facilitate a daily commute more so than that which would exist in other areas of Canada that do not have the same highly evolved infrastructure. Therefore, the finance committee may want to consider establishing different thresholds, depending on geography and infrastructure, instead of having one across-the-board threshold when it comes to how far people must travel to qualify for this benefit.
We may want to look at examples from other jurisdictions. As I mentioned before, a thriving construction industry in Canada is an important source of good jobs and incomes for Canadian middle class families, and we can no doubt all talk about individual stories of workers who have travelled great distances for work. I know in my father's case he was not in the construction trade but he drove 52 miles from Cheverie to downtown Halifax every day for work, for decades. Today, I know the local construction workers in my home community of Cheverie drive into Halifax every single day on sometimes terrible roads in awful conditions in the middle of winter, leaving their homes at 5 a.m., driving home in the evenings, leaving before dawn and getting home after dark, and piling into cars with their lunch boxes and their thermoses and their gear ready to go to work, driving over these rough roads in terrible conditions, every single day from Cheverie, Bramber, Walton, Scotch Village, and all our local communities.
Part of the discussions around this bill will enable us to talk to the people in our own communities who commute long distances every day, and particularly people in skilled trades whom we need to support in any way we can. I appreciate the challenges facing the construction industry in areas where there are serious labour shortages, but we need to ensure this bill is targeted in such a way that it actually addresses those issues.
Improving labour mobility in Canada would lead to greater productivity and more prosperity for Canadians. At the same time, we must be careful not to drive a critical mass of young Canadians out of economically disadvantaged communities that need them. We have to monitor this and we have to craft public policy carefully.
Canada is experiencing very uneven economic growth. There is a strong connection between our growing provinces and the existence of natural resources. We need national strategies around the extractive sector in oil and gas and the related construction industry if we are going to ensure that the prosperity is shared across Canada and enjoyed by all Canadians, regardless of where they are from.
This bill could perhaps help to address some of those inequities and help young Canadians see some of those opportunities. However, we will have to delve into those details on a more granular basis at the House of Commons finance committee.