Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to this very special bill. I also commend my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso for bringing forward this initiative.
As my colleague from Alberta rightfully mentioned, this bill was debated in the House before and I agree with him that it is most unfortunate that it was four votes shy of a victory. Why it did not pass, I will never know. I know how mildly upset the hon. gentleman was at that time, but he has a good-natured temperament and as Saskatchewan beat Edmonton in the last playoff game, he understands defeat. However I know he is a very happy man today because he is a very strong advocate for our firefighters and first responders.
Again, I thank the hon. member from Cape Breton. I also thank my colleagues in the Bloc for supporting this initiative.
One of the things that is overlooked tremendously is when firefighters, especially those who are volunteers have basic training every Tuesday night. In Fall River where I live every Tuesday night the firefighters get together. They practise, train and do a great job. They truly love what they are doing. That applies to all the firefighters at the other community halls throughout the area I represent. They never know when that phone call is going to come in or when that bell is going to ring.
I can only imagine in my greatest depth of fear what it must have been like in West Lincoln when Mark Woerlen lost his wife and seven children in a house fire. I pray to God that no one on the planet ever has to go through that. It was tragic for the family, and we extend our condolences to the family, we can never do enough to offer our sentiments for their grief. The first people on the scene, the first responders, were firefighters. Imagine the horror they must have felt.
This bill will assist them financially and will recognize their sacrifices in terms of the hours they put in, but it will never replace the horror that they feel. I mention this because we should be concentrating on further assistance for firefighters when it comes to incidents of that nature.
Every day in this country three people die from a fire, either in their home, their business or their vehicle. Usually the first people on the scene are first responders, firefighters, search and rescue, people of that nature. It takes a unique and very brave individual to enter a building when everyone else is leaving.
We only need to reflect upon what happened in the United States on September 11. We saw the firefighters and the other first responders. We heard the stories of what they did.
This is a bill that we wholeheartedly support. We are very glad to see it. We hope that we can move this bill forward very quickly. With cooperation from the four parties there is no reason it cannot be fast tracked to third reading, sent to the Senate and make it happen very soon.
I also have a private member's bill that recognizes volunteers. Volunteerism in Nova Scotia alone is a $2 billion activity. Some $2 billion of economic activity is driven by volunteers alone.
According to my bill, people who volunteer in a registered organization such as the Lions Club, Kiwanis, a church or the legion and who put in 250 hours a year or more should be able to claim a $1,000 tax deduction.
I am very hopeful with the passing of this bill in the very near future that we can quite possibly revisit the other volunteers who are out there, such as the people who volunteer with Meals on Wheels.
Friends of mine in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia are with the Lions Club and they drive people all the way into Dartmouth and Halifax for their medical appointments, shopping and so on. They do not ask anything in return. They do not get a per diem for their mileage. They just do it out of the goodness of their hearts. That money comes out of their own pockets. They do it because it is the neighbourly thing to do. They do it because as the Lions Club says, “We are here to serve”. They do not ask for anything in return.
I am hopeful that in the near future there will be an opportunity for us to stand in the House and recognize all the volunteers in Canada. I hope we will be able to offer them not only recognition but a financial consideration with regard to their income tax at the end of the year.
One of the nicest things about where I live in Fall River is I happen to know most of the volunteers at the Fall River fire hall. There is a fire hydrant right in front of my home which knocks $10 off my insurance, thank you very much. The reality is I can sleep at night knowing very well that if anything happens to my neighbours or to me, almost instantaneously someone from that fire hall will be there to help us.
I have seen it happen many times in our area, be it a brush fire, someone who had a heart attack, someone who cut their leg with a chain saw. In any kind of incident they are always there to help. They do not ask any questions. It does not matter what the incident is. All they want to do is help. They do not ask for anything in return, except perhaps a cold beer and pizza after their training on Tuesday nights. That is something we can handle. They are some of our finest Canadians.
I want to say how proud the New Democratic Party is to support the bill. We also want to thank the hon. member for Lethbridge for his work in the previous Parliament. We thank the Bloc Québécois for its steadfast support. We also thank the member for Cape Breton--Canso. This is another great idea, although it might have been copied a bit, that comes from Nova Scotia. What else would we expect from a maritimer?
On behalf of the federal New Democratic Party we salute all the firefighters of this country. We hope for speedy passage of the bill.
At this time, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say Merry Christmas to you, all members of Parliament in the House and members of the Senate, all the pages, and everyone who works on Parliament Hill, and I wish everyone a very Happy New Year.