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House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.

Topics

Division No. 1423Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 1423Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Reform

John Reynolds Reform West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canadian Alliance members present vote yea.

Division No. 1423Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc Quebecois will vote no to this motion.

Division No. 1423Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, members of the NDP present are voting no.

Division No. 1423Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, Progressive Conservative members are voting for the motion.

Division No. 1423Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I vote yea.

Division No. 1423Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Reform

Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I vote yea.

(The House divided on Motion No. 17, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 1421Government Orders

October 4th, 2000 / 6:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare Motion No. 17 lost. I therefore declare Motions Nos. 18 to 20 lost.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Hamilton East Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps LiberalMinister of Canadian Heritage

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell has returned. I think you would find unanimous consent for the members who voted on the previous motion to be recorded has having voted on the motion now before the House, with Liberals voting yea.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there agreement to proceed in such a fashion?

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Reform

John Reynolds Reform West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canadian Alliance members present vote nay, with the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca abstaining.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc Quebecois will vote no to this motion.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, NDP members will be voting against the motion.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, Progressive Conservative members are voting no.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I vote nay.

Division No. 1421Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Reform

Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I vote nay.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 1424Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from September 28 consideration of the motion.

Cultural IndustryPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 259 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 1425Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

Emergency Service VolunteersPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Income Tax Act should be amended to provide a tax credit of $500 to all emergency service volunteers.

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take this opportunity to introduce the motion on emergency service volunteers. I thank my colleague for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for seconding my motion. I look forward to an active debate and interest in this matter in the House of Commons.

This motion would lead the House of Commons to replace the tax deduction, for which only a few community volunteers in Canada are eligible, with a tax credit that would help all emergency service volunteers in communities across the country.

As the House knows, emergency service volunteers, including volunteer firefighters, currently receive a $1,000 tax deduction if they receive an honorarium from their municipality. It is conditional. Most rural volunteer fire departments do not pay an honorarium to their volunteers. The motion would provide a $500 tax credit to all emergency service volunteers, including volunteer firefighters. This credit would end up being worth more than the $1,000 deduction.

As background, in 1997 the member for Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey tabled a bill then known as Bill C-249, which provided for an increase from $500 to $1,000 in the tax deduction for volunteer firefighters.

However, as I mentioned a moment ago, that only applied to firefighters who received honorariums from their fire departments. Most rural volunteer fire departments simply cannot afford to pay that kind of honorarium.

The 1998 budget adopted the recommendations of Bill C-249. Indeed it extends the provisions of that bill to volunteer ambulance technicians and other emergency service volunteers. My predecessor in this place from Kings—Hants, Mr. Scott Brison, originally introduced this motion as a result of representations made to him in his constituency and in conversations he had with people involved in emergency and volunteer services across the country. He appeared before the subcommittee on private members' business in June 2000 and was successful in persuading the committee to deem this motion a votable motion.

In Quebec as in the rest of Canada, most municipalities have to rely on civic minded men and women to act as volunteer firefighters and protect the public in case of disaster.

Unfortunately, their work is not fully appreciated, so the purpose of my motion is to recognize at least in some little way their contribution to their municipalities.

They carry out their duties and protect their fellow citizens, at the peril of their own lives sometimes, as was the case in Warwick, in the riding of Richmond—Arthabaska, where four volunteer firefighters were killed a few years ago.

After years of government cutbacks and reductions, communities both large and small rely increasingly on the help and the dedication of volunteers who have had to step in and fill the void created when governments cut back. That is evident today across Canada, from Hantsport to downtown Calgary, with non-profit organizations struggling to make ends meet.

The Government of Canada greatly underestimates the role and importance that organizations such as food banks, support groups and volunteer fire departments play in our communities. They are an essential part of Canada's social fabric. When the Minister of Finance announced the tax credit for emergency service volunteers in 1998, he said:

As witnessed over the past year in floods and the ice storm, it is important to recognize the extraordinary service provided by the thousands of Canadians who register as volunteers in our communities, mostly rural, and who provide essential emergency services like firefighting and first aid.

My party and I are glad that the minister recognized something needed to be done and that he followed up on a private member's initiative from the House. However, it is time now to take the next step, to expand this to a tax credit that will be available to all emergency service volunteers in the country. Small communities across Canada that rely on their volunteer firefighters in times of emergency are being unfairly left out in the cold by the current government. The Income Tax Act should be amended to provide a tax credit to all emergency service volunteers, regardless of whether the municipality can provide them with an honorarium.

The current policy discriminates against rural firefighters, for example, who rarely receive any compensation from their municipality. I should say, and members with any association with rural communities would know this to be the case, that in many cases and to an increasing degree, volunteer fire departments in rural areas are now carrying out functions that go well beyond dealing with fires. The heavy burden of cutbacks in medical services and other emergency services means that more and more of these people are spending more and more of their time dealing with issues other than fires.

In cases in my constituency I have spoken to people who spend 24 25, or 26 hours a week as volunteers. This is in addition to their regular jobs. Yet they have no incentive, no compensation under our tax system, because they reside in municipalities that are too small to be able to pay them an honorarium.

When they are fighting fires, volunteer firefighters risk their lives to help their fellow citizens and protect their communities. It is not fair when some are rewarded for this while others are not. Volunteer firefighters are essential to rural communities. They risk their lives day in, day out.

Let me quote an advertisement from the Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department in British Columbia. It is a help wanted advertisement and says:

Help wanted! Volunteers over 18 for year round outdoor work. Job training required at no pay. Must be in good condition. Must be able to withstand wide range of temperature extremes, and work under any weather conditions. Must be able to lift their own weight, and move at the speed of life. And do it all over again, perhaps the same day. Must provide own transportation. Uniforms and basic equipment will be supplied. Remuneration includes respect, smiles and “thank yous” (Occasionally).

This advertisement sums up exactly what is expected of volunteer firefighters. Clearly it indicates how rural communities rely on them.

I do not think any member of the House or anyone in the government would want to deny this reality. They would want to be of help to the firefighters who are now excluded, unintentionally, I think, but nonetheless very dramatically in terms of their own well-being.

In Nova Scotia there are currently over 9,000 firefighters, most of whom did not receive a tax credit for their service. In my riding of Kings—Hants reaction to this motion has been excellent. For example, Matt Dunfield, a volunteer firefighter from the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department said in a letter,

—what has been proposed is a great idea as it covers all volunteer emergency service providers, regardless of how much they receive as compensation from the municipality they serve. With this proposal maybe more community members will step forward and offer their services to their communities well being.

Graham Murphy, who has been a volunteer firefighter in Windsor, Nova Scotia, for over 25 years and whose father and grandfather were both fire chiefs in Wolfville also said in a letter:

This bill if passed will be of great benefit to volunteer firefighters serving our smaller communities as they often receive no compensation for the sacrifices they make. The current law does little for those truly unrewarded volunteers. This bill is a small price to pay for a priceless service.

In closing, volunteer firefighters from coast to coast risk their lives to help their fellow citizens and protect their communities. All of them should be recognized for their dedication by being provided with a $500 tax credit. I hope and urge the government and members of all parties in the House to support this motion.

Emergency Service VolunteersPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the motion before us today proposes that the Income Tax Act be amended to provide all emergency service volunteers with a tax credit in the amount of $500 per year.

I thank the member for Kings—Hants for highlighting the very valuable role played by emergency services volunteers in Canadian communities. As I am certain we are all aware, many Canadians provide emergency services such as firefighting and first aid on a volunteer basis, especially in small and rural communities. These volunteers give freely of their time and expertise to their communities, often at considerable risk to themselves. They are to be commended for their dedication and effort.

The government has long recognized that small communities are often unable to maintain full-time emergency personnel, and depend on the essential services provided by these devoted volunteers.

In order to encourage the commitment of these individuals, the Income Tax Act has, for many years, allowed an exemption on the nominal amounts received from a municipality or another public authority by volunteer firefighters in the course of their duties.

This provision recognizes these volunteers often receive small amounts to help defray the expenses they incur in carrying out their duties and that taxing these amounts would be inappropriate. To offer additional support the 1998 budget increased this annual exemption from $500 to $1,000 and extended it to other emergency service volunteers, including volunteer ambulance technicians, search and rescue volunteers and others who in their capacity as volunteers are called upon to assist in emergencies or disasters.

The motion we are discussing today proposes to go beyond this existing provision. I would note that historically tax assistance for volunteers has been restricted to amounts received by eligible volunteers from public authorities. This motion in contrast would extend a tax credit to all emergency service volunteers whether or not they received any amount in the course of their volunteer duties. The intent behind this proposal is admirable in that it seeks to provide tax recognition to those emergency service volunteers who do not receive any allowance or honorarium.

But I think that passing such a tax credit would raise important questions in the context of tax policy and administration. I will, if I may, develop these points.

At the outset I would note that by implementing this proposal we would in effect be providing emergency volunteers with a fixed tax credit without regard to expenses incurred or time spent. Under such a system the dedicated year round volunteer would be receiving the same tax assistance as an individual who is called upon only once or twice during the course of the year. This would be difficult to justify especially as a dedicated volunteer is likely to incur much larger expenses than a one time volunteer.

Moreover it would be very difficult to explain why such a generous provision was limited to emergency service volunteers only. Other volunteers such as hospital workers and coaches for sports teams who contribute to their communities in different ways would be very likely to ask why this credit was not extended to them given that it appears to reward volunteer activity in itself and is unrelated either to effort or expense. I am not sure that I would able to offer a convincing answer to this question.

While extending the credit to all volunteers would resolve this issue, it would also be extremely costly for the government. It would be important to keep in mind that volunteer service is performed at an individual's discretion and without expectation of personal financial benefit. To provide a general tax credit for volunteers would be to ignore this very crucial point.

Furthermore, even if this tax credit were limited strictly to emergency service volunteers, it would be very difficult to ensure that it was claimed only by actual volunteers. This is because tax assistance would no longer be limited to the amounts paid by the municipality for which the taxpayer does the volunteer work.

As a result, there would be fewer incentives for public authorities to ensure that the credit was being claimed only by actual volunteers. To prevent abuse a compliance mechanism would have to be developed possibly involving a separate form or annual certification. This would place a significant administrative burden on municipalities, volunteers and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, especially considering the large volume of claims that would likely be made.

The current treatment avoids this problem to a large extent because tax assistance is restricted to amounts actually paid up to $1,000. Clearly, municipalities have much better control over these amounts and who receives them.

In this context, the present $1,000 exemption for emergency service volunteers is the most balanced solution, because it provides tax assistance to these important volunteers in a straightforward and transparent manner.

In closing, I would like to thank again the member for Kings—Hants for bringing this issue to our attention. However I feel that the motion as it stands before us today would reduce equity in the tax system rather than enhance it and would be very complex for volunteers and municipalities to comply with. For these reasons I feel that the motion should not be supported by the House.

Emergency Service VolunteersPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Well, Mr. Speaker, there we go. A member of the government is telling volunteer firefighters throughout the country from coast to coast to coast to go away and not bother the government with their very minor concern. For him to compare soccer and gymnastics volunteers to volunteer firefighters and first aid volunteers is the typical Liberal approach to government, to divide and conquer. We cannot pass this very worthwhile motion brought forward by the hon. member for Kings—Hants because the Liberals do not want to. They do not want to even seriously debate the issue.

What the member from the Liberal Party just mentioned is absolute nonsense. If the Liberals had any political will or political backbone left they would look at this issue very seriously. Next time there is a fire in a rural area, they should go out with the volunteer firefighters at two o'clock in the morning and see if the hon. member is there to help volunteers save lives and risking his life in order to protect property and people.

There are 28 volunteer fire departments in the beautiful riding of Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. They wholeheartedly support this motion. The only change they would add is that instead of $500 they would like to see it increased to $1,000. I firmly believe that every first aid volunteer and volunteer firefighter in the country should receive an automatic $1,000 tax deduction.

There is a very fine gentleman, a great constituent in my riding, Mr. Peter Sheen, who has volunteered for a long time with the Beaverbank, Kinsac volunteer fire department. He brought to my attention that he has to pay unemployment insurance and CPP premiums on his honorarium. This is a person who at any moment, in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn, will get up to go fight a fire.

Picture the life of volunteer firefighters in rural Nova Scotia, although the situation can be painted right across the country, in Inuvik, Victoria or St. John's, Newfoundland. They work all day, go home and look after their kids, go to sleep and at 1 a.m. the phone rings. They go fight a very dangerous fire somewhere. They never know if it could be a neighbour, a personal friend or a relative. They fight that fire until eight o'clock the next morning.

All this time the volunteers are thinking about how they have to get to their regular day job. The people risked their lives, not only for their community but for their country, because that is really what volunteer firefighters and first aiders do. They not only represent their constituency, they represent their country. Those people also have a full time obligation in their other jobs. If they cannot meet that obligation, chances are they may be dismissed by their employer. This is a risk that volunteer firefighters have every single time.

It is not an easy job being a volunteer firefighter. They get training when it is available. In rural areas where there is not much access to funds it is difficult to get the proper training. In some areas volunteer firefighters drive great distances to the fire hall on Tuesday nights which is when most of the training and meetings are.

All that gas and everything else which volunteer firefighters pay for out of their pockets costs money. All they are asking for is a slight little recognition in the Income Tax Act that would give them a $500 tax deduction. I personally would like to see it at $1,000.

There is no question that big businesses can deduct the costs for their boxes at the Skydome and their car expenses. They can deduct everything but a volunteer cannot deduct anything. That is sad and absolutely scandalous. It is typical of the Liberals who govern from the centre of the country and ignore its extremities. It is okay to live in a big urban area where there are paid firefighters but the Liberals have to get their heads out of the city and back into the rural country where I live, and where a lot of Canadians live from coast to coast to coast. The government should understand that what the hon. member for Kings—Hants is doing is an honourable gesture to these brave men and women throughout our country.

I am not going to take up too much time but I find it absolutely irresponsible of the government, or anyone else for that matter, to turn this motion away. As the hon. member for Kings—Hants has said, he is hoping for support from all people.

The government must remember, if it was not for volunteer firefighters, who would protect homes in a rural riding at two or three o'clock in the morning? Who is going to protect the children? Who is going to protect the property? The government should think about that the next time.

Who was first on the scene of the Swissair disaster in Nova Scotia? Volunteers, fishermen, search and rescue volunteers, volunteers who gave up a lot of time. Many of them went on vacation early in order to help out. It cost them a tremendous amount of money but they did not ask for restitution. They did not even ask for applause. All they asked was that the government recognize their efforts and at least thank them. That is all they asked for.

This small motion could be passed immediately by the government. The government could pick it up and run with it. It could put it in its election platform. It would go a long way in saying thank you to the brave men and women of Canada.

I have appreciated the opportunity to speak on behalf of the over 8,000 volunteers in Nova Scotia alone. My party and I support the motion of the hon. member for Kings—Hants. I can only hope that the members in the Liberal government over there have been listening to every word I said, which of course they have not, and that they understand what we are trying to do.