Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak to this motion which, I think, is very important to all Canadians.
I would like to start by commending the hon. member for Haldimand-Norfolk for all the work he has done on this very important issue. It is not the first time he has raised this issue in the House. I remember very clearly having worked with him on this issue in the last parliamentary session. It is very encouraging to see someone who does not forget the issues he considers important. I commend the hon. member for Haldimand-Norfolk for his tenacity and his dedication. I am proud to rise today in support of this motion.
I had written in my notes that I was disappointed that the motion was not votable but I see that this has been changed with the unanimous consent of the House. I am very proud and very happy to say that the motion is now votable. I thank the hon. members, my colleagues. I urge all hon. members to maintain a spirit of co-operation in this House.
This motion is in keeping with the government's policy of restoring integrity and equity to the political system. The government looked at the issue of student loans and at other things and set out to ensure that the loan values honestly reflect the cost of post-secondary studies. The time has come to apply this equity principle to volunteer firefighters.
Volunteer firefighters do exceptional work. The dedication they bring to their communities is very important. They encourage volunteerism in our country.
I am very pleased to be able to speak this evening on this issue. I am also pleased that the member for Haldimand-Norfolk has brought it to the House once again. His motion asks that the voluntary firefighter's tax exemption be raised from $500 to $1,000 to make it more meaningful in the context of inflation and the valuable service these volunteers provide to their communities. Such a move is in keeping with the government's policy of restoring integrity and especially equity to the fiscal system.
The government has looked at the issue of student loans and set out to ensure that the value of the loans honestly reflects the cost of studying. If I can compare the volunteer firemen with the students, they are doing a service to the community and it is costing them money. Therefore, we should have some type of equity built into the system. I believe this motion does that.
We have heard the member from the Reform Party and the member from the Bloc Quebecois speak about the firefighters in their regions. I suspect their thoughts would be unanimous right across Canada, that these firefighters do exceptional work in their communities. These are volunteers. They do work that goes far beyond the call of duty. They even encourage the spirit of volunteerism.
In this day and age everyone is out for the almighty dollar and we see limited numbers of people getting involved in their communities. A lot of them are becoming armchair activists. These firefighters are the people out on the front line and it is our responsibility to make sure that we, not necessarily reward them financially every time they do something, but put justice in the system so it is not costing them to be a volunteer. I would suspect that should go for other groups as well.
The firefighters in my area, and I am sure other members will be speaking about their firefighters, are no different from those in other areas. They are all well trained. They are on duty24 hours a day, basically on call on weekends, at night, in the middle of storms when we are home asleep or comfortable reading the newspaper or pursuing our favourite pastime, watching the parliamentary channel. These people are well trained in first aid, CPR and emergency operations.
Their work is pleasant in certain circumstances, but quite often it is not. They are on the scene of emergencies. They are on the scene at fires and car accidents. Quite often these scenes bother them, but someone has to do the job.
They help young people in distress. I know the volunteer firefighters in my area are always involved with educational programs and fire prevention. They are helpful. They are in malls. In fact just last weekend we were in the mall in my hometown. I had my son with me. We were walking along and who do we see but a number of firemen giving out pamphlets to the parents and the children were receiving balloons. They were giving out safety advice to the parents on how to protect their children in crowds, how to keep better rapport with the children. That is beyond the call of duty. These are volunteers. They not only teach children about fire safety, they teach parents how to be safe with their children.
Quite often they raise money for community events. They raise money for charities. They raise money for their own uniforms quite often. They raise money for equipment that the community cannot afford such as the jaws of life. It is usually the firefighters who hold bingos and some even have auxiliaries that help out. They hold bingos, sell tickets and have door to door campaigns. They are always involved with this type of activity.
Often the only remuneration these men and women receive is some type of honorarium to cover the out of pocket expenses incurred while dealing with fires and assorted emergencies or attending training sessions.
The Income Tax Act exempts from taxation the first $500 of allowances received by volunteer firefighters. Since 1980 this level has remained constant at $500. As a result of this constant $500 level the government is now penalizing a lot of these volunteers. Because of inflation it is costing them more money to be volunteer firefighters than if they stayed home and did nothing.
Our volunteer firefighters are now paying for the service they actually provide to the community. This is over and above the time and effort they have already donated. If we were to add up all of the hours, we would never be able to afford these firefighters as full time workers. Nor could we ever afford volunteers in other sectors if we had to pay them. Therefore, it is only fair that the government increase this exemption from$500 to $1,000.
These volunteers no doubt have saved communities right across this country millions of dollars. The cost of this measure is well below the savings generated by these volunteers.
The expenses incurred by the voluntary firefighters often exceed this tax exemption of $500. The cost of gasoline, car insurance, clothing and dry cleaning, for example, has become prohibitive. So, it would be in the interests of voluntary firefighters to increase the tax exemption.
In conclusion I congratulate the member for Haldimand-Norfolk. As I mentioned before he presented this motion in the last Parliament. I congratulate him for his tenacity and his devotion to this cause. I support this motion and I hope all members will see fit to support it when the time comes.
As the member for Restigouche-Chaleur, I would like to thank all the volunteers in my region.
I want to salute and thank the voluntary firefighters.