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House of Commons Hansard #54 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was witnesses.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you were to seek it, I believe you may find unanimous consent to call it 5:30 p.m. and to proceed now to private members' business.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from March 31 consideration of the motion that Bill C-210, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (amateur sport fees), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the debate on this bill. It is yet another one of those bills that keeps cropping up in the House with great regularity: we need a tax break on this; we need a tax break on that.

If I am not mistaken, it was only yesterday or two days ago--the days seem to run together here--that we were discussing the necessity to stop charging GST on babies' diapers. There was a very impassioned presentation by the member sponsoring that bill over in the Bloc section, a young mother who on behalf of millions of parents in this country, said it is wrong to charge GST on one of the basic necessities of life.

We have a bill today that says we ought not to be paying income tax on money that is used for our children to participate in sports.

People can tell by looking at me that I am a great athlete. I certainly support sports. It is little known that in my youth, among other things, I entered into a 50 mile bicycle race. I am indeed very interested in physical fitness. It has served me well in all these years to have been physically fit because now that I am not anymore, somehow my heart and the other parts of my body are still coasting on the physical fitness that I developed when I was a young person. My heart is strong and my lungs are strong.

There is no way that anybody could be opposed to the participation of our youth in sports activities.

When I was a youngster we did not have a whole bunch of these organized activities. We did not need $500 or $600 worth of hockey equipment to play hockey. As a matter of fact, we played hockey without hockey sticks; we could not afford them, so we used branches from trees. It worked.

Should I say what we used for pucks? We could not afford those little round rubber discs but we got some out in the pasture that worked equally well and in winter when they were frozen, they were great. We did not have to have shin pads and all of that stuff when catalogues tied around our legs did just as well. They absorbed a lot of energy.

That shows that I am from a different era but still it does indicate that being involved in group sports is something which all of us should support.

With respect to taxation, it is true that our Canadian families are taxed to death, whether we talk about diapers for our babies or about enrolling our children in sports activities like hockey, soccer, baseball and whatever other activities that youngsters engage in. Nowadays that costs a lot of money. We no longer play on the creek or find an empty slough somewhere and scrape the snow off to play there.

There was nothing wrong with that. It was a lot of fun and it served the families of day, but nowadays more and more families are living in cities. That type of a facility just is not available and people use skating rinks. They have to be rented and as a result if youngsters are to be enrolled in hockey, for example, then there is a fee to enter the club, even for a youngster.

Mr. Speaker, I know that you have some passing interest in hockey. I happen to have had some but at a much lower level of course. We always enjoyed it when our son played hockey. Our second son was quite involved in soccer at a certain time but our first son played hockey. We had a lot of fun sitting and watching him plan, Gretzky-like. Gretzky of course had not been come along yet, but our son would plan the plays with his friends and we would watch them execute them once they were on the ice. It cost us a little bit of money, but it was money that was well spent and well invested.

Now we have a young fellow in our family who happens to be the son of number one son, so he is our grandson. He is seven years old and he made it onto the Alberta team. I believe that this weekend he is planning on going all the way from Sherwood Park just east of Edmonton, where they live close to us, to Calgary for his first out of town tournament. It is rather exciting. He is a neat little guy. I love the way he skates. He is only seven years old but he dips and doodles just like a pro. He is being coached very well by his dad and by the coaches on his team.

Again there are expenses involved with all the equipment that little youngster needs, all of the registration fees required by the team, and all of the travel costs now that he is in the provincial tournament. I understand that in a couple of weeks his team is going to a neighbouring province. They are going to Regina, Saskatchewan for another tournament. That all costs a lot of money and it has to be paid for with after tax dollars. That is where the crunch is and that is what the bill is about.

While in principle I think it is great to have a bill that reduces the tax burden for families, I would like to broaden it so that it includes everyone. Not everyone plays hockey or soccer. Some people are engaged in activities which are just as costly but which do not involve the purchase of sports equipment.

For example, when I was a youngster I took piano lessons. That is another very little known fact around here. I studied with the Toronto Conservatory of Music and finished up to my grade nine. One of my favourite things now when I have meetings in my riding, if they permit me, is to ask them to find me a piano and I will pound out O Canada for them at the beginning of the meeting.

I say this blushingly and obviously with no lack of pride, but I actually got a standing ovation a couple of years ago after I played it. People sort of expect others to limp up to the piano, fumble around on the keys and hope they hit some right ones. When I play O Canada, I play it solidly and with a good pace because I do not think that our national anthem should be dragged out. The point of the matter is that when I played it, everybody was surprised and they stood up and clapped for me. That was a good moment. I enjoyed that.

However, those piano lessons cost money. It cost money, even in my day, to get piano lessons. Many families are incurring those expenses. This bill does not address the issue of families and music lessons, or ballet lessons, or swimming lessons, or other things like that. I guess it might include swimming lessons because that has to do with sports activities and sports teams.

It is true that families should have a break on taxation. I would like to see a much more broad based reduction in taxes for families. I would like to see the overall rates reduced. We should greatly increase the basic exemption. That is my view.

We should recognize in our income tax laws that raising children is very costly. There are the costs for the diapers, the sports activities, the music lessons, all the other things that youngsters do, their dancing lessons, their ballet lessons. There are the costs of feeding them, clothing them, buying their medicines, paying their dental bills, buying their glasses, paying their tuition fees when they go to college. Certainly in the elementary and high school years there are fees to be paid, the school usage fees, the gym fees and all of that stuff. It all costs money.

I would like to see a substantial increase in the basic exemption for parents and also an increase in the basic exemption for each dependent child. In that way the parents could choose which activities they wanted to support for their children. They would not be limited to the narrow scope of what the bill provides.

With that, let us just say that Canadian families are taxed to death. Let us do what we can to reduce the tax burden so they have more money in their family budgets to provide for their family needs.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted this evening to have the opportunity to address Bill C-210, introduced by my colleague from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. It is not the first time that he has introduced this particular bill. In fact, he did so two years ago and it died on the Order Paper.

In his usual inimitable way of being very proactive, determined and dogged in pushing forward priorities on behalf of working people and children in our society, he reintroduced the bill, which is today in its second hour of debate. Very simply, we are dealing with an amendment to the Income Tax Act that would allow the deduction of fees paid by an individual for the participation of a family member in amateur sport or physical activity.

I noted with interest that the previous speaker critiqued the bill by saying this was a tax deduction for physical activity with sports involvement, but why was there no advocacy for lower taxes? It seems to me that typically the Conservative member has totally missed the point of the bill.

The bill is about addressing the reality that we have a major challenge in this country. As parliamentarians we have a major responsibility to be addressing ourselves not just rhetorically and with empty words but in concrete measures to deal with the issue of health promotion and prevention of ill health.

This is not just about families having more dollars in their pockets. This is about recognizing that it makes perfect sense to give people the opportunity, by financially removing the barriers for lower income families, to enroll either as adults or their children in sports activities that are specifically part of a comprehensive health care strategy.

I was very pleased on Tuesday, honoured in fact, to have the federal leader of the New Democratic Party in my Province of Nova Scotia launch the health care platform of the New Democratic Party.

I know the government is pushing off an election for as long as it thinks it can possibly do so. One cannot blame it for that because its focus is entirely on how to clean up its image in view of the scandals. Somehow then, it will make a run for it in an election campaign, where it has somehow persuaded people that it simply came back to life and discovered a lot of things it has been neglecting. In fact, it has been tearing things down for the past 10 or 11 years.

The reality is we are going to have an election. The election campaign is already underway. The writ has not been issued, but Liberal cabinet ministers are flying around the country at public expense announcing electoral goodies and gimmicks. The election is underway and that is why we have launched our health care platform.

I think this serves as one concrete example. It is not exhaustive. It is not going to change the state of health of the entire population. However, if we are serious about promoting good health and healthy fitness activity, then we should ensure that it is not denied to families who are going to have difficulty paying for the registration of, for example, a child participating in gymnastics at the YMCA or YWCA or a child joining a local sports team and so on. It is a very concrete measure.

The question has also been raised, and I welcome the question, about why this deals only with physical activity? Why does it not also deal with a proposed tax deduction for participation in artistic and cultural activities? This would also strengthen the health of our communities and give an opportunity for families to equally have access to that kind of participation for their own enrichment and creative development.

My colleague from Dartmouth introduced a similar private member's bill to achieve that. Of course, the Liberals voted it down, as they would no doubt on this occasion as well if we were having a vote today. This is a vote that will not take place today. I think that is obvious, but would be carried forward.

I regret to say that I see no sign that we have that kind of support from Liberal members for this measure to provide for a tax deduction for those participating in sports activity, any more than they were prepared to provide that kind of recognition for the involvement in artistic and cultural activity. One aspect was to strengthen the body and the health of the individual. The other was to support the mind, body and spirit through artistic and cultural activity.

I know some people are skeptical when they look at a private member's bill like this. They say, “Oh well, what is the point anyway in an opposition member introducing a private member's bill?”

The member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore has demonstrated on several occasions the value of members introducing a private member's bill, and keeping at it and at it until it finally finds its way into public policy.

Let me mention a parallel private member's bill. It can be seen as one that acts in parallel to the bill that has been introduced here. It deals with the compassionate leave provisions that are actually now in the process of being implemented.

One of the things about being in opposition is that a member has to be prepared to be stubborn, persistent, and constantly out there trying to persuade the public that this is something that can be dealt with. Finally, the government gets it sometimes.

It finally gets it because one of the things that we do as New Democrats is encourage people to ensure they let the government members know when they do support a private member's bill. In the instance of the provision for compassionate leave, this was an absolute passion for the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.

He kept coming back and back to the government, saying it was surely revolting for family members--in the final days and weeks, and we believe it should be months--of loved ones coming to the end of their life, facing terminal illness or in palliative care, not to be at their side because financially it was prohibitive for them to leave employment.

The government finally responded to this pressure, albeit inadequately and not as comprehensively as it should have. It has provided for six weeks of such passionate care. We believe that six months should be the minimum.

We think the bill should be extended so that it is not just the immediate parent or spouse of a dying relative, but the family member in the family unit who is in a position to leave employment and be there providing that care.

Let me return by way of wrap up to the specific tax deduction measure proposed here that would support healthy activity, participation in health promotion activity, physical activity, and involvement in sports to serve as a preventive measure in order to drive down the costs of health care. Those costs would get spent in the end because of chronic and acute illnesses that could have been avoided in the first place.

I urge all members to think about the plain good sense of this bill. The bill has a concrete application to a big problem that we have in this country. There is a very high and escalating health cost to care for people suffering from illnesses that could have been prevented through such measures.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

(Motion negatived)

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Would there be agreement that we see the clock as 6:30 p.m.?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, as you well know, this is what we often refer to as the late show. I am glad you put me on notice that the late show would be early. I appreciate your generosity. In fact I guess this could be the last “late show” in the House if things happen as we expect over the next couple of days.

The reason we are here tonight, obviously, is to talk about an issue I raised with the Deputy Prime Minister a week or so ago in the House. It was the issue of island of Campobello. It is an interesting spot. In fact it is the only spot in Canada that we have to access through another country and that other country is the United States of America. We have to travel approximately 60 miles or so to get to another part of Canada. That creates unusual problems for that part of Canada. Campobello Island experiences problems that no other part of Canada experiences, simply because of transporting goods from one part of Canada to another.

The BSE crisis has created unusual problems for Campobello Island. Many products are held up at the border, and many products which contain beef products are held up at the border. In fact many of the shipments of food supplies to that island are held up unnecessarily.

In addition, the homeland security department in the United States of America has put in unusual practices which have to be performed to the letter of the law to allow shipments of goods and services to that island.

I brought this to the attention of the minister on January 29 in letter that outlined in detail the problems being experienced by the citizens of Campobello Island. If members will remember correctly, February 2 was the first day the House came back in session following the Christmas break.

I talked to the minister personally, on the floor of the House of Commons, in regard to Campobello Island. The minister, at the time, understood the problem. She said that she had received my letter and was interested enough to suggest that her officials would drop into my office to work out a solution to the problem.

After questions to the minister, those officials eventually did show up in my office and I outlined my plan for resolving this issue, in absence of a government plan, because the government had no plan. It is kind of a fix it up, patch it up, band-aid solution to some of these problems that interrupt the flow of people, goods and services to the island of Campobello. I believe my plan is workable and the minister's officials believe it is workable. As we speak, Canadian officials are meeting with our Washington counterparts to find a resolution to this, based on some of the ideas I have proposed.

The plan I suggested is simply this. Canadian officials, that is CCRA officials, often referred to as our customs officials, would inspect those shipments of goods going to Campobello Island and seal that truck. The Americans, Tom Ridge and the American Ambassador included, have suggested that the Canadian inspection system is good and that it works. If they believe that, I suggest they allow Canadian officials to inspect the loads and seal them at the border. That inspection seal would be recognized by the Americans and they could allow the transportation of goods unencumbered to the other part of Canada called Campobello.

I believe the process will work, and it will requires a level of cooperation by the Americans to ensure that it does. Let us see what happens. Let us give that process a chance.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:40 p.m.

London West Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would like to assure the hon. member that this government is well aware of the unique situation for residents on Campobello Island whose meat and food supplies must be processed by U.S. Customs when arriving from the Canadian mainland.

As my colleague is aware, since the events of September 11, both countries have introduced increased inspection processes and security measures at our shared border.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has put in place enhanced import requirements and more vigilant inspection of beef products. As a result of its more vigilant inspection process, the permit system that allowed meat products to move in transit through Maine to Campobello Island with minimum delay was suspended.

However, I am pleased to say that through negotiations with the U.S. FDA and in recognition of the very special circumstances involving Canadians living on Campobello Island, the expedited clearance process for meat products has been reinstated by U.S. authorities.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I am aware of that. As the parliamentary secretary knows, that is sort of a band-aid solution to the problem. We are suggesting a solution that will be long-lasting and that will serve the needs of Campobello so that these interruptions do not occur as frequently as they do.

I am suggesting a recognition that the goods leaving Canada for Campobello Island are in fact Canada to Canada transportation needs, not Canada to the U.S. Somehow we cannot seem to get that through to the Americans. I am saying that our inspection process is the best in the world. Americans recognize that so let them put their money where their mouth is and accept our inspection process and allow those trucks to travel unencumbered to the United States.

The point that I often make with our officials is that if it is good enough for General Motors to General Motors, that is General Motors Canada versus General Motors United States, the same for Ford and Chrysler in terms of parts and shipment of cars, goods and services, it should be good for Canada to Canada.

I believe the solution that I propose is very workable without getting into the details. I am hoping the minister and her officials push that plan with their American counterparts for a long-lasting solution to this very irritating cross-border problem.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government recognizes that there must be exceptions to the rule and this is why the Government of Canada initiated discussions with the U.S. to find a solution to this unique issue.

The Deputy Prime Minister will continue to pursue this with her U.S. counterpart, Tom Ridge. In the longer term, the hon. member should be aware that the Government of Canada is pursuing solutions to the broader issue of food products entering and transiting the U.S. under the Bioterrorism Act.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

5:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

(The House adjourned at 5.46 p.m.)