moved that Bill C-244, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of mechanics' tool expenses) be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am truly delighted to be able to rise to debate this bill once again. I first introduced it in the House in 1997, four years ago. It has been debated on at least five days since then and I have spoken on it myself four or five times.
In spite of that we have had no action from the government, but I am quite confident that we will have after today's debate. I believe it will go to committee at some time in the near future and some action will be taken. However, it will certainly require the continued efforts of mechanics, technicians and others across the country to ensure that this happens. It is not something we can take for granted.
Since I introduced my bill four years ago and in fact in the two months immediately following that, I received over 7,000 letters from technicians and from people who owned businesses that did mechanical repairs on vehicles and so on, from right across the country, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. The support for that bill was widespread indeed. Since the member from the Bloc introduced the same bill just before the last election, we have received over 70,000 postcards from right across the country. The support for the bill is undeniable. I will talk about that later.
The issue of the bill is that technicians and mechanics who, as a condition of employment, are required to purchase tools and to maintain a line of tools are not allowed to deduct for tax purposes the cost of these tools. That is the issue.
It seems completely inconsistent when we have other groups of people such as artists and others who are allowed to deduct from their incomes the cost of the equipment they purchase to carry out their occupations. It is also inconsistent when we see that business people are allowed to claim these expenses as the cost of doing business, whether they run the corner garage, a large machinery dealership or a farm implement dealership. They are of course allowed to claim all the costs of doing business and that includes the cost of tools.
I guess the problem arises from the disappearance of tools. As a farmer, I have done a lot of mechanical work and I have seen a lot of tools disappear. That was okay until my kids were old enough so that I could kind of point the finger of blame at them; every time a tool disappeared I could say my kids walked away with it, that it was not my own carelessness. The problem is that with the kinds of conditions we work in, tools do disappear, and if the tools are owned by the business owner, they probably disappear a little more often, because someone is not quite careful enough to collect them after finishing a motor job or something else.
In some cases no doubt they are stolen, but in most cases it is just a matter of carelessness. Sometimes they are left on a vehicle and when it is taken out for a test drive or when farm equipment is taken out to be tested or used again, the tools are gone. It adds up to thousands of dollars. It is a serious cost.
For that reason, we have seen right across the country a common requirement of employment that mechanics purchase their own tools. That is a condition of employment, so there is the problem. Business people do what makes sense, because they know that technicians and mechanics will be a little more vigilant when they are dealing with their own tools and when they have to purchase out of their own pockets any tools lost. Yet in spite of that, technicians and mechanics are just not allowed to claim the cost for tax purposes.
That is the issue here and it is a serious one. Because of this there is a shortage of mechanics and technicians right across the country right now, with no indication that the shortage will be reduced in any way. It is a serious problem.
What I want to do with the rest of my presentation today is to demonstrate that there is broad support for this change and to explain how it is an issue of tax fairness and how the finance committee of the House, on different occasions, has indicated that this is a change which should be made because it is an issue of tax fairness.
I then want to close by talking a bit about the process to date with the bill in the House, to explain to Canadians and to technicians that it has been a long process, too long, I would argue.
I want to carry on by talking about the support. I have already referred to over 7,000 letters that I personally received from technicians on this issue, and the 70,000 postcards. I know that every member of parliament in the House has received letters and phone calls from technicians about this piece of legislation. I doubt that there is one who has not.
When the bill was introduced by the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans and made votable in the last parliament, it was widely supported by members of every political party in the House, including the governing party. There is support for the piece of legislation in every way imaginable. There is no need to belabour the point.
The bill is about tax fairness. It is about giving mechanics what is already available to certain other groups in society and what is already available to the business people who hire mechanics, if they choose to purchase tools for their use. Clearly it is a matter of fairness.
I would like to quote from the December 1997 House of Commons finance committee prebudget report which stated:
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.
The finance committee was very clear, and it was repeated later by the finance committee. The finance committee is controlled by a majority of members from the governing side. They recognize that this change should happen. I do not understand where the resistance is coming from.
It is funny that the government only seems to act on a situation of tax fairness when it means more revenue and when it means that it can raise the taxes of a particular group in society. In this case we are talking about lowering the tax load of technicians and mechanics. Under those circumstances the government really does not seem that keen to act at all. Sad as it is, that is the situation.
I normally would quote from some of the people who have written to me on this issue, but I want to leave some time to explain what has happened with this piece of legislation in the House to date. It is worth pointing out.
I first brought the bill forward in 1997. A couple of weeks ago I found out that in 1992 a Liberal member when in opposition brought forth a similar bill except that it had no specifics attached to it. It was a general statement indicating that mechanics or technicians should be allowed to deduct the cost of purchasing tools. It had been put before the House in 1992. I introduced it and debated it in the House in 1997. I debated it when the Bloc MP had his name drawn and his bill was chosen. Only the dollar value was changed somewhat in his piece of legislation.
He indicated that tools which cost $225 or less should be fully written off in the particular year for tax purposes and tools above $225 should be claimed through capital cost allowance. The figures were changed slightly, but that bill was debated a couple of months before the last election and passed by the House. This shows there is support for the legislation in the House. I do not think we should have to argue the point anymore.
Here we are again with the bill before the House. This time it is Bill C-244. The figures I have used in the bill are the same ones I used when I first introduced and debated the bill in 1997. Tools under $200 could be fully claimed in that year and tools valued at $200 or more could be claimed through capital cost allowance. Insurance and so on could be claimed as business expenses. That is completely consistent with what happens with farmers and other small businesses. My bill is completely consistent with the Income Tax Act.
I have chosen this bill on two occasions when my name has been drawn. I do not understand why it has not been made votable. Yet when the Bloc member introduced substantially the same bill, in fact it was identical except the number was slightly changed, it was made votable on two occasions. I cannot understand that.
Now is the time to deal with the piece of legislation. I know my time is up, but I should like to close my presentation by asking for unanimous consent of the House to refer the bill to the finance committee.
Then we could deal with the issue in committee. It would not be held up any longer. Finally we could end the government's balking on the issue. We could have it put before the committee to amend it or draft its own legislation so that it could be carried forward on behalf of technicians and mechanics across the country, and indeed on behalf of all of us who depend upon them to keep us going, whether it is by air, by car or by rail.
We should act on it quickly so that they will be treated fairly under the tax laws. I ask for unanimous consent for Bill C-244 to be referred to committee so that there will be no more hesitation on this issue.