Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-502, the purpose of which is to permit mechanics to deduct from their taxable income the cost of tools they are required to buy to practice their trade.
In visiting my constituents in the riding of Lotbinière, I often hear from mechanics and employees in car dealerships about how it is unfair that they are not entitled to this deduction.
Earlier, the hon. member opposite told us that the Standing Committee on Finance had looked at this matter and immediately acknowledged the problem. This is what the committee had to say:
The Committee believes that all Canadian employees should be allowed to deduct from their income the cost of large mandatory employment expenses. Special provisions in the Income Tax Act already apply to artists, chainsaw operators and musicians.
To deny this tax treatment to apprentices and technicians in the automotive industry is not only unfair, it also imposes an impediment to employment, especially for the young who might choose to work as apprentices. Revising the tax treatment of such expenses would remove the impediment that exists under the present tax rules.
This was the December 1997 prebudget tour report, which the Liberals contributed to. However, they have a lot of ideas and consider many subjects. They analyze, but action must wait.
I would like to give some statistics on the automotive industry. Independent business alone employs over 150,000 professionals to maintain and repair automobiles, including some 25% in Quebec, representing some 40,000 individuals, who are affected by this problem.
The media often debate important issues involving automotive manufacturers but short shrift is given vehicle maintenance and repair professionals who, unfortunately, are forced as a condition of employment to buy their own tools and to maintain them in perfect working order, and to pay insurance costs on top of the cost of buying and maintaining them.
This is a heavy financial burden because, in addition to normal wear on tools, technological advances require these technicians to constantly invest in new equipment.
Here are few statistics. An apprentice automobile mechanic must spend between $2,000 and $5,000 to buy the tools necessary to his trade. This same mechanic, who cannot work without a set of functional and modern tools, will have to spend in the first 5 to 10 years over $15,000 on tools. If he specializes, he will have to spend between $30,000 and $40,000. This is a far from negligible expenditure, justifying in our opinion the request we are making today that this be tax deductible.
Let us look at this a little more closely. Mechanics in Quebec and Canada live in an unfair situation and it is high time that the parliamentarians in this House do something about it.
The bill being debated this evening is intended to enable people employed as mechanics to deduct the cost of the tools they provide if they have to do so as part of the conditions of their employment. More precisely, the deduction could cover the cost of renting these tools; costs related to their maintenance; related insurance; the full purchase price of tools under $250; and, subject to regulatory adjustment of this amount reflecting inflation and the capital allowance cost, tools of more than $250.
I am convinced that this measure would make tax equity possible for these people, who richly deserve it.
Another problem raised, which we should also look at in relation to this highly unfair situation, is the matter of the next generation of mechanics. This is food for thought for our Minister of Finance and our Minister of Revenue. Here we have a sector of employment not to be overlooked as an opportunity for young workers, particularly when there is so much youth unemployment.
The government has a duty therefore to look seriously at this matter. It must not use the excuse that if it allows this deduction for mechanics other trade groups will be calling for something similar. That is the usual evasive tactic used by the Liberals across the way.
They hide. They are frightened. They sidestep out of fear of creating a precedent but precedent has been set long ago with this government. We need only think of the Employment Insurance Act and, more recently, the legislation that is going to allow the government to get its hands on $30 billion from the pension funds of public servants, RCMP employees and Canadian Armed Forces personnel.
Getting back to the mechanics' demands, as I have demonstrated, the cost of their tools is astronomical. I would remind hon. members that a tool of the trade is a tool of the trade, whether it is the virtuoso's violin, the logger's chainsaw, or the various tools used by a mechanic.
I will review the precise objectives of this bill. First, the bill's purpose is to ensure that mechanics receive equitable tax treatment that is identical to that received by farmers and commensurate with that received by chain saw operators, artists and musicians.
Second, the bill is intended to alleviate the financial burden imposed on mechanics, whose terms of employment require them to buy their own tools.
Third, the bill would offer a solution to the serious shortage of manpower in the automotive trades. Enrolment in apprentice programs would go up and more mechanics would be able to continue in this line of work.
Fourth, the bill seeks to create jobs for young unemployed Canadians and Quebecers, because talented young people are beginning to realize that a career in the automotive industry is increasingly within their reach.
Fifth, the bill would permit mechanics to continue providing the public with the customary level and quality of vehicle repair and maintenance services, which will be to the benefit of all car owners.
For all these reasons, I feel that the bill would be good for the economy and job creation. The Bloc Quebecois and I are in favour of the measures I have just outlined.
It seems that the majority of members on this side of the House are aware of this completely unfair situation, which is penalizing people who do a lot for our society. Is there anyone nowadays that does not need a mechanic? People pay a lot for a car and want good service for it. This takes skilled people who do a good job, but these people need help with their tax load.
In my view, a tax break for those working in this sector is essential. It is something parliament should address. It is a situation that is hard to understand because other sectors have already been given a tax break.
In fact, it is typical of this government to have a double standard. It is always difficult to clarify matters.
The member opposite said earlier that what we are asking for will complicate the system, but I say that it will clarify it. It will give hard-working, honourable people the deductions that will allow them to do a better job, provide better service and be happier in their work.
That is what I wish for them.