Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak today on the motion presented by my colleague from Haldimand-Norfolk.
The motion recommends that the government amend the voluntary firefighter's tax exemption from $500 to $1,000 in order to account for inflation and recognize the value of their services to the community. Most Canadians probably do not recognize the importance of our volunteer firefighters and I would like to look at some of the stats.
Nationally there are 76,000 volunteer firefighters. Over65 per cent or 17,000 of the 26,000 firefighters in Ontario alone are volunteers. Ninety-five per cent of the province's 653 fire departments are staffed in whole or in part by them.
The legislative reference to this motion is section 6(1) of the Income Tax Act. This section exempts the first $500 from taxation of allowances received by the firefighter. Raising the level or threshold is not a new idea. In the 1980 fiscal year the amount was increased from $300 to $500 as was previously stated and there have been no increases since 1980 despite substantial increases in inflation and the cost of living.
There are really two issues here: first, to update the tax provision which is outdated and no longer representative of today's buying power; second, the issue of fairness in providing recognition to those thousands of volunteers. Clearly without volunteers many communities would not have fire protection.
This is not an exaggeration but a recognition that many rural communities simply do not have the financial resources to pay for full time firefighters. Even with volunteers many communities in my riding are still dependent on shared services with their neighbouring municipalities. I would like to take a couple of minutes to give members a personal position on this.
In the late 1960s we had a fire on our farm. We have a poultry farm. It was a three storey building, 21,000 square feet, and it caught on fire. It is dead centre on our farm. We had a century old farmhouse. There was a drive-in shed and two more barns on the other side.
The heat was so intense it broke every window on one side of the farmhouse. There was a 2,000 litre propane tank in front of the barn. The firefighters helped us that night to move that tank away. There would have been a huge hole in the ground had that not been done. They could not save the barn, but they saved the house, the drive-in shed and the two other barns. A lot of it was in jeopardy of their own lives.
What would the cost be of increasing the exemption? I believe this point was raised earlier by another speaker. The cost of full utilization of the new exemption is estimated to be $38 million. This is a lot of money and yet what volunteer firefighters provide our communities offsets this lost revenue. Without these volunteers a community would either have to forgo fire protection or hire a full time force at a staggering price, a lot more than what I have just mentioned. The resulting increases in municipal taxes necessary would be prohibitive.
Let us move on beyond dollars and take a closer look at these people in our community. These volunteers are busy people who hold down full time jobs and yet have time to devote to their community. I know that every Thursday evening in many of the towns and villages in my riding firefighters hold drill practices. Often they will go on training sessions held in different parts of the provinces at their own expense.
A volunteer force is a term used to distinguish it from a paid or professional force. These are terms I do not like to use because there is nothing unprofessional about these volunteer firefighters. Beyond firefighting they are called upon to perform a host of other duties. They are trained in CPR, first aid, highway accident rescues and other emergencies.
Regarding highway accident rescues, it could be a father heading out to an accident in which his own son or daughter could be involved. That is a great emotional point.
One emergency in particular that comes to mind in my riding is the tornado touchdown both in Grand Valley and the Orangeville areas. This week marks its grizzly anniversary.
Beyond these duties firefighters selflessly devote their time to parades, fire safety awareness campaigns, sponsorship of local causes and fundraising events to help sustain their service. Not only do they do their own work for nothing but they also have to go out and raise money for their own fire department. Almost all of this is done at their own personal expense in terms of time and money.
I believe that this motion is significant in that it provides recognition by this House of the work our volunteer firefighters do and I am thankful for the opportunity to speak in support of it.