Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank all members for agreeing to have the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore give his time to me so that I can speak first. The hon. member has another engagement and he would certainly like to reserve whatever time he may have later for the opportunity to put his own points forward on his own very worthy bill.
Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that this is the type of private member's bill that you personally would be interested in. I want to compliment and commend the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore for following this issue through for many years now, raising it in the House a number of times and trying to garner support and interest from other members of Parliament. It is such a worthy subject.
The reason I think that you, Mr. Speaker, would be interested in this is because it deals with amateur sports, fitness, and trying to use our taxation system to encourage youth to take part in amateur sports, thereby enable more youth to avail themselves of the opportunity to play in organized sports.
Most MPs in the House would be aware that there are growing costs associated with having one's children involved in any amateur sport. For whatever reasons, the costs seem to be escalating. Both of my kids played hockey up to the high school level.
I know full well the cost per year of trying to keep my kids in skates. The same is true whether it is gymnastics, tennis or any number of activities that we want our kids to be involved in, for all the obvious health and social reasons. It is becoming a real barrier and a real burden.
More and more parents are having to face this uncomfortable choice and wrestle with their annual budgets as to whether or not they can afford to have their kids take part in this most healthy of social choices they could make.
It further complicates the issue, just by way of introduction, when physical education is shed first as more and more school boards come into a budget crisis. The schools have been forced to choose between academics and physical education, and more and more the latter has fallen by the wayside.
We have a generation of kids--and this is not a brand new problem, it has been a growing problem--that are increasingly sedentary and the predictable consequences are starting to become very self-evident. We have a generation of children where obesity, for the first time in Canadian history, is a chronic medical problem among our children. We recently heard from a doctor who told us that he is finding high levels of cholesterol in 10 year old children. Imagine, cholesterol and clogging of the arteries in 10 and 12 year old children.
It is generally accepted that we must encourage this generation of kids to get more active, and all subsequent generations of Canadians. We are no exception; we should be more active. In fact, we should walk 12,000 steps per day, if nothing else, and I am not sure very many of us do.
This has become a huge public health issue. Too many of our kids are watching television and playing video games, and they are not involved in physical sports. It used to be that kids got their exercise doing chores around the farm and household. That is less and less the case.
The member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore has put forward a very viable and timely idea. We would encourage and make possible for more parents to get their kids involved in sports if we were to amend the Income Tax Act so that their amateur sport fees and costs were tax deductible at roughly the same taxation credit as charitable donations, roughly 34%. The idea has great merit.
The idea needs to be fleshed out. There are some people who criticize this idea. For instance, they do not want golf green fees at some expensive golf course to be tax deductible. However, I should point out that it is tax deductible for business purposes sometimes to belong to these golf courses. My colleague from Nova Scotia is targeting a basic ma and pa situation where it might cost the parents an additional $1,200, $1,500 or even $2,000 per year above and beyond school taxes to keep their kids in some kind of fitness activity, such as amateur sports.
We are envisioning the overall cost to the government to grant this tax deduction to be calculated at a couple of thousand dollars per household, not the grossly inflated cost of the fees at a private golf course, which might be $10,000 or $20,000 per year. That is not the point and I hope members do not cloud the issue by raising that point.
We are trying to target the working family that is having a tough time paying the $300 or $400 fee to be on a hockey team, plus the cost of a good pair of skates. I gave my son a pair of skates at Christmas, a middle range pair of skates, which cost $325. That was not the best pair on the shelf by any means, nor was it the cheapest either.
We can see what working families are going through. It is getting more and more difficult to keep kids in sports because of the time factor associated with parents being able to give up their time during the evenings and weekends to take their kids to sports. With the added burden of the cost factor, more and more working families are simply having to say that it is not possible within their limited budget.
We can hearken back to not too long ago when the federal government was willing to play an active role in encouraging more kids and all Canadians to take part in healthy activities through the Participaction program. Arguably that was the most successful public relations program that any Canadian government has ever undertaken. It literally changed the way we think about activity and about sports. Some people would call it social engineering, but they can call it whatever they want. At a relatively low cost compared to the benefit of having a healthier citizenry, Canadians were motivated to get off the couch, to get active and do something.
This bill is in the same vein. In the very best interests of Canadians, in the very best interests of public health, we want to encourage more kids to get active. We want to enable them to play sports. The physical benefit is one thing but there are obvious public health benefits. There is also the well documented social benefits associated with being involved in organized sports. Healthy bodies and healthy minds mean healthy choices that kids make.
Let us not just talk about the relief to our beleaguered medical system. Let us also talk about the relief to our criminal justice system. The more we get kids involved in healthy choices, the less likely they are to run afoul of our criminal justice system. We would much rather subsidize to some small degree their ability to play sports than we would reserve a jail cell for them, or see them appear in court in our criminal justice system down the road when they run afoul of the law.
This is such a self-evident issue. It does not need a great deal of argument to convince those of us in this room that we want more kids playing sports because it is the right thing to do and because it builds healthy minds and healthy bodies. If we can use our tax system as a way to steer more families and more children and youth into healthy living, then why are we not doing it?
We believe there should be a minister of health and also a minister of healthy living. We were glad to see that development in the most recent cabinet structure. We do not need a minister of managing illness which is really what the Minister of Health has become.
Anything we can do to encourage the overall general public health of Canadians we are morally obligated to do so. I do not accept the argument that it is a huge cost factor in terms of lost taxation revenue for the government.
As I said, the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore has pointed out to me that this bill was never intended to apply to someone who spends $20,000 on green fees at a luxury private golf course. This bill was intended to give relief to the working family that otherwise would not be able to afford to enrol their children in an organized sports team in their community club.
Those fees have gone up lately too. The trickle down effect of budgetary cuts and transfer payments has reached the lowest common denominator, the neighbourhood community clubs in our municipalities. The federal transfer payments to the provinces have been cut. The transfer payments from the provinces to the municipalities have been cut. That has manifested itself in higher fees for something as simple as a community club, to play on a soccer team, or a hockey team, or a baseball team, or whatever organized sport. Those fees have gone up and working families are having a hard time finding the coin to get their kids active. We all know we have to get our kids active because we have to make our kids healthy.
I was speaking to a doctor in the context of my efforts to have trans fats banned in the country. In that context I was speaking to a lot of medical health practitioners. I was shocked to learn that there are 10 year olds with high cholesterol problems. I was shocked to learn the level of obesity among our youth. It is epidemic. I was shocked to learn that one 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola has 13 teaspoons of sugar in it.
Unhealthy things are coming at kids from all directions. It has resulted in the least healthy generation in Canadian history. Ironically, with all the advances in medical science and with all the developments and our ability to keep people alive longer, we are not any healthier. In fact, we are less healthy than when people had to throw bales around on the farm or had to help with the seeding and the harvesting on the farm. We are now an urban society largely and our children are less active than ever before.
I urge members to do all they can to support initiatives like this one. Specifically, I urge them to see fit to support Bill C-210 as put forward by my colleague, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. We should do anything we can to make sure that the next generation is healthier than this generation.
With the exception of some MPs in the House of Commons, the Participaction campaign had a profound effect on the health of Canadians. Some of us here are still too sedentary, but Participaction worked. However, that program is dead. We could successfully argue there is justification to institute new initiatives that would be just as effective as the Participaction program to help youth get involved in sports.
I should point out, Mr. Speaker, that this tax deduction would apply to you and me. Reasonable gym fees or whatever would in fact be tax deductible as an incentive for healthy living. People should not call it social engineering; I know there will be those who do not agree that we should be manipulating people's behaviour patterns, but this is an exception. We are trying to encourage people to make healthy choices and to do the right thing.
In closing, I will simply say how much I appreciate the efforts of the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore in this regard. I personally thank him as a parent. I think the people I represent would thank him. They would be pleased to know that the House of Commons is seized of an issue that would be so beneficial and so useful to so many of them. Given the material we sometimes end up dealing with, this is a positive thing we could do for Canadians.
I again thank the hon. members for granting unanimous consent for us to trade places so that the member from Sackville could make his other prior commitment and still have an opportunity to speak to his bill later.