Madam Speaker, today I welcome the opportunity to speak to the hon. member's motion to raise the voluntary firemen's tax exemption from $500 to $1,000.
I would like to start by commending the hon. member for his motion, since it also gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the work done by these people and to say they are useful members of our society, and I think that is a message we can send them from this House.
The hon. member said twice that because of the standing orders, his motion was not votable. I do not know whether the hon. member could ask for unanimous consent, but if he did, I am sure he would obtain unanimous consent for the House to vote immediately on this motion. I do not know whether the hon. member is listening.
Raising the voluntary firemen's tax exemption from $500 to $1,000 would be an opportunity for members of this House to give tangible recognition of the social commitment and dedication of all voluntary firefighters in Quebec and Canada.
I think the average person does not quite realize how important voluntary firefighters are to our communities. They are voluntary, because considering the compensation they receive would hardly justify considering them otherwise. And as such, they should not have to pay income tax on the pittance they earn by serving the community.
They are not permanent workers, since their main occupation is not as firefighters; they earn their living doing something else. However, they are on call and must leave everything behind to respond to distress calls. Moreover, volunteer firefighters must use their own vehicle to get to the emergency situations which they must face. These men and women, because there are indeed men and women in this service, must carry pagers with them so that they can be reached day and night. They must also attend different courses and conferences, as the hon. member mentioned earlier.
It is important to note that the tax exemption has not been changed since 1980. At that time, it went from $300 to $500 to account for inflation; some people thought that the $300 amount was not fair any more and should be amended to $500. That calculation has not been done since 1980. I think that, today, we could make exactly the same calculation and come up with the amount of $1,000 as proposed in this motion.
Since 1980, while inflation has been considerably increasing every year, volunteer firefighters have been paying more taxes on a service they voluntarily provide to their communities. Consequently, it would be normal to increase the tax exemption according to the standard of living in our society. Also, it is important to keep in mind the abilities, both physical and academic, that such a job requires. Generally, volunteer firefighters have attended all the basic first-aid courses: St. John's Ambulance, Red Cross, CPR and others. This is quite something for a job you do only on a voluntary basis.
We should also point out, and this is very important, that volunteer firefighters help municipalities to provide a service they could probably not afford otherwise. It is a fact that in the rural municipalities that cannot afford a professional firefighting brigade, the role of volunteer firefighters is vital. The safety of millions of people is in their hands.
Without them there would be a multimillion dollar void which would have to be filled with our taxes. I believe the hon. member mentioned that point in his speech. If we do not raise this exemption, if we do not acknowledge in some way the work of these dedicated men and women, and if they stop being volunteer firefighters, municipalities and taxpayers will have to pay dearly to get a similar service. So, why not raise this exemption again? This would send a tremendous message to these men and women who put their lives on the line to save others.
On a social and community level, how many times have I seen volunteer firefighters take part in fundraising campaigns, either for the MIRA foundation, the United Way, or shelters for abused women or drug addicts? How many times have volunteer fire departments joined civil defence teams to assist communities ravaged by floods, tornadoes or other environmental disasters?
In my riding of Berthier-Montcalm, I saw the volunteer fire department at work, fighting against floods along the St. Lawrence and cleaning up after a tornado hit Maskinongé. They do a terrific job. Public security is in good hands. On the national level, the tragic fire at the tire depot in Saint-Amable, in the Montreal area, highlighted the remarkable role played by these men and women who are much more than volunteer firefighters. They got involved after the fire to make sure that the neighbour-
ing population suffered as little as possible from the damage to the environment and got all the help they needed.
I believe that such events opened the eyes of many. One must realize that these volunteers have to leave their jobs, their homes, and their families to go and help the community when it is threatened. I call upon the government to vote in favour of this motion- it will not be a direct vote, but through this House, the government should get the message-to increase this tax exemption from $500 to $1,000 without delay. Together, we must send our heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers who are dedicated to public security across Quebec and Canada.
Volunteer firefighters are too often forgotten by the government and the population as a whole. Today we have an opportunity to thank them by supporting the motion. As elected representatives, we feel secure because of them and we must support the motion.
As for me, I thank the 994 volunteer firefighters in50 different municipalities in my riding. I want to show them my entire support in this motion and I will see to it that the government adopts it as fast as possible.