moved, seconded by the hon. member for Lethbridge, that Bill C-273, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great anticipation and a little excitement that I stand to speak to Bill C-273, a private member's bill which is being put forward and co-sponsored by my colleague from Lethbridge here in the House.
I want to recognize as well the work that has been done by my friend and colleague from Malpeque. In the 37th Parliament, the member for Malpeque put forward a similar piece of legislation toward recognizing the volunteer contribution of volunteer firefighters and first responders. At that time, I was the seconder of his bill as it went forward. Unfortunately, the bill died on the order paper. That piece of legislation died with the last Parliament.
However, the significance and the importance of the contribution that volunteer firefighters play within our communities, especially the rural communities across this country, have not died. The intent of this bill is to recognize the special status they hold within our communities, the important role they play and the sacrifice they make.
It is with that spirit of cooperation with the member from Lethbridge and the member from Malpeque, as well as in the conversations we have had throughout this House with members from all parties, really, who have recognized the importance of such legislation, that we go forward with this debate.
In order to understand the importance of the bill I think we first have to recognize the contribution of volunteer fire departments around our country.
Within many cities, services are provided by paid firefighters. In rural communities and smaller towns and communities, we do not have access to the same revenue or the same funds. For the most part, those services have to be provided by volunteers. Those of us who live in rural communities are very fortunate that there are these men and women who give of themselves to make sure that those services are provided to rural communities.
In my own constituency of Cape Breton—Canso, I have over 50 small volunteer fire departments dotted along the coast, from Cheticamp to Donkin and from Louisdale to Louisbourg to Canso. They are all different communities, but what we see is that their volunteer fire departments are really the heart and soul of those communities. We see it in so many different aspects of community life. If we go to any community festival during the summer, we see that it is the volunteer fire departments that are usually the ones carrying the mail and pulling the cart at the community festivals.
Where I have my office in Dominion, Nova Scotia, there is a great volunteer fire department. We have a seaside day celebration there with a spectacular fireworks display. Work is put forward by the volunteer fire department on that display, not only in raising money to put on the big display, but in actually putting in the volunteer training hours to get certified and then on the night of the celebration actually do the firing or the discharge. It is like a war zone down there, but the celebration is one that is enjoyed by the entire community and certainly beyond Dominion.
This past weekend I was in Glace Bay for the volunteer fire department's Santa Claus parade. Everybody in the community comes out and supports it. Those hours put in by those volunteers I think should be recognized.
Volunteer firefighters go far beyond just these community events. There is education. We see the firemen going into classrooms for preschoolers with their colouring book programs and their various initiatives to educate young children about “stop, drop and roll”. The firefighters take on these initiatives all the time. Different communities put forward different programs. But it is all time and all hours and time away from their families; it is all part of their commitment to that fire department.
Of course there is the training, because we want our firefighters and our emergency responders to be trained. In that way they at least reduce or limit the amount of risk they place themselves in when they actually have to respond to an emergency. It is those hours of training that I think really have to be recognized as well.
In most rural communities, I think, the fire departments receive some type of support from their municipalities, from their regional municipalities or their towns or counties. That is all well and good, but for the most part the firefighters have to go beyond that and they have to raise their own money for their own safety gear. It could be bunker suits or breathing apparatus. In a lot of cases, it is the actual fire trucks. They have to go out on an ongoing basis and do this.
We just had the dedication of a fire truck in one of the communities, in Bateston, where the community really rallied around the initiative. The Cape Breton Regional Municipality contributed a fair amount, about half, and the community raised the rest of the money. It was a significant undertaking.
I also have the Grand Lake Road volunteer fire department in my riding. It has adopted something that is really very novel. They have a number of very skilled welders, plumbers and tradesmen. They actually have started retrofitting old fire trucks and building new fire trucks. They sell them and the money they get is put into their own operation. It goes back into the department. It is very novel and it is really providing a great service to the other departments in my constituency.
When we talk about tax concessions for volunteers, I think it is important to note as well that in no way is this a slight against any other volunteer sector. I ask members to please understand that this is not a slight against any other volunteer sector, against the canvassers and the Cubs and Scout leaders; I have coached a fair amount myself in hockey and soccer. I think they are all noble undertakings. I think they are all important. We are very fortunate to have people who come forward to volunteer their time.
But let us identify the significance of the volunteer firefighter. Let us realize that firefighters go beyond what is asked of a normal volunteer. They place themselves in danger on an ongoing basis, on a regular basis. They place their own safety and well-being at the rear while they try to provide for somebody else. When everybody else is running out of the building, these are the guys who are running into the building. That is why they stand apart. That is why they deserve to be recognized.
That is what this bill is about. That is why we want to recognize their special contribution.
I do not think we can underestimate what we ask of these people. They place their lives on the line and in danger. Quite often the outcomes of these tragedies that these everyday men and women must face are tragic. We have fishermen, farmers, mechanics and plumbers, whatever they are in the community, who come forward and are asked to go face to face with a fire. Sometimes the outcomes of those situations are tragic.
Two weeks ago, the small department in Mabou had a fire related death. In Glace Bay back about a month and a half ago, we lost a grandmother and grandchild. These volunteers are the people who have to go in and gather the remains. They are the ones who have to go into the buildings and hear the cries.
Mentally and emotionally, these volunteers stand apart from others. As noble as other volunteers might be, they are not the same. Volunteer firefighters stand on a piece of real estate that is pretty exclusive. That is what we hope to do with Bill C-273. The intent of the bill is to recognize that departure.
I was in Port Hood, Nova Scotia, for an awards ceremony back two weeks ago at the volunteer fire department. I was invited by their chief, Donald Frances Beaton, to be part of their awards ceremony. As I walked in, Clarence Cameron, a long-time member of the department, pulled me aside and we entered into a discussion. The news had just been released that this private member's bill was coming forward.
Clarence and a couple of the other guys told me that a provision like this, in the Income Tax Act, had been talked about in Port Hood 15 years ago. The merit of this cannot be questioned; it is the circumstances around that. I think members on both sides of the House recognize the wisdom of the Clarence Camerons and the D.F. Beatons and see that these volunteers deserve special recognition.
What would Bill C-273 do? With any bill we want some intended outcome. In the rural communities in my riding young people are moving to bigger centres for employment opportunities, educational opportunities, or new experiences. There are fewer bodies to get the job done back at home, and that is really unfortunate.
Our volunteers are getting a bit older and we are asking a bit more of our more senior firefighters. They have to ask themselves how much longer they can stand in. Hopefully, my bill would retain some of those firefighters. I am going to put forward an amendment in a short while that will add some numbers to this even though they are only small amounts.
The other aspect of this involves some of the younger people in the community. There is so much to do. Young couples have a lot on the go, chasing their children around. I have three boys myself and I know how busy it is at home. There has to be some type of incentive. Hopefully, this recognition within the Income Tax Act would help recruit some new bodies to become volunteer firefighters.
I want Bill C-273 to recognize and reward those who are going to be there anyway, the people, the heart and soul, the guys who can be counted on to be at every fire and every function, and not miss a training session. These are the people who continue to put the fire department right after their family. We must reward them. There are three things we want the bill to do: retain, recruit and reward.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will find unanimous consent for the following amendment. I move:
That Bill C-273, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, be amended by replacing in the bill, 50 hours of volunteer service with 100 hours of voluntary service; replacing 100 hours of voluntary service with 200 hours of voluntary service; replacing the amount of $500 with the amount of $1,000; and replacing the amount of $1,000 with the amount of $2,000.
The substance of the bill itself is unaltered. Only the hours of service and the dollar values are increased.