Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise after passing the amendment. We have a Liberal sponsor and a seconder from the Conservative Party, and the Bloc has already indicated that its members will support the bill. I am sure the NDP will as well. The hon. member is indicating that.
This may very well become law. That is something, because in the last Parliament, the member for Malpeque had a private member's bill that did not make it to the floor of the House. I did have one. It was somewhat different from this, but it lost by three votes, 96 to 93. It was a sad day in the life of volunteer firefighters. However, we have come a long way since then. The cooperation that exists in the House with the present government will create a truly valuable piece of legislation and recognize a special group of people in Canada who truly do need recognizing.
The last time I spoke to this matter was when I had my bill before the House a couple of years ago. At that time I said there was a group of unselfish, dedicated Canadian men and women who lay down their lives on a volunteer basis every day for their fellow man and they needed to be recognized in a concrete way for what they gave to society as a whole. When we give to society as a whole, I believe it is society as a whole that should recognize that contribution.
Through the amendment to the tax code, that is exactly what will happen. Canadians in a general way will be able to recognize the contributions of volunteer firefighters and emergency responders.
I had an issue with the amendment that was brought forward. I tabled a bill earlier, but it is not in the rotation yet. The standards that I had were somewhat different from this, and the dollar value was different. The bill that was previously tabled by the member for Cape Breton—Canso was also somewhat different. To do the best for the firefighters and emergency responders, we have agreed to meet in the middle. That was a major step to making this happen today. I know there is a long way to go. I hope the government will last long enough to get this through. I am almost tempted to ask for the motion to see it through all stages at this point, but I am not sure that would happen. I do not want to jeopardize the bill in any way.
The preamble of my bill states that the deduction should apply to income from any source. I know that is the intent of the mover of the bill on the government side of the House. I want to ensure that point is taken.
This was a situation I found myself in when I was a volunteer firefighter. I was a volunteer firefighter for 17 years. We did not draw an hourly wage when we were practising or firefighting, so we had no income. There was a tax deduction at that time of $500 based on the income that we earned as volunteers. However, that aspect of the bill says that it applies to any income from any source. Therefore, it can be used on income from a person's regular job.
That will truly be a benefit to volunteer firefighters, emergency responders and their families. Speaking from experience, when one is a volunteer firefighter, it is a family issue. When there was a call, I would roll out of bed. It could be 3 a.m and 32° below zero outside. Most of the time when I got out to the driveway, my car was started. I do not know who did that, but I think it was my wife. She would go out ahead of me to get things rolling. The stress and the angst that exist in that atmosphere, when we are out protecting other people's property and lives, is shared throughout the family.
I am grateful to have been the co-sponsor the bill and to get up to speak to the amendment which was passed.
The member for Cape Breton—Canso spent some time in western Canada, and he learned a few things there. However, he went back to his roots in Cape Breton, and that is from where he is promoting the bill.
It is truly a national issue. The last time I dealt with this, I sent out letters to every fire department in Canada. The response I got back was encouraging. One thing I tried to point out was fire departments and rescue teams were having trouble attracting volunteers and retaining them. The amount of training it takes in this day and age to fight the type of modern chemicals and building materials is incredible. The amount of training it takes to be an EMT and to go out in ambulances is incredible, and it takes a huge amount of dedication.
We have said that if a person puts in hours training or on actual duty, those hours combined should be applied toward the tax deduction.
I want to read one letter I received from a firefighter the last time that we debated this. This comes from the village of Nobleford from Marvin VandenHoek. He is on the Nobleford volunteer fire department and he sums it up pretty well. He said:
I would just briefly like to express our support for [at that time] Bill C-325 regarding the amendment to the deductions that can be claimed by volunteer emergency services personnel. As a member of a small town fire department, I know first hand how much we do to provide this service to our community. Although we do it primarily because we enjoy it, it takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication to keep everything operating smoothly. There is no such thing as doing a half job in this service. People are depending on us and often trust us with their lives. Also, because the service is becoming more and more complex, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new members. We need ways to encourage people to join. Therefore since we are, in essence, providing a public service free of charge, I sincerely believe that the government of Canada should be doing everything in its power to enable us to continue.
That pretty much sums up my feelings on this issue. I think it is something that Canadians in general need to recognize.
Regarding the issue of the cost to the treasury for this, there were different numbers thrown around last time. I disagreed with the numbers that the government came up with as to how many volunteers would qualify and what it would cost. We do not know how many will meet the criteria of the bill. We do not know what tax bracket most of them are in, so we have no way of quantifying that. However, if we look, in comparison on the other side of the ledger, at the value of the service they provide this country free of charge, it is absolutely astronomical.
The emergency responders is only one sector of volunteerism in the country. My colleague alluded to the fact that this is not putting down any of the other volunteer work that goes on in Canada. Without them, the country would grind to a halt. People are out there day after day supporting the Heart and Stroke fund, the Kidney Foundation, juvenile diabetes, all these issues. These people do a tremendous job.
If we can get this aspect through, I believe a vast number of Canadians will be safer in their homes. They will be protected by people who not only have the dedication and the heart to do that job, but they have the wherewithal to do it. They will have the proper training and equipment.
Volunteer firefighters in every one of our ridings raise funds for all kinds of things. People in my town of Picture Butte have raised funds to buy a Zamboni for the skating rink. They have raised funds to buy their own trucks and equipment such as the jaws of life. All that fundraising went on within the community. Whenever people in the community have a project they want help with, the first stop is at the volunteer fire department to get that association onside. They know it has the ability, the desire and the understanding of what it takes to make a strong community, by working together and looking out for each other. The firefighters get out and do those jobs.
I am very pleased with what has happened tonight. I know we will be hearing more on this from the government. I encourage the government to support this initiative. It is doable.
My friend from the Bloc asked about the procedures that it would take to get this done. They are already in place. All the organizations keep track of time and their members. They know how many hours are put in by each individual. If those are given to the municipality or the association in charge, it is a simple thing for it to issue certificates and put them in with their tax rolls. It is not a complex issue, and it is very much needed.
I look forward to moving on this. It would be nice if we could move through all stages tonight, but I do not think we will push for that. When this comes back for second reading, and I believe this feeling of support exists throughout the House, maybe at that time we could ask for a motion that would see the bill go through all stages immediately.