Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-209, introduced by the member for Jonquière.
Madam Speaker, the bill proposes to amend the Income Tax Act to permit individuals to deduct an undetermined percentage of their public transportation costs. These costs would include service by bus, subway, commuter train or light rail. To be eligible for a tax deduction, individuals would be required to provide supporting vouchers indicating the amounts paid for the use of an eligible public transportation system.
I should point out that the bill goes beyond or is different from what has been proposed by the Canadian Urban Transit Association. Notwithstanding that, this is an excellent initiative on behalf of the private member.
I will start by emphasizing that this government is very much committed to seeking ways to encourage more individuals to use public transportation systems in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, addressing climate change is a priority of our Opportunity for All agenda. Encouraging greater use of public transportation could certainly help us move toward this objective.
Regarding the specific option of a tax deduction for public transportation costs, I would point out that some important fairness and effectiveness considerations should be taken into account. Let me take a moment to explain some of the difficulties the bill raises.
First, it is not clear that this measure would result in the desired increases in the number of public transit users. The measure does not address the matter of new users and therefore we may imagine that it would be current users of public transport who would benefit the most from it.
We all know that the cost of public transit is often a small factor in an individual's transportation choice when weighed against other considerations such as accessibility, convenience and personal preference. Consequently, if the increase in ridership was small, there would be little benefit in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
We must also consider the fairness of introducing a tax measure that would mostly benefit individuals residing in large urban centres with extensive public transit systems.
The inhabitants of smaller centres and rural areas, where accessible and convenient public transport is not always available, would not benefit from this measure.
It is for these reasons that the tax system generally does not make provision for individual costs, such as public transit costs, in particular.
If it did, it would be equivalent to asking Canadians in general to subsidize the personal expenses of other individuals. This would not be fair, as personal expenses vary widely across individuals and reflect to some extent the personal preference of the individual incurring them.
The government recognizes the importance of examining cost effective ways of encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy. The government also believes that building on existing initiatives announced in recent budgets would likely achieve greater environmental benefits.
Let me also take this opportunity to explain some of the initiatives the government has already put in place to improve our environmental performance.
In budget 2000, the government allocated $700 million over a four year period to preserve and improve the natural environment, develop new technologies and effectively meet the challenges posed by climate change.
As part of this initiative, the government allocated $100 million to the establishment of a green municipal investment fund to provide loans in support of municipal projects in areas such as urban transit, energy conservation and waste diversion. An additional $100 million was also set aside for the establishment of a sustainable development technology fund to promote the development and demonstration of new environmental technologies, particularly those aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the environmental initiatives announced in budget 2000, the government also earmarked an additional $210 million over three years for the climate change action fund, which was set up in the 1998 budget to help Canada respect its international commitments on climate change.
Eligible initiatives under this program include those that demonstrate the best urban transportation technologies and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In building on these investments, in our economic statement and budget update of October 18, 2000, the government allocated an additional $500 million over five years to address key environmental challenges such as climate change and pollution.
If we take into account the new environmental initiatives of $700 million in budget 2000, the government's investment in environmental measures in the year 2000 totalled $1.2 billion.
The government also indicated in the 2000 budget that it would be consulting with other orders of government and the private sector to reach an agreement on a creative and fiscally responsible plan to improve provincial and municipal infrastructure in Canada's communities. The federal government has allocated upward of $2.6 billion to this initiative over the next five years. Urban transit projects will be an essential component of this joint effort.
In conclusion, I am sure that all hon. members present today share, like myself, a very strong commitment to encourage greater use of public transportation systems in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, in light of what I have discussed, I hope hon. members also realize that providing a tax deduction for public transportation costs may not be the appropriate measure to achieve this outcome.