Mr. Speaker, I know we have had a busy day talking about the Marine Conservation Areas Act, mines and all kinds of other things. In private members' business tonight I want to address the motion of the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, Motion No. 259, which reads:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should give consideration to exempting up to $30,000 of income from income tax as a gesture of support for those artists, writers and performers who work in Canada's cultural industry.
I thank the member for bringing the motion forward. It certainly bears discussion. We need to celebrate our arts community in the country for sure.
Some members of my family are artists. As members know, I taught in the high school system in the department of English and love to see people who spend some time writing and in the performing arts. It is a wonderful heritage for us as Canadians.
The member's proposal that the motion would give fledgling artists, writers and performers a tax break to keep them in their chosen line of work is noble. The reasoning is that due to the economically unstable nature of their profession artists often live at or below the poverty line. The NDP cites the average income of Canadian artists as $13,000 a year. I am not sure where the member gets his statistics, but I know he will enlighten me on that.
If we start singling out this sector or that sector for tax breaks, it makes it very difficult and puts us all at different levels as to who pays what marginal rate of tax or what their personal income tax will be. As hon. members know, we already have several rates as it is: 17%, 21%, 29%, and those in the higher income brackets pay as much as 50% in tax, which is a little difficult to stomach for anyone in any industry, frankly.
I am thrilled to say our Alliance policy would give tax breaks to everybody, not just the rich, whom we always get accused of supporting. I would challenge any government member to stand here when I am finished and say I support tax cuts only for the rich.
Let me use artists as an example. The NDP has cited that they make $13,000 a year. It is scandalous that they would pay any federal income tax at all. The basic exemption now is around $7,000, I believe. Under our program the basic exemption to any taxpayer would be $10,000 and then the spousal equivalent would be another $10,000. As I understand it now, $5,000 or $6,000 is the basic income exemption for the spousal equivalent. Our program, solution 17, would up that to $10,000 and then $3,000 per child to be exempt from that.
Let us use the example of two kids and two adults in a family earning $26,000. They would not pay a dime of federal income tax. That is a marvellous release for people in the artistic community or anywhere else. Hon. members can hardly say that is a tax break just for the rich. I really do not think anyone in the Chamber would have the nerve to say $26,000 would be helping the rich. Surely not.
We see this as a marvellous tax relief for people, and we would see broad based tax relief certainly for artists in our communities. Moreover, for people they deal with—their family members, their extended family members, and those people who would buy their art, go see their performing art, or read their writings—the economic spinoff in that would be far more exciting than just the proposal in Motion No. 259.
We should think about people who purchase art. In fact I just had someone in my office who works with an arts stabilization program, who had great ideas of private-public funding to say we want stabilized programs, stabilized funding for the arts, but to make sure there is accountability, to make sure government money is not just being shovelled into whatever project it is with no accountability.
I met with the director of the Canada Council for the Arts, Shirley Thomson, this week in my office. She is very keen on making sure any grants that go out from the Canada council are subject to accountability and that a small percentage of government funding goes into this.
These artists certainly need to be celebrated for their works, but we cannot just say we will pay the whole shot. It is wise that we look at private-public partnerships for some of that funding. I am sure the member who put the motion forward would feel exactly the same way, that it would be only responsible.
Let me again mention that people who are in the business of art would be able to celebrate capital gains savings through our tax plan. Also, regarding business taxes such as employment insurance and Canada pension, if they are paying their own premiums or if they are working for someone else and someone is paying payroll taxes for them, their particular EI premiums would be much lower than they are now.
I was going to say I watch with amusement, but it is with almost pity and sadness that I see government members today trying to say they will put back all the money they stripped and slashed out of EI, for which they got their heads kicked in, in the election in 1997. The marvel of it is that they want it through the House of Commons, and in one sitting day. Is it not something that this twinge of conscience would hit them days before a writ? It just has to be irony, and I find it very strange that the timing would be such, but what in the world.
Surely we have to look at that and say we would decrease the EI rates to $2 from $2.40. I know it was much higher than that. Yes, we do have to give government members a shred of credit and say they have brought it down some. It is pretty hard to sit on a $12 billion egg of surplus and not be smitten by conscience for some of the things they did in the past. The Prime Minister or anyone else on the government side would say they have a burning desire to help people whom they cut and kicked earlier.
Witness the health care accord just signed a couple of weeks ago. If we look at the numbers, it is a very strange thing again. The government has pulled out, slashed, and burned about $21 billion in health care transfer payments to the provinces since it came in in 1993. What do we think the health accord signed a couple of weeks ago said? They are to put about $21 billion back into the health care system. That was just a pure accident as well.
Let us look at the artists and employment insurance. It is true that rates moving down to $2 would be very helpful to them. That to me is exciting. A single rate of tax would eliminate the 5% surtax, which would again give a tax savings of $762 million to all Canadians. That would help the artistic community a whole lot.
Let me also say that under the current income tax system there already are some tax breaks for artists. They may deduct the cost of creating a work of art in the year in which the costs are incurred instead of when the work is sold. Of course that is when the bulk of work goes into an artistic piece, when the artist is working on it. The artist may be able to defer those costs. Also, employed artists and musicians can deduct certain expenses against their employment income.
We could look at mechanics. My husband Lou is a carpenter. Anyone who came to our shop would see how unbelievably much equipment goes into that industry.
People are just begging for tax relief. If we come up with broad based tax relief right across the country, to every sector, not just cherry-picking this sector or that sector, all of us will be a lot better off.
There are already programs funded by the taxpaying public to help this sector, artists, although they too are not terribly accountable or transparent. I am trying to have some briefings and meetings with many of these groups. Certainly there needs to be some overhaul, but there are granting agencies in place. I mentioned earlier the Canada council, the cultural initiatives program and the National Film Board, just to name a few. I am sure I could go through the estimates and really go at it in terms of government funding that goes into it.
Although I certainly do support the artistic community and all the wonderful things artists do in supporting Canadian heritage, I think the best way to help them would be not just to have this particular proposal of a $30,000 exemption, but when we form government to have broad based tax relief. That would help those people probably more than anyone else on a relative scale.