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House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sports.

Topics

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that I should be back in about 20 minutes. I would like to have the option that you have outlined.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think what we are asking consent for now is to transfer the time allotted which would be 15 minutes, plus also 5 minutes for questions or comments to the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre who is seconding the motion.

Is there consent for that?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am also concerned that there is also a five minute reply at the end of the debate. I do not think this is part of the package. In any event, let me ask the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, does he reserve the right, also in his own name, to close the debate with the five minutes of reply?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Yes, Mr. Speaker, that is the correct intention.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

On debate, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

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.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Scarborough East Ontario

Liberal

John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore for bringing the proposals to our attention.

I know the hon. member and I like him very much. In the years that I have been here I have known him to be an enthusiastic amateur soccer player. He has helped us all get organized in terms of playing a few games of soccer, particularly with the pages. He likes to be involved athletically as well as in the House.

There is much argument that amateur sport is a vital ingredient to the development of our society. I do not think that is in issue here. It also contributes to our Canadian identity. It has the power to enrich our lives in many ways.

Personally I quite enjoy a game of hockey. I play every Sunday night. I have to say that as the years go by, the players seem to get faster and younger. I do not know how that works, but I think other members here can identify with that. I have a sense of a conflict of interest here because indeed it does cost some money to play on Sunday nights.

It is all part of a healthy lifestyle that people participate in sport. They feel better about themselves and about their fellow Canadians. Athletics leads people to leading a healthier and a longer life. I think that is statistically verifiable.

In this vein, members will remember that one of our colleagues, the member from Broadview, issued a report which was quite descriptive of the healthy benefits of participating in sport and how sport would reduce coronary disease, colon cancer and non-insulin dependent diabetes by as much as 50%. These are all significant benefits not only to the individual involved, but of course to the larger society.

In addition, we agree that sport enhances our sense of Canadianism, our sense of pride. We all sit in front of the television watching our athletes compete in the Olympics and in other events. There are very few people of my generation who cannot say where they were when Canada beat Russia in the final game in Moscow, which was kind of distinctive. Just as everyone from my generation knows where they were when President Kennedy was shot, Canadians particularly know where they were when Canada won that game.

We can recall the 2002 Olympics where both the men's and the women's hockey teams won Olympic gold. It was an extraordinary point of pride for our country.

Recently, Perdita Felicien won the gold medal in hurdles in both the indoor and outdoor track and field world championships. She lives in the riding neighbouring mine, in Pickering. We take great pride in her accomplishments.

There is hardly a school boy or school girl who has not thought of the enjoyment that they received from participating in sports in school.

We agree with the benefits. We agree in some respects with the principles of the hon. member's bill. However, the government will have to resist the bill for a number of reasons. We believe that the bill is inefficient. We also think that the bill gives an unfair advantage to sports activities over other forms of activities which Canadians participate in and enjoy. We think it would be an inappropriate use of the tax system. We also think it would be quite costly.

Let me unpack those in a little more detail.

First, on the inefficiency, we think the bill will be an inefficient bill because it will cost a lot of money, and yet it will not achieve the stated goal of the hon. member. We do not think it will have any significant impact on participation rates in sports, and that is the goal of the bill.

If I understood my hon. colleague's argument, he felt that finances were a barrier to sports participation. Surveys have been done which showed that a minuscule number of Canadians, namely 2.3% to be exact, said that the cost of sports fees were a barrier to their participation. I agree with my colleague that Canadians are an inactive society. We are a bunch of couch potatoes. However, money is not the barrier here. It appears to be either a lack of time, or interest or other impediments. We think this is an inefficient use of the tax system. The goal would not be achieved by using this instrument.

The second point I would like to make is about the inequity that the bill may well create between Canadians because in some respects it gives an unfair advantage to sports activities to the detriment of other types of activities.

I have three daughters and if one of them said that she needed $100 to go to a sports activity and the other one said that she needed $100 to participate in the theatre, I would get a tax deduction for one child but not for the other. I cannot quite rationalize that. Either I should get it for both or I should get it for nobody.

Bill C-210 would create some difficulties as people tried to squeeze things like dance and things of that nature into some sort of form of athletic activity. Those who could not squeeze themselves into something as an athletic activity would not be covered by the proposed tax measure. On that point, we think it is unfair.

We think the use of the tax system by the general taxpayer to in effect subsidize another individual's personal consumption choices is not necessarily a good idea. I can think of a variety of examples where people make personal consumption choices. If I went hiking on the Bruce Trail or somewhere like that but I did not pay anything to do it, I would not receive any tax benefit. However, if I went hiking and paid a fee to go through a park or something of that nature, that would be a possible deduction. This would create some distortions which would be an inappropriate and inefficient use of the tax system.

I am sure that hon. colleagues would agree that participation in amateur sport is clearly a personal choice.

Finally, the really significant point here is, if we agree that it is inefficient and a poor use of the tax system and it disadvantages certain Canadians while giving an advantage to other Canadians, it would be very costly.

The finance department costs this item out at $450 million. Let me give the House some perspective on that. Members may recall in the health part of the budget that $300 million was set aside for a national immunization program. That is a worthy goal, and the hon. gentleman's bill is a worthy goal. However, $450 million seems to be an extraordinary sum of money.

Those are essentially the four major reasons why the government will not be supporting the hon. gentleman's initiative. Notwithstanding the fact that we all like him a great deal and think he is a wonderful soccer player, we do not think that the bill would be an appropriate use of the tax system. We do think it would be a costly bill. In some respects it would provide an unintended form of discrimination among Canadians.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I just want to make a few comments, and I will not take too much time. The purpose of the bill to increase activity among young people or anybody for that matter is well-intended. It is important that we do that.

However, if we are looking at using the tax system to promote amateur sports, why should we not look broad based tax relief for families? The Conservative Party is working on that. If we give tax relief across the board in substantive amounts to all families, then they can make the choice. The member from the government side who just spoke said that some people get involved in music or theatre and some get involved in sports. There are all kinds of activities that people can get into to round out their lives.

To target in on sports and to offer tax relief or tax credits for the amounts spent for enrolling our children is the wrong way to go to achieve what the member wants to achieve. We should do it through tax relief for all families.

In my personal instance, my children both played sports, and that seems like a long time ago. Also my daughter took music lessons. Therefore, where do we have the saw-off? A lot of the sports in which my children were involved were through high school and through the education system. Thank goodness, because when my son got out of hockey, it was getting to be pretty expensive. This is what I think the hon. member is trying to get at. We need to give some help for people to be involved. However, the travelling, the equipment and some of the other things that went along with it were far more expensive than signing up for the year.

If we are to be serious about promoting health and wellness, there are other ways to do it. I remember years ago when the participaction program was in place. That was something to which we all paid attention. There were commercials which promoted walking so far every day, or getting involved in other ways, or improving lifestyles through better eating habits or whatever. It was information that went out to Canadians in a regular fashion, and I think a lot of people paid attention to that.

If we are serious about offering families an opportunity to improve their children's activity in sports, let us do it on a broad based tax relief basis. Let us give the money back to the families. We should not take it from them in the first place through the tax system. Then they can make the choices that they want to put their children into whatever activity, whether it is amateur sport, theatre or music. There are so many things to do for our children that if families had a few more bucks to enrol them in some of these other issues, then I think everybody would be better off.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak today to the bill. It is important that we talk about it. It is interesting to note that when it comes to tax cuts and relief for corporations and for the most affluent, there is never any hesitation by the government to move forward on those initiatives. There is never any hesitation by the Conservative Party to move forward on those initiatives.

It is interesting to bring up the whole balance that has to be struck between the arts community and the sports community, as if we are trying to divide them. Two months ago the NDP put forward the motion for arts relief taxation. It would have provided an opportunity to allow some tax relief for artists. We received the same type of argument, that we could not do it for one group without doing it for another. That is unfair. Families require some type of tax relief, especially given the burden that has been placed upon the individuals who want to get their children to participate in sports. That is the important notation.

Being a former municipal councillor and also working for the not for profit sector for 10 years of my life, I know that the stretching of the envelope, which has existed over the last decade, has been incredible. We have watched sports associations go to businesses and families looking for support to continue to have children and others involved in sports, or entertainment, or whatever depending upon the association. However, for sports in particular, they have to go back and back to the private sector.

My community is one of the most giving. For numerous years, we have won the percentage per capita of donations to the United Way for all of Canada. However, the reality is the people have gone so far and they have done so much that they cannot do any more. This is an instance where the government could participate with that partnership.

I was interested to hear the comments from the government, such as it was inappropriate for the tax system. What is appropriate though is tax cuts. The government can afford $100 billion in tax cuts but it cannot afford a real pittance for amateur sports. It is unbelievable.

The bill is very progressive and it would create somewhat of a similar circumstance to that of charitable donations. What that would do is empower groups and organizations. They would have the ability to go out and offset some of those costs.

The second point the government noted was that it would cost money. Well it has plenty of money to dole out. The government has taken credit for the initiative to sell Petro-Canada. Its shares are estimated to be worth around $3 billion, depending upon the stock market. However, what is interesting is in the new year alone the government gave the oil and gas industry an approximate $2 billion tax cut, so it had to make that up. There is plenty of money for corporate tax cuts but not enough for our citizens or our children.

This is the inclusion aspect that is so important about this bill because there is a connection to the family. We have heard from so many Canadians about the family and their concerns about being involved in a community, having a safe environment and keeping kids active. Amateur sport is one of those investments where we can get kids away from the television screens, off the computers and out on the streets, involved in the community centres and contributing to the success of this nation. Their health will be improved because they will learn good habits about their wellness and about physical activity that will carry them through their lives, and that will be a benefit for our health care system. I believe that is an important recognition.

For example, we can look at hockey tournaments. Speaking as an Ontarian, we have a lot of different hockey tournaments across the province as well as in the United States, and there are goodwill ambassadors. We have so many opportunities to mix among ourselves as families and to connect with other people across the country and the United States, for the sportsmanship and for the actual involvement.

The bill would provide some tax relief so we could encourage that type of activity. I fail to understand the lack of foresight by the government in ensuring the bill does not go forward. It is unbelievable, especially when we have a system that has provided so much relief for other citizens.

We have an opportunity to make a difference for our young people. This is what the bill really goes to. We have an opportunity to do something progressive and to be involved in their involvement in the actual sports theatre. That is very important, and the government is showing regressive attitudes with the fact that it cannot provide a mere pittance for this activity.

I am going to be supporting this private member's bill. I find there is duplicity in what we are hearing from the government. I am not surprised to see the Conservative Party being part of this by not providing tax relief for citizens but having it for corporations.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, this private member's bill proposes a change to the Income Tax Act that would allow individuals to claim a tax credit for fees paid for their participation, or the participation of a dependant, in amateur sport. We need to review this proposal in light of what it is trying to achieve and how it is trying to achieve it.

First, it would appear that the hon. member's proposal has a clear intent: to encourage Canadians to participate in amateur sport. This is a goal that the government shares with the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. We too recognize the importance of amateur sport in this country and the importance of participation in sport and physical fitness activities.

This year, thanks to the 2004 budget injection of $30 million into the Canadian sport system, we will contribute some $100 million to Sport Canada. Let me tell the members of the House about some of the great things Sport Canada does. It provides funds to amateur sport organizations to increase sport participation, to support the development of young athletes and to improve access to sport for under-represented groups, including people with disabilities and the aboriginal peoples. It provides financial support to Canada's elite athletes to help them with their training and competition needs. It backs a wide range of sporting events held in Canada that are both national and international in scope.

While we may share the member's objectives, and we do, I must say that we do not agree with the approach. The member's proposal suggests changing the tax system. I would contend that using the tax system for this is neither cost effective nor fair. Let us take a closer look at how ineffective the hon. member's proposal would be.

The government is committed to encouraging Canadians to include physical activities in their daily lives and to helping them reduce barriers that prevent them from being active. There are many such barriers. Statistics Canada reports several reasons why Canadians do not participate in amateur sport or fitness activities: lack of time, lack of interest and health, and injury or age concerns.

In fact, we have to look way down the list of the barriers to participation before we get to cost. Very few Canadians consider cost a significant barrier to their participation: only about one in fifty inactive Canadians. In fact, this is not surprising given that there are many activities that are part of a healthy lifestyle and cost very little. Swimming, walking and cycling are good examples.

What does this mean? Clearly it means that the hon. member's proposal would do very little to encourage inactive Canadians to become active in amateur sport or to increase their level of physical activity. In other words, this proposal would be ineffective.

Even though this proposal would be ineffective, it would come at a very high cost. According to Statistics Canada the average Canadian household spends approximately $275 on recreational facilities and membership fees each year. Providing a 16% tax credit on these expenditures would cost the federal government almost half a billion dollars in tax revenue. Again, the money would be spent without having a significant impact on the level of physical activities of Canadians.

In fact, almost all of this tax money would end up subsidizing the 8.3 million Canadian adults already participating in amateur sport. Therefore, at a great cost, the hon. member's proposal would produce very little benefit in terms of increasing participation in amateur sport and fitness activities.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

That's nonsense. You don't believe that.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Of course I believe it.

The proposal also raises significant fairness concerns. As a general rule, underneath the current tax system, tax deductions or credits are generally provided for one of two things. They either apply to the expenses incurred to earn income, things like employment insurance premiums, union dues, and child care expenses, or they apply to non-discretionary expenses that significantly reduce a taxpayer's ability to pay tax, such as above average medical expenses.

Tax relief is not normally provided with respect to specific personal expenses that are incurred at an individual's discretion. What message would the federal government be sending if, as the hon. member proposes, we did use the tax system to subsidize those consumers who choose to pay fees to participate in amateur sport? That such fees are more important than other personal expenditures?

We would be asking those Canadians who choose not to pay such fees to subsidize those Canadians who do so. We would be asking Canadians who choose to take part in physical activities such as jogging or cycling, which do not generally require payment of fees, or those who choose to spend their spare time on other non-sport related hobbies or activities, to subsidize those Canadians who choose to participate in sports that do, such as hockey, downhill skiing or golf.

Let us take the specific example of golf. I have many golf courses in my riding. Golf is now the most popular participation sport for Canadians. More than 1.8 million Canadians regularly head to the links for some exercise and friendly competition. Under the hon. member's proposal, we would be asking Canadians to subsidize initiation fees, membership fees and greens fees.

I want to make this clear. The government considers physical activity and sports to be important to Canadian society and they have a positive effect on individuals and on communities. However, there are other personal activities that also lead to the personal betterment of individuals and to the development of healthy and cohesive communities. In engaging in these personal activities, Canadians also face substantial costs.

Let us examine two examples to review whether it would be fair to Canadian consumers to subsidize amateur sport fees and not these other equally important expenditures.

A typical parent with a young daughter may want to encourage that child to be physically active by registering her in the local hockey league. That parent may also choose to register her daughter for singing lessons because the child enjoys it and appears to be talented. Both decisions would support the development of the child and both decisions would see the parent incur costs.

The member's proposal would differentiate between these two types of costs incurred by the parent for the development of her child. The registration fees for hockey would be subsidized by other taxpayers, but the fees for the singing lessons would not be. Both decisions lead to a positive outcome for the child. Only one would get supported by the tax system.

Let us review another situation. A Canadian adult could register to join and participate in a local soccer league and could also choose to buy a subscription to the local theatre. The individual incurs costs in both cases. Both achievements have a positive spin-off effect for the individual and for his community; both activities support the community. However, under the member's proposal, only one of them would be supported by the tax system.

It is for reasons such as these that the Canadian tax system does not generally recognize specific personal expenses such as fees incurred for participation in amateur sport.

In light of what I have discussed, I hope that hon. members present here agree that this private member's bill does not fulfill the criteria of effectiveness and fairness. I would ask that all members think very carefully about voting for the bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I very pleased to speak to Bill C-210. Furthermore, I would like to acknowledge the initiative taken by my colleague for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.

Straight off, I will tell you that the objective pursued by this bill is absolutely commendable. As the Bloc Quebecois critic for amateur sport, I have always been in favour of the idea of taking various measures to promote physical activity and participation in sport. It is also crucial to promote a better quality of life, better health for our fellow citizens. In this regard, we can only encourage a greater awareness of the benefits of sport and sport activity. A healthy mind in a healthy body is the most eloquent expression of this.

Thus, in the face of it, it is easy to recognize the relevance of this measure, whose purpose is to provide families with more money for participation in sport activities. But what does this really mean?

Although I support the purpose of this tax credit, I am still convinced that this is not an appropriate measure, and I will explain why.

What my colleague really wants with this new provision is to reduce the tax burden of families, thus allowing them to afford the sport activities that they want. However, I believe that it is not necessarily the families in question that will take advantage of this reduction. And to demonstrate this, I would like to make some comments on tax credits in general.

I am not totally against this kind of measure. Under certain circumstances, it can be effective. However, with regard to the current debate, I humbly believe that there are many other ways that are much more worthwhile and especially much less costly to achieve our goals.

First, the implementation of a tax credit is sometimes extremely costly for the government, before, during and after. This does not include the administration costs and also the fact that it would take two to three years to calculate the indirect costs, and we would not even be sure that this tax credit would really achieve its objectives, which are to put more money into the pockets of families. Ultimately, this may cost more in expenses than in direct benefits for the taxpayer.

Other areas of this bill also require our attention. I consider that the bill is not only inappropriate, but also somewhat discriminatory. Why limit the tax credit to sport activities? Why not other areas, such as cultural activities? What is being done for musicians, considering the exorbitant cost of some musical instruments? What about people engaged in other interests that are equally worthwhile as far as their health and well-being is concerned?

A brief analysis quickly reveals that the scope of what is being proposed in this bill is much too limited. Besides, it is about time we stop deciding everything for our fellow citizens. I think that this tendency to want to centralize everything and have the state decide for the taxpayers is becoming less and less acceptable.

Personally, I would rather leave more money in their pockets and let them make their own decisions. After all, this is their money; they should get to decide. This is a matter of respect and fairness

I would also like to touch on some aspects of the bill, particularly in reference to the formula for calculating the credit. Under the bill, the formula takes into account the total of all fees paid by the individual in the year for the individual to participate in amateur sport. Personally, I think this provision would lend itself to abuse. No limit for the fees is provided. Does it mean that golf club membership fees would be deductible? If I want to play golf, I need equipment and a club membership. So, as hon. members can see, this is opening the door to huge abuses.

Of course such is not my colleague's intention, but the lack of clarification is, I think, risky.

As well, it would have been wise and logical to establish the maximum amount that can be deducted, as is the case for most other tax credits, or at least to give explicit power to regulate the amount of the fees.This has not been done.

For all these reasons, therefore, the Bloc Quebecois cannot be in favour of this bill in its present form. I believe that the objective sought will not, unfortunately, be achieved.

However, the federal government has the key to allowing everyone to breathe easier and to improve their quality of life, whether through sport, art or any other endeavour.

For several years now, the government has had surpluses coming out of its ears, and it is our money. Therefore, it has an obligation to return part of these surpluses to those from whom it took that money. This way, people will be able to decide for themselves what they want to do with this extra money, whether they want to spend it on sport activities, on leisure activities or on anything else. I truly believe that each person should be able to decide what his or her priorities are.

In closing, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his initiative and express to him my respect for the interest he has shown in trying to improve the well-being of families. My disapproval has certainly nothing to do with the principle, quite the contrary; it has to do with the process. I would also like to remind the federal government of its commitment to play a key role in promoting and developing physical activity and sport.

Once again, I want to express my disappointment in this government, which has done nothing, included nothing for amateur athletes in this budget. It missed an excellent opportunity to show its leadership and its interest in amateur and elite athletes.

This government certainly has the means to do this. As for the families, the athletes and all the organizations that are working toward that end, they are greatly in need of that money. What is the federal government waiting for? It must act. It is swimming in millions of dollars in surplus funds. We are expecting the government to act rapidly to help older and younger athletes, both at the amateur and elite levels.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have to bite my tongue sometimes when I am in this House, but I first want to thank you for the opportunity to be able to speak to what I consider a very important bill.

As upset as I am with the Conservatives and not so much the Bloc, I understand where they are coming from, but it is the government. I am not asking to be given a tax break if I walk up a flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator. What utter nonsense.

It was this government that said no to an arts and culture tax rebate that was brought in by the critic for the federal NDP from Dartmouth. She brought that to the House and the Liberals said we cannot do that, so they cancelled it.

It is unbelievable that the Conservative Party talks about being the party of grassroots, for families, and for individuals, and yet they will not even contemplate a tax break for sports and physical activity. It is utter nonsense.

I cannot believe the government members standing up in the House saying how terrible it would be to give a family a tax break that signs up a kid in hockey. However, government members do not say that if I was a multilateral corporation and had box seats at the Montreal stadium that I could write that off as a business expense. They never mention that.

When it comes to a family making $35,000, or whatever the average is for low income people, trying to get them a tax break so they can enroll their children into sports or physical activity, the Liberals say no. I say shame to these people, absolute shame.

They can give $100 billion in tax cuts to the large corporate friends, many of them friends of the Prime Minister, but they cannot give a tax break to Mr. and Mrs. Smith of main street Canada.

If government members are really angst against helping families and individuals become more physically fit and having them in better shape, why is it they always talk to the back end? They are spending billions and billions of dollars on health care with absolutely no question as to why the people are sick in the first place.

Why do we have rampant asthma in our children and rampant diabetes among aboriginal people? We have the most obese children in the western world and the government fails to address those issues. This is one little aspect of addressing the issue of keeping people physically fit and active, and helping their families get a bit of a tax break.

For example, it costs $100 to sign up a kid in my soccer league in Fall River, Nova Scotia. This bill would propose that we would get $34 back, similar to a charitable donation. With that $34 families could go out and buy a pair of shoes for that child. That helps those families. We are not asking for a $20,000 golf membership to be written off. If the government has a problem with that, then help us amend the bill and make it more palatable.

This bill did not come from my mind sitting in the opposition lobby. Individual members and families came to me and asked for some sort of relief on the fees that they pay for physical activity in sports. I guarantee that if every member of the House went back to their constituency during the Easter break and asked their constituents if they would like to see a tax deduction on the fees that they pay for physical activity or amateur sports, that the answer would be yes.

Mr. Speaker, you are one of the greatest sports fans of this country. If you were able to speak, you would speak glowingly of this bill. I am absolutely appalled at the fact that the government and the Conservatives show hypocrisy over and over again by not supporting this bill.

They voted against the arts and culture tax deductions. They are going to vote against this bill for sports fees, yet they have no problem voting for major billion dollar tax cuts for their friends. They have never mentioned that the box seat is tax deductible for businesses. However, the family who goes to the rink in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, at 5 o'clock in the morning with their kid and pays $400 or $500 fees cannot get a tax deduction.

It is clear that the next election will be based on who stands up for today's families and that will be the federal New Democratic Party. Who stands up for the multinational corporations and their friends? That will be the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. We will let Canadians know loud and clear throughout this land where the government stands. It is unbelievable.

We present this bill on behalf of Canadians. It has the wide support of sporting organizations throughout the country. Mr. George Chuvalo, who is a former Canadian heavyweight champion, is someone who knows about tragedy in life. He lost three children and his wife to drugs and suicide. He came to my riding to support this bill. During the press conference, George Chuvalo said that healthy bodies and healthy minds make healthy choices. He fully supports this bill.

The individuals on the government side mock and demean the intent of this bill. It would give families a bit of a tax break. It would get more people physically active. It would make us a healthier nation. If we were a healthier nation, there would be less costs in health care. If we were a healthier nation, there would be less social costs and less criminal costs in our justice system.

Time and time again we ask the people at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and the Boys and Girls Club what the best way is to get children off the streets and to be productive members of society. They say it is through amateur sports and physical activity.

I heard members opposite say that this would divide people. What happens to people on welfare or no income? What kind of a break do they get?

I remind members that during the 1976 Olympics we had the lottery ticket. It was designed to do one thing. The revenues from lottery ticket sales were to go to sports, culture and recreation. In the mid-1980s the federal government and provinces got together and the provinces took over control of the lottery funds.

A new democrat example is the Province of Saskatchewan, where over 44% of the revenues from lottery funds go into sports, culture and recreation. In Nova Scotia, a province under a Conservative government, less than 2% of those funds go into sports, culture and recreation.

If it wants to help the low and no income people, I suggest that the federal government work with its provincial counterparts and ensure that those lottery funds assist the people who do not have an income, so they can participate in sports and everything else.

This bill was designed by taxpayers for taxpayers. If the government wants to avert the burgeoning costs of health care and if it wants to stop the emerging cost of crime on our streets--because we are not going to eradicate it or stop it--this would go a long way in assisting those families and helping our youth. I know very well that in the House of Commons a good 80% of us are out of shape and overweight. What kind of example are we showing our children?

By giving those families the opportunity of a tax incentive, it may encourage them to be physically active themselves, to join a gym, to join a dance club, or to get their kids active. They would know that they could get a little bit of a break. Healthy bodies make healthy minds, healthy choices and healthy communities, and most of all, make a healthy Canada.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Canadian Alliance Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this adjournment debate as a consequence of the question I asked the Minister of National Defence regarding the theft of $160 million of taxpayer money from the Department of National Defence.

Canadians are concerned that, as in the case of the sponsorship scandal, when the investigation into the theft of the $160 million of taxpayer funds is completed, not one dollar will be returned to the people of Canada.

The investigation into this theft must be open and transparent.

If the government, and by extension the minister, is serious about the democratic deficit, the Minister of National Defence will recognize that Canadians are looking for a public investigation with a public disclosure of the facts.

The other issue surrounding the theft of this large sum of money is the fact that it is not available for other Department of National Defence expenditures.

As the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, which includes Base Petawawa, I shared in the soldiers' disappointment that the federal budget contained no additional money for the military.

The announcement of a tax exemption for soldiers serving in high risk overseas missions should have been a good news announcement. Instead, it has created bitter resentment toward the federal government among all the returning troops, particularly from Base Petawawa.

The following is a letter I received from a soldier, which I understand sums up the feeling among the majority of the returning military personnel. It reads, “Dear [Member of Parliament]: I'm sure that you're aware of the Federal Government's 2004 budget initiative regarding military personnel now being exempt from paying taxes, while serving on high risk overseas missions.

“This initiative is a welcome one that recognizes the stress service members and their families endure throughout an overseas deployment.

“However, as the tax break is effective only from 1 January 2004, the implementation of the tax initiative lacks fairness, particularly with regard to service members who served on ROTO 0 of Operation ATHENA, in Afghanistan between July 2003 and February 2004.

“We soldiers who served on ROTO 0 established the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

“We stabilized the Canadian area of operations, and handed the area over in good order to the Valcartier-based soldiers of ROTO 1.

“However, unlike our ROTO 1 counterparts, we will not be enjoying the tax break for the bulk of our overseas service, as a result of the 1 January cut-off date.

“While setting up and establishing this mission, the soldiers who served on ROTO 0 faced the constant threat of, and experienced, rocket attacks, mine strikes and suicide bombings.

These casualities were caused from planned, hostile acts initiated by the enemy and were the first casualties of this nature to have occurred to Canadians since the war in Korea.

Numerous other members of ROTO 0 witnessed the carnage in both of the above mentioned incidents and they carry emotional scars. As for myself, I think about those three soldiers who died for Canada every day, Corporal Beerenfenger, Sergeant Short and Corporal Murphy, and I will continue to do so every day for the rest of my life.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Compton—Stanstead Québec

Liberal

David Price LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

First, Mr. Speaker, I believe the original question was on Hewlett-Packard. I just wanted the member opposite to know that in April 2003, in a routine audit of contractor records, we identified irregularities at that point in the management of the Hewlett-Packard contracts. The contract was to provide hardware maintenance for computer equipment to DND on an “as and when requested” basis.

We found those irregularities, saying, “Okay, there is a problem there”; we must remember that we are talking about internal identification. In addition, in September 2003 we initiated a thorough forensic audit, engaging the assistance of PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada, an outside firm. To be thorough, we decided to look back 10 years just to see what was going on or to find what could have been problems in those 10 years previous to this. A civilian employee of DND with oversight of the contract was subsequently dismissed and the matter was referred to the RCMP. That is ongoing.

The Offices of the Auditor General and the Comptroller General have been kept apprised of the ongoing audits. In fact, the Auditor General has indicated that management and the internal audit group are handling the issue in a way that seems extremely appropriate.

Hewlett-Packard has a contractual agreement with the Government of Canada and we do not believe that it fulfilled the terms of this agreement. The government contracted Hewlett-Packard to provide specific information management and information technology services.

The government has also demanded that Hewlett-Packard remit to the Department of National Defence the amount of $159 million or provide evidence to substantiate the delivery of goods and services in respect of these amounts.

The department has at this point withheld payments of approximately $50 million that were pending to Hewlett-Packard until the final outcome of the audits.

The government would have been irresponsible not to take these actions, but additional steps have also been taken.

As part of the department's ongoing comptrollership plan, financial controls have been strengthened. The Crown is continuing to investigate the amount of money that may have been wrongfully paid out under the contracts. Also, an interdepartmental team of officials is meeting regularly to direct future actions. The file has been referred to the RCMP, which is conducting a criminal investigation, as well as the Department of Justice civil litigation branch. The government reserves the right to claim from HP any further amounts determined to have been wrongfully invoiced under the HP contracts with Public Works and Government Services Canada for DND.

The government is taking active and decisive steps to ensure that this matter is resolved satisfactorily.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Canadian Alliance Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the letter from the soldier on ROTO 0 continues:

“Despite the public's popular sentiment and belief regarding Canada's role as peacekeepers, in Afghanistan Canadian soldiers are employed as participants in the terrorist war.

“My company, Parachute Company, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, suffered greatly.

“Among the company's 121 soldiers, three soldiers were killed in action, and six others were wounded during minestrike and suicide bombing incidents.

“In light of ROTO 0's experiences and stellar service to Canada, it does not seem fair that ROTO 0 will not benefit from the tax break in the same manner as will ROTO 1.

“On behalf of your military constituents, could you approach both the Minister of Finance and the Minister of National Defence and perhaps Parliament to resolve this issue?”

I thank the soldier. On behalf of the soldiers and their dependants and in the sense of fairness that I hope we all share in this place, I ask that the Minister of Finance correct this oversight in the federal budget and recognize that all soldiers on overseas missions are in danger.

Surely if it takes four years for the Department of National Defence to realize that it has lost $160 million, the government can treat all soldiers equally.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Price Liberal Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, we will go back to the original question, which was on Hewlett-Packard. Again I will say that we found the problem ourselves with an internal audit. Action has been taken. There has been somebody fired. The RCMP is in the investigation. We are taking steps to get back any money for which work was not actually performed. Therefore, I think we are doing all that we can at this moment. We will continue to look a lot more closely in the future to make sure we do not get into this type of situation.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:37 p.m.)