Mr. Speaker, I want to first congratulate the member for bringing this issue forward. I have brought my own private members' bills forward in the past and I know how difficult these things sometimes are. I regret to say, however, that I will not be supporting his bill.
The bill proposes to amend the Income Tax Act and provide a tax deduction for automobile expenses for forestry workers. We have already heard from previous speakers that they want to cover out of pocket costs in operating a vehicle, interest charges which might be incurred in the purchase of a vehicle and depreciation costs which are necessarily incurred both in driving to and from work and to other areas as well. There would immediately be some sort of a record keeping problem as to how to allocate depreciation among the various categories of what one would use the vehicle.
I fully appreciate that everybody who works has to get to and from home. There is probably not one member in the House who has held down a job outside this place and has not had to commute one way or another to work. Some of us have had shorter commutes than others. When I was practising law, I recollect that I spent a fair bit of time fighting GTA traffic to get to and from work.
The cost of getting to and from work is one of a range of costs that employees incur. Like virtually all employment related expenses, there is no specific income tax deduction. Instead, there is a general tax recognition which is by way of the basic exemption. The basic exemption is one that applies to all employees, indeed all taxpayers.
Some members of the House may recall that there was a $500 deduction for employment expenses available prior to the 1988 tax reform. The general deduction recognized that all employees incurred some work related expenses, even buying clothes. My wife is in television and clothing is a significant expense for her.
During the tax reform, the employment expense deduction was integrated into the basic personal amount. The basic personal amount has steadily increased since 1988 and now stands at just slightly over $8,000 for the taxation year 2004. This amount is deducted from all income sources in calculating taxable income. It does not much matter whether one earned income from employment or from other forms of generation of wealth. Regardless, one gets that tax deduction and that acts as kind of a leveller, and the government is then treating everyone equally.
The bill proposes tax relief for specific expenses, which is long distance transportation incurred by a specific group of employees, namely, forestry workers. We have to ask ourselves whether it is in fact fair to single out a specific type of expense in a specific occupation group when there are employees in other occupations in similar situations. For example, as other members have mentioned, what about construction workers? What is the argument there? Why would a forestry worker be preferred over a construction worker?
My hon. colleague from Yukon said that at some point or another as one is driving north on the Dawson highway, the trees run out and the only thing a person drives for is to do some mining or some oil and gas work. Why would the mythical forestry worker be able to deduct his or her expenses going to cut trees, but the expenses of the person driving further up the highway to mine something or extract oil and gas would not be deducted? That does not appear to be fair to other taxpayers and other employees. It is not uncommon for these workers to be employed at work sites that are quite a distance from their homes.
Many other types of employees have asked for tax assistance. This is budget season after all. I am personally aware of quite a number of people who feel that they are entitled to tax assistance or tax relief in some form or other.
I must confess that I have difficulty saying that some of these employment expenses are more worthy of tax relief than others. I find it even more difficult to say that one group of workers is more worthy than the next, when both groups incur the same kind of expenses.
While a tax system must treat all people fairly, all hon. members must understand that tax relief for all employment related expenses would come with a very heavy price tag.
To illustrate, we will say that there is a flat $500 tax deduction for all employees. That calculates very quickly into $1.3 billion per annum which would be removed from the federal treasury. Hon. members opposite may think that is a wonderful idea. However, I point out that we are running a very small surplus this year, and I do not know why that category of employees would be entitled to eat into that surplus.
Instead of granting piecemeal and arbitrary tax concessions, the government has chosen to deliver major tax relief to all Canadians. Members will recollect that we are well into our five year tax reduction plan of $100 billion which was announced in the year 2000. We have cut taxes further in the 2003 budget. Therefore, $100 billion for all taxpayers is probably a better way to go. Then the government is not in the position of preferring of one category of taxpayer over another.
The tax deductions themselves were three-quarters personal and one-quarter business related. These tax reductions are providing a significant relief, particularly to low and modest income families with children, which is what the package targeted.
Federal personal income taxes are falling by more than 21% for the average taxpayer. The savings are even greater for families with children, as they come in at a 27% average. For instance, before the five year plan, the basic personal amount stood at $7,131. As a direct result of the $2,000 tax reduction plan, it is now up to just a touch over $8,000, probably with schedules to go higher. The higher basic amount benefits all taxpayers.
In the overall tax reduction package, we restored full indexation so the system itself would not eat into people's income. We lowered personal income tax for all taxpayers. We eliminated the deficit reduction surtax.
The child tax benefit, which has become basically a $10 billion program, is probably the most significant social initiative of this government. It is targeted to low and middle income families.
We provided additional tax assistance for those most in need of it, particularly those with disability. We substantially increased tax support measures to our students in post-secondary education.
I know that my hon. member's colleagues are enthusiastically awaiting what I might say next.
The 2003 budget also established a new child disability benefit for low and modest income families and for a child with a disability. That is something in the order of about $1600. I know my colleagues opposite are very enthusiastic and supportive of that initiative on the part of the government.
The bottom line impact on taxpayers for all these tax cuts is very impressive. For example, compared to what taxes would have been in 2004, a typical two-earner family of four earning $60,000 will save about 35%, and a typical one-earner family earning $40,000 will save about 60%. I know all hon. members will join me in applauding that initiative on the part of the government.
That is the government's way of trying to address, in a fair and balanced way, issues such as the one the hon. member has raised. I congratulate the hon. member on his initiative, but we will not be supporting this bill.