moved that Bill C-205, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of expenses incurred by a mechanic for tools required in employment) be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to raise a problem which has been been going on for far too long in Quebec and in Canada, and which in my opinion is prejudicial to the development of an essential sector of Canadian and Quebec industry, namely automobile mechanics.
I will start off by asking my colleagues of all parties in the House for their co-operation and support, because I believe that this problem is vital to a category of workers who are literally discriminated against when it comes to tax deductions.
I believe that this bill goes beyond party lines. I do not think it has anything to do with the differences of opinion there might be between the left and right in Canada, between sovereignists and federalists. I believe this bill should be an opportunity to rise above party lines. This bill will be a votable item, as I remind hon. members. Each and every one of my colleagues in this House will therefore be able to vote according to his or her conscience. Based on the number of letters I have received in my office since introducing Bill C-205, I have great hopes of its being passed by the House.
The people affected by it are the men and women who work under the hoods of our cars and other vehicles, covered with grease and grime, day after day, in order to keep them in running order.
Each and every one of the 301 members of this House, myself included, have to submit every four years to the test of democracy, and when I say submit, I should probably be saying pass the test of democracy to convince people to support us. From time to time, we all visit car dealers for various meetings or during election campaigns. I am convinced that all my colleagues have had the same experience as I have. The owners of the garage open their doors to us, they allow us to meet the employees, either during the morning or the afternoon break, or at lunch time, and we then have the opportunity to talk with those men and women who tell us about the problems they are facing.
Some of you might be wondering why the Bloc Quebecois transport critic is introducing a bill. It is a private member's bill. I was, and still am, of the opinion that it is a problem that should be fixed by parliament.
We have to understand that it is actually very difficult for these men and women to work in a ideal context because of the high cost of the tools they need to do their job. We have to understand that mechanics usually have to provide every tool, or at least many of the tools that they need to do their work. These tools, as members can imagine, are much more that the simple screwdriver that people can buy for a dollar or two. They are very expensive tools.
According to my information, a young mechanic or apprentice very often has to lay out a sizeable amount of money. This bill raises another problem with regard to the opportunity these young people have to work and earn a decent living.
It often happens that a young mechanic who has just finished school has to spend between $5,000 and as much as $30,000 or $40,000 to buy the tools he needs for his job. Moreover, some of these expenses are recurrent. Technological change makes some tools obsolete quite rapidly, and new parts have to be bought. Some tools are sometimes forgotten inside vehicles, or some of them break and have to be replaced. To sum up, a mechanic has to spend thousands of dollars on the tools of his trade, but since he is a worker and not a business, he cannot benefit from tax deductions. I hope the national revenue and finance ministers will be sensitive to this problem.
However, a business that has to buy equipment can claim a deduction for these costs and get depreciation. This is not possible for an individual, except in certain cases.
Here are a few of these exceptions. We have the chain saw operators, and forestry workers, for example. To a certain extent, musicians and artists can also claim deductions for their instruments and tools. But mechanics cannot.
I therefore believe that mechanics are being treated unfairly and it is high time parliament did something about it. Today, February 14, on Valentine's Day, we are exactly two weeks to the day from the Minister of Finance's budget. We know the budget will be brought down on February 28 because the Prime Minister let it slip out about two weeks ago already. I wonder if the Minister of Finance was pleased when his Prime Minister accidentally revealed the date of the budget speech. So, the budget will be brought down on February 28.
I call on the Minister of Finance, on his community spirit and on his sense of justice and equity. I would appreciate it if, in his budget—and I convinced that the minister will be receptive and our speeches today are aimed at making him aware of this issue—he took into account the government's anticipated surplus of some $95 billion over the next five years. The minister should take the opportunity provided by his budget to grant tax deductions to mechanics.
I mentioned earlier that I received numerous letters of support from members on both sides of the House. I also received letters from some of my constituents who work as mechanics in a garage and who are asking me to act. I would like to quote one such letter written by Mario Labrecque and Gérald Corriveau. Both work as mechanics in Beauport and they sent me this letter:
As constituents in your riding, we wish to inform you of the discriminatory nature of a tax policy that has an impact on our livelihood as automotive technicians.
A young apprentice who begins his career as a automotive technician must, on average, invest over $15,000 in tools and equipment. He must also invest an average of $5,000 each year to keep up to date.
These two persons go on to say:
The problem is that we are not entitled to deduct the cost of our tools, even though buying these tools is a condition of employment for us.
The unfairness of this treatment is aggravated by the fact that members of other professions, including chain saw operators and musicians, are allowed to deduct the cost of their saw or of their musical instrument. Moreover, the decision of the federal Minister of Finance not to grant any tax relief to mechanics regarding the purchasing of tools and equipment is a deterrent for anyone who might interested in that trade. The result is that the industry has a serious problem recruiting candidates and there is currently a shortage of skilled manpower.
In the light of these remarks, I decided to introduce this bill, which is intended to provide a deduction relating specifically to, and I will explain the content of Bill C-205, the cost of tool rentals, tool maintenance, related insurance and the full price of tools costing less than $250.
This measure, I am sure, will ensure tax equity for people who are well deserving of it. This parliament is aware of this injustice and has been for a long time. On many occasions since 1992, members have drawn the fact to the government's attention. There was the member for Lakeland, I recall, and even a Liberal member, who introduced a similar bill when the party was in opposition in the early 1990s.
How have things changed since? Why has the Liberal Party not remained true to itself? Nearly every party, each in turn, has made the government aware of this inequity and nearly all have reached the same conclusion: the solution is a tax deduction for mechanics.
In its December 1997 prebudget report, the House Standing Committee on Finance said:
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.
I would point out that the majority of the members of the House Standing Committee on Finance are government members. I would hope the Liberal members of this House will indicate the route the government should follow in the vote at second reading of my bill.
Through the Parliamentary Secretary to the then Minister of Finance, the government implied that it had great sympathy for mechanics and the difficult situation they faced, but that it could not take a piecemeal approach because other categories of workers might be facing a similar problem and it was necessary to bring in a legislative reform that would apply to all trades.
Despite its sympathy, in the budgets tabled since the 1997 report of the Standing Committee on Finance, the government has still not introduced the tax deduction needed to resolve this problem. Once again, I appeal to members, regardless of their party, and particularly to the Liberal majority, to offer automobile mechanics more than their sympathy.
Sympathy is certainly helpful. It is a comfort. It is encouraging and supportive. But I am asking for more. I am asking for a concrete policy, for this parliament to take a democratic decision that will bring around the Minister of Finance and influence the government. I am therefore calling for more than sympathy.
I would like to tell the House what I think of the supposed importance of not opening Pandora's box by creating a deduction for mechanics and not for other trades that might also be similarly penalized.
An injustice exists. We know what needs to be done to fix it. Under no circumstances can we allow it to drag on because there might be other similar cases. On the contrary, let us resolve to take corrective action in the case of these other injustices at a later time.
We will hear from other members. Perhaps they will honestly decide to introduce other private members' bills to correct other injustices, but the bill I have introduced concerns a tax deduction for automobile mechanics.
I implore the members opposite not to play the game of doing nothing until a comprehensive solution is found to the problems of federal Canadian tax law.
The federal government coffers are full. We expect a $95 billion surplus over the next five years. The Minister of Finance has money coming out his ears.
We have seen some of the decisions that have been taken, including the one about giving some thought to providing tax benefits to hockey teams owners when the average salary in the National Hockey League is $1.2 million. Thanks to public opinion and because ordinary citizens sent faxes, phoned the riding offices and condemned this idea I would describe as stupid, that of giving tax deductions to hockey millionaires, the government thought about it for three days, then changed its mind.
As far as this bill is concerned, mechanics are not hockey millionaires, they do not earn $1.2 million a year working in a garage. These people are middle-class workers, who are struggling and who have children in school. These young people need clothing and they sometimes have to rent an apartment away from home to pursue specialised studies in college or at university. We are talking here about middle-class people.
If, as we often say in our speeches, we as parliamentarians are sympathetic to the concerns of the ordinary people and the middle class, this bill is a very good opportunity to show it instead of simply expressing pious hopes, saying kind words, and crowing over how nice and fine our actions are. When we vote on this bill at second reading, we will see if the 301 members of the House are showing solidarity with those who are unfairly treated.
It is obvious that, when they finish school, many young people do not have $15,000 to spend on a tool kit. What does that mean? It means that, when they enter the work market, young people who have already run into debt to get an education have to get further into debt to equip themselves with a tool kit that may cost between a minimum of $5,000 and $15,000.
Usually, these young people do not own any property or house, which they could use as collateral for a bank loan. Often they will need their parents to guarantee their loan. Not all parents are able to stand surety for their children. Let us not forget that parents who have spent a lot of money to support and help their children sometimes are not able to stand security for a bank loan. I hope that you are aware of the fact that, after graduation, young people do not automatically have $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000 in their pockets to buy a tool kit.
Let us not forget that a tool kit is required to perform their job. It is a job requirement. The garage owner will tell them “I am willing to give you a job, but you must bring your own tools”.
I conclude by saying that my bill, contrary to similar bills debated in this House since 1992, is a votable bill. I hope that that is evidence of a sincere commitment to this issue on the part of my colleagues. I thank the members of the committee for having given me the opportunity to plead in front of them and for having agreed to make the bill a votable item. This is good news.
The Prime Minister regularly states that the members of his party are free to vote according to their conscience on private members' bills. There is no party line imposed by the government. Each member is free to vote for or against the bill, as he or she sees fit.
During election campaigns, all the members of this House probably had the opportunity to visit garages and dealerships employing automotive technicians. Thus, several of my colleagues are aware of the problem.
Those who vote against the bill will have explanations to give to thousands of voters come the next election.