House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11 a.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. There have been discussions among representatives of all parties in the House and there is agreement that a representative of each party may make a short statement with respect to the events that took place in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, on March 3, 2005.

Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11:05 a.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Anne McLellan LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honour four remarkable young men who gave their lives in the service of their country.

These four RCMP officers lost their lives last Thursday under tragic circumstances.

There is no more important obligation for government than to provide its citizens with both individual and collective safety and security.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP, has been helping provide that safety and security in Canada for over 132 years, first as the Northwest Mounted Police, then as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The four officers who lost their lives on Thursday, March 3, outside Mayerthorpe, Alberta, are very much part of that continuum of service and sacrifice that are the hallmarks of Canada's national police force.

I want to tell the House about these four officers who sacrificed their lives last week.

First, these four men had a deep desire to be Mounties. For them, this was the fulfillment of a dream.

Constable Peter Schiemann, 25 years of age, had at one point thought of entering the ministry, his father being a Lutheran minister in Stony Plain, Alberta. Instead, he became a Mountie and graduated from Depot Division, the force's cadet training academy in Regina, in November 2000.

Constable Leo Johnston, 32 years of age, was a month away from his four year anniversary with the force. He had been married to his wife Kelly for three and a half months. Constable Johnston had established a special bond with the Alexis First Nation, where he was involved in community policing. His twin brother, Lee, is also a member of the force. The Alexis First Nation today mourns the loss not only of an officer but of someone who became part of their community and their family.

Constable Anthony Gordon, 28 years of age, had wanted to be a police officer ever since a Mountie had visited his grade one class when he was six years of age. He and his wife Kim have a son who is almost three and whose birthday is at the end of this month. In three months, Kim is expecting their second child.

Constable Brock Myrol, 29 years of age, started at the Mayerthorpe detachment on February 14 of this year. He was the valedictorian of his class at Depot Division, the training academy, earlier in February. At Christmas, he had become engaged to Anjila.

These four officers served their community, but they were also part of the community. I have been struck, listening to the comments of residents in the area, by how everyone has mentioned that these four men were not only police officers carrying out their official functions, but they were very much part of the daily lives of local residents. They were actively involved in local charitable events and recreational activities.

This is another hallmark of the force. To do their jobs, its members become, and want to become, part of the communities in which they serve. That is effective policing.

We in Alberta feel particularly sad on the occasion of these tragic events. Not only did these events take place in my province, but the force has been an integral part of our province's history. The force came to Alberta to help keep the peace before the creation of our province and its members have been there ever since, keeping people safe.

On behalf of the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada, and I know that I speak for all in this House and for all Canadians, we express our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and fellow officers of these four men. Their loss is immeasurable, but we want them to know that as a nation we grieve with them.

What a remarkable country in which we live when the defining symbol of this nation for so many, here and around the world, is a man or woman in red serge. No other country in the world can, with such confidence, take such price in its national police force, a force whose motto is “Maintain the Right”--“Maintiens le droit”.

These four officers did not die in vain. The force, a very special family, will continue to serve and continue to keep Canadians safe, wherever they live.

Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11:10 a.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta


Stephen Harper ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, last Thursday night I was boarding a plane in Labrador ready to return to my own family after some absence when I learned, as did all Canadians, that four young RCMP officers in rural Alberta would not be returning to theirs.

It is difficult to fully express the grief that we all feel at this senseless act and the very long time it will take for many people to come to grips with this tragedy.

Our deep sorrow at this event is all the more difficult to express because never in the history of our country and society has there been such a tragedy.

The loss of four officers at one time is unprecedented and overwhelming in this country. It reminds us all, and it reminds us all too pointedly, that this country asks a lot of its law enforcement officers and of the brave men and women who serve on the front lines of policing.

These deaths are a painful reminder of the price of freedom from criminal activity and the costs of ensuring that most of us can live in relative security and safety. These four young men paid the highest price possible for their devotion to the safety of their fellow citizens.

As Canadians, we take for granted this precious privilege we share of living in a society based on respect for the law. However, the sacrifice made by these four young heroes is a reminder that every day, men and women risk their lives to ensure our safety.

On behalf of all of us in the Conservative caucus and this party, I want to join with I am sure all members of the House in offering our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and colleagues of these brave officers.

The time is coming to examine the circumstances of their deaths and the public policy implications of those, but in the meantime we all grieve. We recognize that they gave their lives in protecting Canadians and in upholding our laws. Their heroism will never be forgotten.

We also want to reserve a special thought for the entire community of Mayerthorpe, Alberta, which will have to live with the intimate memory of this horrible event for many years to come. Our prayers are with that community, with the families and colleagues of the officers, and with the officers themselves. God rest their souls.

Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11:15 a.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, my first thoughts are for the families of the victims of this senseless killing; their parents, who no doubt were extremely proud of them; the loved ones who wanted to share their lives with them; their children who, at such a young age, have lost their fathers; and their numerous friends, whose moving words tell us just how much their communities valued them and are sorry that they will never accomplish all they might have.

They have our deepest sympathies. We truly share their pain. The original meaning of the word “sympathy”, from the Greek for “to suffer with”, describes our feelings exactly.

But, my thoughts do not stop there, because these men were victims of hate, a hate both blind and not so blind. Blind because the person who took their lives did not see them, as we do, as fathers, sons, lovers, friends and neighbours, as intelligent and sensitive men, with both strengths and weaknesses, who served their community and who had the right to live and do their job to the best of their abilities. And not so blind because the uniform was targeted for what it represents.

Unfortunately, there are still people who do not understand the necessity for and the value of law enforcement in our society. Without it, total anarchy would reign, and anarchy quickly becomes might is right, and might is right is rarely fair.

This lack of understanding and the various ways people react to authority can, in a few rare instances, lead to an unwarranted hatred of the police. Fortunately, however, it rarely develops into a hatred so intense as to lead an individual to plan an act so grisly before taking his own life.

In Canada we have high quality law enforcement agencies, which act on the basis of the authority of the courts and the legislation enacted by elected representatives. The legislation, albeit imperfect, is a clear reflection of the desire of the general population to live in peace and to seek peaceful solutions to the conflicts that inevitably crop up in a living society.

These law enforcement agencies are composed of courageous and disciplined men and women who are willing to face this and many other risks. I fully understand the horror and dismay they are feeling at this time and I share those feelings. They have my deepest sympathy and my admiration.

In closing I want to return to everyone who loved these men. I know those close to them will give them the support they need to get through their terrible suffering. They should know that there are millions of others who are sharing their pain and are wanting to provide support.

I know I speak on behalf of the members of my party, those who elected me, all the people of Quebec and also, I believe, all Canadians.

Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11:15 a.m.


Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with profound sadness that I join all members of the House in expressing the immense loss felt by Canadians and to extend condolences to the families of Constable Anthony Gordon of Edmonton, Constable Leo Johnston of Lac La Biche, Constable Brock Myrol of Red Deer and Constable Peter Schiemann of Edmonton.

All Canadians are asking why. Those answers will have to wait for another day.

Today we join all Canadians in the experience of deep shock and sorrow as we reflect on the events that transpired outside of Mayerthorpe, Alberta which claimed the lives of these four young officers. This immense loss is devastating for their families and the grief is felt, not only in Mayerthorpe or Whitecourt, but in communities large and small across the country and, indeed, in the House here this morning, as all Canadians recognize the service and the bravery of these fallen men.

We are unwavering in our support of the men and women of the RCMP and police forces across Canada. They place their lives on the line each day to ensure the safety of our communities and the strength of our democracy.

On behalf of the New Democratic Party, I thank them and salute them. My colleagues and I are 100% behind the men and women of the RCMP and police forces across Canada. They place their lives on the line each day to protect our communities, our democracy and our families.

For this service we thank them. As they grieve the ultimate sacrifice made by four of their own, we grieve with them.

Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11:20 a.m.

The Speaker

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence with us today in the gallery of the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Giuliano Zaccardelli.

Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11:20 a.m.

The Speaker

I invite all the hon. members to rise for a moment of silence for these brave officers.

Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann

11:20 a.m.

The Speaker

It being 11:23 a.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from December 14, 2004, consideration of the motion that Bill C-273, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

March 7th, 2005 / 11:20 a.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill as I spoke to the predecessor bill put forward by the member for Lethbridge.

It has been a very tragic week, and tragedy has struck in my part of the country as well. Contact was lost with a Beaver float plane which left Campbell River last week with a pilot and four young men who were going to work in the coastal inlets. The waters are now being searched for the plane as we are certain that is where it went down. I have had a lot of contact with the RCMP, the Department of National Defence and one of the families who had two sons on board. These are very tragic circumstances, along with the death of the four members of the RCMP in Alberta. I think people at home are feeling very much like they have had their hearts ripped right out of them.

Once again we are faced with a search and rescue operation that involves a lot of people, many of them volunteers, who are actually willing to do what search and rescue personnel and volunteer firefighters do, which is go to places where there is need. They go to emergencies. They create the circumstances where we can all feel safer or where we can be comforted that there are people who are actually willing to dedicate themselves to do those things that need to be done in an organized fashion and who are, very often, particularly in rural circumstances, volunteers.

This legislation attempts to give some form of recognition to those volunteers who do so much for our communities. As a matter of fact, I do not think many small communities would be in existence were it not for this spirit of volunteerism. Certainly it would not be a choice that people would make as easily as they currently do.

During the last Parliament, when I spoke to the predecessor legislation that led to this bill, I talked about the volunteer fire department in the community of Cumberland in my riding. It had just sent a volunteer team of firefighters to Ottawa who represented western Canada in the auto extrication competition. It was the world championships which were held for the first time ever in Canada, and it just happened to be here in Ottawa the week before the bill was presented here.

Our little community of 2,700 people not only managed to send a volunteer team to Ottawa, but it was the only Canadian team to win an award. These volunteers were up against fully financed, professional, full time firefighters from all over North America and, in some cases, Europe. It was quite an amazing bit of business.

That fire department has quite the history. It is the oldest volunteer fire department in British Columbia, getting its start in 1892 rescuing men from local coal mines. Since then it has been quite the foundation for building and rebuilding this tight knit community.

Fire chief Ken McClure is quoted as saying:

There's a real sense of camaraderie that goes with serving the community many of us grew up in. These people have got heart. Many of these people juggle family, full time work and firefighting while still finding time to coach baseball and play Santa at Christmas.

That is really what this is all about. The membership list for that fire department now consists of grandfathers, fathers, sons, and daughters in one case, all walking in the same big boots.

In 1933 there was an incredible fire in the business district in this community. I would like to quote from a story written about that fire:

Rumour has it the path of the fire was broken by resident Frank “Cracky” Crawford when he was enlisted to blow up the Royal Bank. Remarkably, there were no casualties.

Those are the kinds of colourful stories that come from the wonderful community of Cumberland and which display the type of behaviour and precedent that has led to the current situation where we have these very dedicated volunteers doing things that are creative and, in some cases, life threatening, with no personal financial reward whatsoever.

What this bill would do is create a circumstance where, in some small way, the government would recognize what these volunteers are doing and would provide a small financial contribution through a tax deduction on their taxable income for hours of service in this category. That is why many of us are now starting to get correspondence from emergency service providers in our communities.

The private member's bill that we are currently debating is Bill C-273 which was put forward by the member for Cape Breton--Canso. Volunteers give their time and effort to ensure their friends and neighbours are not alone when emergencies arise, whether these incidents are fires, accidents, medical emergencies, national disasters or terrorism. This has certainly come home to me and to many of us in many ways during this past tragic week in Canada.

There is no question in my mind that we should all support the bill. It would provide a $1,000 tax deduction from income for 100-plus volunteer emergency service hours in a year and $2,000 for anything in excess of 200 hours.

The member for Lethbridge who put forward the predecessor bill with respect to this issue is certainly happy to co-sponsor the bill. I believe the bill has all party support. Speedy passage at this time would be a small measure signalling to these people that the Government of Canada does value what they do in a major way. I am happy to lend my support to this most important bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on Bill C-273, to amend the Income Tax Act to allow a tax deduction for volunteer emergency workers. I am especially proud since, as a former mayor of a smaller municipality, I had the opportunity to work with some of these men and women—because many women are now joining community emergency services—who do not hesitate to give up time to help their fellow citizens.

All too often, in smaller communities, they are paid on an hourly rate fee for service basis. When I speak of smaller communities, we could easily think of municipalities with a population of 10,000 and under, which cannot afford to pay anyone, be it firefighters or other citizens, on a full time basis. So, they rely on the goodwill of men and women who have the calling. One has to have seen these men and women at work, as volunteer firefighters, rescuers or ambulance technicians, for example, to understand that it is often out of passion that they go out and help their fellow citizens.

The purpose of this bill is to permit tax deductions for the men and women who perform between 50 and 100 hours of service as volunteer ambulance attendants, volunteer firefighters, or volunteers in search and rescue activities or other emergency situations. If they render 50 to 100 hours of service, they will be eligible for a $1,000 income tax deduction. If they perform more than 100 hours service, the deduction will be $2,000.

That is just and fair. Often the remuneration offered to such people by small towns and villages, per hour or intervention, is added to taxable income. As we know, income tax rates are graduated. Thus, our tax bracket goes up as our income goes up, and the percentage of income tax paid increases with income. As a result, at the end of the year, these sums are added to the annual salary of these people when they file their tax returns.

These people are volunteers. Therefore we presume that performing such services for their communities is not their main employment. They have other jobs, and often the pay for those jobs is taxed at the highest rates, come the end of the year. This tax deduction will make it very easy for them to be fairly compensated for the emergency services they have provided to their fellow citizens.

It goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois supports this legislation. We hope that it will be passed at the earliest opportunity. We are talking about volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance technicians, volunteers who take part in search or rescue operations, but there are also many other types of emergencies.

In Quebec, for example, we experienced the infamous ice storm. Of course, that required phenomenal cooperation across Quebec, with everyone helping everyone else. Of course, situations such as the ice storm are unique, but they help people get to know each other better. In many cases, people got to know their neighbours by helping one another.

Therefore, it would be fitting to adopt this bill and allow these men and women who are prepared to give some of their time for the well-being of their fellow citizens in emergency situations to get a tax deduction if they get paid.

Again, performing between 50 and 100 hours of service in emergency situations would give them a tax deduction of $1,000. Beyond 100 hours of service associated with such situations, they would get a $2,000 deduction.

We really must recognize this service. This is a good way for members of this House to salute the work of our fellow citizens who give their time for what is truly a vocation. I had the opportunity to meet the reeve of the Papineau regional county municipality and the men and women who were volunteer firefighters in the 26 communities of the RCM. To act as volunteer firefighters or volunteer ambulance technicians is a vocation for these individuals.

In Quebec, we are currently upgrading fire services. The requirements are high. A framework for risk coverage was approved by every RCM in Quebec. We are increasing courses and training for these people. They must enjoy providing these services to their fellow citizens and they must also be trained to do so.

These people have to dedicate a lot of time to these services, even though they work full time in other areas and are otherwise busy in their daily lives. Moreover, they use some of their time to take courses, which is not always easy to do. They must spend almost 400 hours in classes over a given period of time.

However, the fact remains that volunteer firefighter or ambulance technician training or training for other emergency service providers is now included in the safety coverage plan. Training is essential. Emergency workers love their jobs and that is primarily why they are doing them. They want to serve the people in their communities.

However, I would say that it is less fun than it used to be. There is more training, which requires a greater time commitment. In terms of getting a tax credit for this income, I know that many municipalities remunerate such individuals for the time they spend training. The fact still remains that this bumps up their income and puts them in a higher tax bracket. However, when tax time rolls around, it is not easy when they report the amounts they received from the municipality for training and for the emergency work they provided during the year and they realize that, ultimately, they owe the government money because they received additional income.

So, yes, I believe that the measure before us today is extremely appropriate. These individuals deserve a tax credit as compensation for their service to the community. It would be a nice way for the members of this House to thank these individuals for the work they have done and are doing for our communities.

Clearly, the Bloc Québécois strongly supports this initiative, Bill C-273, particularly as amended and improved because, initially, the amounts were $500 and $1,000. They have been increased to $1,000 and $2,000. Obviously, we strongly support this and it is a pleasure for us to do this for our constituents, the men and women who have given and who continue to give their time to provide emergency assistance to their communities. This is a fitting initiative and I hope that the House will adopt it without further delay, so that our constituents can take advantage of it next year.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this important business, and I will be following the tone and spirit of my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore. I support the bill and have good things to say about the member who brought it forward. I suggest the House needs to support the bill. I believe the last time it came before the House it did not pass. I think we lost by about four votes, which was unfortunate.

However, we today have a minority government and with that comes an opportunity for these kinds of important public initiatives to be successful, to work their way through the House and to see the light of day.

People are volunteering in all kinds of sectors, but particularly in very challenging and dangerous sectors like firefighting. They should be recognized for that and there should be some small, modest as this is, recompense for their efforts, contributions, hours and time spent training, et cetera.

Before I go on, I want to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Windsor West if he comes into the House in a few minutes.

It is important to note that the bill does not in any way stand as a challenge or competition to the excellent work done by our professional firefighters, ambulance drivers, et cetera. I think everybody recognizes the tremendous sacrifice these people make. We noted that this morning in the tributes to the four police officers who were killed in Alberta. A lot of these folks put their lives on the lines every day to protect us. We do not want to in any way suggest that there is a competition or that we should be set up a parallel service or anything of that nature.

The service given to us by our professional firefighters in particular, across the province and the country, is exemplary. They should be recognized and paid for those services. The government should be willing to come forward with the kind of resources necessary for communities, where possible, to have professional firefighting services available and ready to the call of citizens when they are confronted with very difficult challenges.

The bill speaks about a $500 deduction if persons perform at least 50 but less than 100 hours of volunteer service as ambulance technicians, firefighters or persons who assists in search or rescue of individuals in other emergency situations and $1,000 for 100 hours or more.

I want to commend my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso for bringing forward this initiative. I understand it was before the last Parliament and only lost by four votes. We are hopeful that with a minority government, this will not happen again.

We are supporting it. This is but small recognition of the individual and courageous service volunteers provide in our communities and certainly my own community is not exception. The rural part of the Sault Ste. Marie riding now has numerous volunteer fire departments, men and women who give of their time and energy, and put themselves out there on behalf of their neighbours.

We commend their training, their dedication, week in and week out, to be ready for tragedies that can happen, day or night, in any season or in any weather, often incidences of a smaller, yet still significant nature, namely, property damage. Occasionally, though, human loss and suffering happens. We must remember how much communities rely on these folks, at times in particular when we ourselves are taking rest from our jobs or on vacation, those folks are always on call and on duty.

I want to give credit to my colleague from Nova Scotia, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, for bringing a private member's bill forward in the House that people who volunteer in a registered organization, such as the Lion's Club, Kiwanis, a church or Legion, and put in 250 hours a year or more should be able to claim $1,000 tax deduction. I think that was a worthwhile thing to be asking us to support. In some small way these kinds of bills recognize volunteers in a very tangible way.

Volunteer firefighters often protect rural areas and small communities throughout this country. Most volunteer fire departments are located in areas with lower populations. Although the area they cover may be much larger, the number of people and structures they protect is sometimes relatively small. Because of these factors, volunteer fire departments typically have far fewer calls than paid fire departments. With a low number of emergencies to which they respond, it is simply not feasible to employ an entire department of full time firefighters. Volunteers who have other full time jobs may only be able to respond to emergencies a few times a week and usually that is all that is needed of them. They leave the supper table, their beds and their families on a second's notice to help protect their communities.

Most Ontario fire departments employ volunteer firefighters. They provide a provincial resource estimated to save residents more than $1 billion annually. The question of their recruitment, their training and their retention are critically important for our communities. The bill that we are entertaining here this morning will go a long way to providing at least some recognition of that fact.

Municipalities should anticipate that volunteer firefighter careers will be shorter than full time personnel. As a result, they need stronger recruiting and retention programs in place. This tax measure would assist in helping attract and keep firefighters.

I also want to put this whole initiative today in the context of a new reality, which has been evolving out there for a while, but which we are only beginning to recognize now. Part of the recognition is where the volunteer sectors in our communities are seen as part of a very important, valuable economic activity. With the bill before us, we are beginning to quantify in real and significant ways the value of the work and time put in, and the effort made by volunteers across the country.

Certainly, when we look at the initiative of the government at the moment, however modest its support, further development of the social economy is certainly part of that. I would encourage all in this place to support the bill because it is important, particularly in the context of the tragedy of this weekend. I do not think there is anybody here who could not but want to recognize in some tangible way the risk that is in this work on a day to day basis.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.


Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-273 which is a private member's bill that is basically similar to one that I had proposed in the last Parliament. After consultations and the approval of all parties in the House, this legislation has been very much improved.

I congratulate the member for Cape Breton--Canso, the member for Lethbridge, and the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore for their efforts in terms of improving this bill. These amendments have modernized this bill by ensuring that the level of compensation through the deductions permitted is increased to a more appropriate level.

The purpose of the bill is to provide some direct financial compensation for those who have made a commitment to sacrifice their time away from their families and their businesses to assist others in their communities in an emergency.

The provisions in Bill C-273 are about ensuring equity through the extension of tax benefits for those in a large number of rural communities who volunteer their time as firefighters or other emergency services and receive no honorarium for the time they have committed to those services or for the risks they have taken.

Currently, the federal government will provide, through the tax system, a benefit to volunteer firefighters or other emergency volunteers on the basis of an honorarium received; however, those who receive no such benefit or no such honorarium are not given that recognition through the tax system.

In fact, previously, when the current measure, that is given to those who have an honorarium, was brought in by the now Prime Minister and former minister of finance, many of us were under the belief that it would apply to all firefighters and emergency workers whether or not they received an honorarium, but that was not the case. This bill is designed to remedy that inequity. It is extremely important that this inequity is in fact straightened out.

Bill C-273 would amend the Income Tax Act to ensure that volunteer emergency firefighters and workers are able to deduct from their taxable income up to $1,000 for 100 hours of service and $2,000 for 200 hours of service. The intent of the legislation is to begin by ensuring a level of equity with all those who provide emergency volunteer services with a view to improving the system in the future.

There are some who would argue that this should apply to all volunteers, whether it is a Boy Scout leader or some other situation. The reason this bill does not go that far is because those volunteer emergency workers and firefighters are on call at the buzz of a beeper. They cannot organize their time around a family event or around their work. These individuals, who are involved as emergency firefighters, carry a beeper on them 24 hours a day. When the call comes, they go. They do their work to ensure that they assist their communities to put out a fire, assist in terms of an accident, or whatever.

Beyond that, they have training that they must go to, which they can schedule and it is not at the drop of a hat. They have equipment to purchase and it is a substantial financial burden to those individuals. This measure would certainly recognize them for those efforts and give them some assistance in terms of their taxes in order not to draw on the incomes of families as a result of the efforts they are making for their communities.

There is no question that the Department of Finance is concerned about the process by which tax measures such as this are addressed. It is being debated in the House. The department does not dispute the merits of what is contained in this bill or the merits of other private members' legislation that are concerned about this process. According to the Department of Finance, the proper procedure for tax changes to be made is in the budget.

I explained a moment ago that we thought we had this measure in the 1996-97 budget, somewhere along there. Somehow someone within the Department of Finance changed it, so that it only applied to volunteers with honorariums.

I come from a rural area and we consider volunteers to be real volunteers. Those people do the same kind of work as others who receive an honorarium. The only difference is that they do it at greater costs to themselves personally.

I would say to the Department of Finance that, yes, we are in this process in this House now because the Department of Finance failed to address the measure when we asked it to previously. We have all party support. The House of Commons is basically demanding that this goes through. We are demanding that the Department of Finance recognize that this is a serious matter. It is serious to volunteer firefighters. It needs to be addressed by the Department of Finance in a way that those people have that tax benefit as well. If there were a commitment by the Department of Finance to accept the provisions of the legislation as proposed, we would not have to go this route today.

As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food with responsibilities for Rural Development, I strongly support this effort. Those who volunteer are on 24 hour notice. They are committed to leaving family and business to assist neighbours in trouble and they are prepared to take risks in doing so.

I have had some personal experience with firefighters. It is almost 20 years ago that I had a major fire. There were three volunteer fire departments at the fire. Most of those people were farmers or small businessmen. At the drop of a hat, they had to leave on a nice spring morning, when they were trying to get a crop in the ground the same as I was, and some of them spent 30 hours on site. There were three volunteer fire departments dealing with what was for me personally a major fire.

They drew away from their business and their time to assist me and my family in terms of our difficulties. They do it quite often to assist others in the communities in terms of the tragedies that often occur. They absolutely deserve to be recognized for their efforts. They also need the tax measures to assist them in terms of the extreme costs that some of them face in terms of their efforts as voluntary firefighters.

Bill C-273 has received unanimous support in the House. Members supported amending the bill on the floor of this chamber to ensure that voluntary firefighters will be able to have their service recognized. We have expanded the number of hours from 50 to 100 hours and from 100 to 200 hours, and have replaced the amount of $500 with $1,000 and the amount of $1,000 with $2,000.

One of the most critical components of rural communities is the volunteerism which supports some of the most important activities vital to community life. It is incumbent upon politicians of all political parties to look carefully at measures which can assist those residing in rural communities, to be able to provide the necessary services similar to the level of service which urban communities take for granted.

This bill meets that commitment. I appeal to all in the House and I especially appeal to the Department of Finance to take the direction from this House in ensuring that what is proposed in Bill C-273 becomes the law of the land, so that those volunteer emergency workers and volunteer firefighters are treated with recognition, honour, and respect, and that they be given the benefits in the tax system that they are absolutely entitled to.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business



Andy Savoy Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-273. Like the member who spoke previously, I would like to congratulate the member for Cape Breton--Canso, the member for Lethbridge, and the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore on this wonderful bill. It shows a true commitment to rural Canada.

It is said that the wisdom of children is not always apparent, but when I ask my children who their heroes are in life, unfortunately they do not respond that their heroes are politicians. They respond that their heroes are firefighters, members of our police forces, nurses, doctors, people who support our society, people who take care of our society, people who protect society. In that case children's wisdom is very pertinent. I think all Canadians support that the people who protect us and spend a lot of time on call, 24 hours a day in the case of volunteer firefighters, are critical for rural Canada.

In the Mactaquac region of my riding an ambulance service was being considered for discontinuance. Thirty members of the community came together, took their training and became emergency first responders on their own. They are volunteers who work shifts, on weekends and during the week. Thirty normal citizens have come together to do this. It certainly shows a true commitment to their rural community. That is a case of first responders.

If we look at rural Canada in general, in my riding of Tobique—Mactaquac the two largest towns have 6,000 people and the rest of them are anywhere from 300 to a few thousand. A lot of them have volunteer firefighters. Much of the quality of life in rural Canada that we enjoy is dependent upon volunteers. Within my riding there are thousands of volunteers at various levels.

Probably the most critical volunteers in terms of quality of life in a rural community are our firefighters. In deciding on where they are going to relocate, people look at health care. People in rural Canada travel distances for health care. Education similarly requires travel. Recreation has the same situation with economies of scale. It is sometimes difficult to have the level of services that are available in urban Canada.

The key services that people consider are policing and fire fighting when relocating to rural Canada. We have to look at the quality of life in rural Canada and how we can support it. Bill C-273 is very important because it does that. It reinforces volunteerism specifically for our emergency services whether they be firefighting or emergency response. The bill not only speaks to the volunteer firefighters but it speaks to the quality of life in rural Canada.

As I said, there are hundreds of volunteer firefighters in my riding, but in general, volunteers in rural Canada are very critical. Volunteers face stressful situations. These people put their lives on the line many times. They will go into situations where they will see an infant die or they will see people who lose family members through fire or other accidents. Volunteer firefighters and first responders go through very stressful situations. The impact it has on an individual's psyche warrants the passage of Bill C-273.

The 24 hour on call was mentioned. That is critical family time for people with children. The volunteers know when they go on a call it could put them into danger and it could be jeopardizing their own family. It is not just the volunteers who make sacrifices. The volunteers' families make sacrifices as well. This must be recognized. Not only is there the safety aspect but there are the stresses on the family life as well.

We have all been wakened up by the sounds of sirens at night. We can often picture the destinations of the volunteer firefighters and first responders, fires and situations where their lives will be put in grave danger.

I live beside the beautiful Tobique River. I was playing with my daughter on the front lawn one afternoon when the sirens went off. Across the river we could see a number of emergency response vehicles, including a fire truck. My daughter asked me what the sirens were about and I said that when there are sirens, people are responding to people in need. She asked what that meant. My daughter is five years old and does not have a concept yet of emergencies. I said it could be a fire or a number of different situations but the people riding in the vehicles are the people who protect us. That is when she asked if they are our heroes and I said yes, they are the heroes in our communities.

It made me think of the wisdom of children. It made me think of our emergency responders and firefighters. They do so much for Canada's rural communities. They do so much for our quality of life.

Those individuals make a financial commitment as well. There is a variety of set-ups across Canada in terms of volunteer firefighters. Some are given virtually nothing and they still volunteer their own time and money to perform that great service for their communities. We have to look at the situation where they are not only volunteering time but they are also putting their money on the line.

During the year of the volunteer the UN studied volunteerism around the world. We know from that study on volunteerism around the world that Canada was rated number one in terms of people volunteering their time, and number one in terms of people volunteering their money. Volunteer firefighters are the backbone of the volunteer community. They have to be recognized for that.

That is why Bill C-273 is so important. It talks about the volunteering of time, because time has a cost to it. Not only that, it speaks to the money volunteers are committing, whether it be in terms of equipment, the gasoline they use to get to the emergency situations or the time lost away from work. Fortunately in rural Canada many employers recognize the necessity of volunteer firefighters and they give volunteers time off. We have to understand there is a sacrifice for taking time off. It may not be financial, but there often is a sacrifice when people miss critical times at their jobs.

In closing, I speak in full support of Bill C-273. It is very critical to the quality of life in rural Canada. It is critical to recognize the time that volunteer firefighters and emergency response personnel take. It is very important to my children and their heroes in their communities.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to stand today in support of Bill C-273. It is great to see that all parties in the House are in favour of the bill.

I must say I was in support of this issue the last time it was before the House. I hope that this time the finance department will listen to the House and do something that is correct.

As I stand here today I hope I am not in conflict because I am a former volunteer fireman. For 14 years I was a member of the Downie-Ellice fire department. I was very proud to be part of that great group. I know how disappointed those firefighters were the last time when the motion to give some income tax relief was defeated in the House.

It has been mentioned here a couple of times that some of the remuneration that might be received by volunteer firefighters or volunteers in the service industry has to be added to their income tax forms at the end of the year. Sometimes that will put the person into a higher tax bracket. I do know that some people who made maybe $1,400 or $2,000 as volunteer firemen added that amount to their income and it put them into a higher bracket. They had to pay $2,500 more in income tax, which meant that it cost them $500 just to be volunteer firemen. Not only in recognition for the fine work they do but also in fairness, as they sometimes put themselves in peril, they should at least be reimbursed for their expenses.

Volunteer fire departments sometimes do not have all the equipment that they might want to have. I can remember after being at one particular fire for the better part of a day, there were dirty hoses lying all over the place and there was really no way to get them back to the fire hall. A lot of volunteer firemen own pickup trucks, so they brought their trucks to the scene, threw all the dirty hoses into the backs of their trucks and took them back to the fire hall. Needless to say those trucks are not owned by the fire department and the volunteers are not reimbursed for that service. That is an example of the things that volunteer firefighters do.

Volunteer firefighters and volunteers in other service groups, become families. They are trained as pairs and work with partners.

I have always said that I resigned from the fire department because I got a little bit heavy and I did not want to put--

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

An hon. member

You could not climb the ladder.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could still climb the ladder, but the ladder had quite a bend in it.

I did not want to put any of my colleagues in peril in that I might go down and they might have to save me.

The training that is involved is superb. Volunteers put in many hours of training, whether it be to learn the skills of climbing a ladder or putting up a ladder and making sure that it does not slip. Firefighters do not pick the type of days to fight a fire. It could be very icy and slippery. When they put up a ladder, it might slip. They have to know all the safety requirements in those particular instances.

We also had to know CPR. We had to take first aid. We became paramedics to a certain point. None of us really got that far in the paramedic industry, but we did know CPR and how to treat some minor injuries.

I am very proud that a former volunteer with the Perth East Fire Department is a full time firefighter in Nunavut right now and is training to become a paramedic. I met him at the airport a week or so ago. He said that he was doing fine and loving it but that it was very cold. He said that the training was superb and that he was looking after that area very well.

With respect to the tax part of the legislation, the amount that might be used on tax forms for the 100 or 200 hours that a volunteer may put into his or her community is a small amount when one thinks of the amount of time that these volunteers put into our communities.

We did wear a beeper all the time and it was kind of rough getting out of bed at 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning. We could be enjoying ourselves at a dance when the fire alarm would go off and about 15 people would have to leave to go to the fire hall to look after a particular incident. Even when our beepers went off at funerals or weddings we left because we needed to look after the people in the community.

I cannot stress enough the fact that there has been all party agreement on this particular issue, and that makes my heart feel really great. Our volunteers will realize that the whole of this place supports their initiatives to look after our communities. Rural Canada relies on its volunteers to keep it safe.

One of the toughest things I had to do while I was in the fire department was attend a tragic accident that involved four young people. Two of them were okay but two of them were not. One of the toughest things for a volunteer fireman to do is to remove dead bodies from an auto accident. I remember that night very vividly. The chap I was with said that it was really tough because those kids were the same age as his.

I hope everyone will support the bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have been very enthused and encouraged with both the candour and tone of the debate today on my Bill C-273. I appreciate hearing all those who took the opportunity to speak to the bill today.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank both the member for Malpeque and my colleague from Lethbridge who put forward similar bills in the 37th Parliament and who have been very kind and forthcoming. Between the three of us I think we have been able to massage a bill that is palatable and one that will serve the best interests of those very important volunteers who we hope to help.

Every community in the country is touched in some way by fire service providers. Over 200,000 Canadians have put themselves forward as a fire service providers. Being a representative from rural Canada, from rural Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, it becomes even more evident. I have over 50 fire departments within my constituency which consists of small hamlets and villages. The men and women of those communities come forward to offer their services for the betterment of the communities.

The fact that we are debating this private member's bill on a day when the House recognized the loss of four brave young Canadians in Mayerthorpe, it becomes more evident and allows us an opportunity to offer that respect and recognition for those who work in protection services such as law enforcement and fire services. They are men and women who place themselves in danger for the betterment of their fellow citizens on a daily basis. It is significant that we are able to debate the bill on this particular day. What the bill tries to do is give communities an opportunity to recruit, retain and reward those volunteers who put their names forward and offer their services.

In preparation for today's debate I looked through some information in regard to recruitment. In the small community of Hanna in south central Alberta, fire chief David Mole of the Hanna volunteer fire department is very concerned because the number of volunteers have dwindled as young people have left the community for work elsewhere. The numbers have dropped off and the department is at the extreme low limit in volunteers. It is causing great concern within that small community. I think we see that in each of the communities that have volunteer fire services.

Will the bill elicit a great outpouring of people signing up? I do not know. If it is another tool in the bag of the fire chief and his department to encourage young people to sign up, then I think we are doing our job in providing a recruitment tool.

The Glace Bay volunteer fire department had its installation of officers with Chief Arnold McKinnon recognizing Jim Taylor's 25 years of exemplary service with the federal service medal. I think that is significant. It is a reward for those who place themselves in danger. For the people who are running into the building when everybody is running out, I think there has to be some small reward.

I am very pleased with the debate today and it is my hope that all members will see the merit in the bill and will be able to support this private member's bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 12:23 p.m. the time provided for debate has expired.

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

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Order. On Friday, February 18, 2005, the House of Commons adopted a motion containing provisional changes to the Standing Orders. These changes come into effect today and will remain in effect until the sixtieth sitting day of the 39th Parliament. They pertain to the length of speeches, the procedure surrounding the adoption of committee reports, the number and votability of opposition days, the referral of bills to a committee before second reading, the proceedings of the Liaison Committee and the provisions surrounding the convening of committee meetings.

As with any situation in which there is an overlap of two sets of rules, a transition period will apply. Therefore, it is important to note that the debates on motions which have already begun will continue under the provisions of the Standing Orders in effect before today, until the House completes the stage the motions are currently at. Future stages will be governed by the provisional Standing Orders.

Needless to say, the Chair will inform members of Parliament when a new stage begins. Therefore, instead of providing the details of every change today, the Chair will inform the House, as the circumstances arise.

Members desiring further information may wish to consult the standing orders which have been reprinted to include these provisional changes. Also, the document “Time Limits on Debates and Lengths of Speeches” has also been reprinted. I understand that copies are being distributed to members' offices. Finally, I would encourage members to approach the Table if they have questions.

The House resumed from February 24 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.


Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in the debate. I have been here since 1993 and this has been one of the best budgets we have seen in Canada. It is as a result of the hard decisions we made in the 1995 budget by the current Prime Minister, then minister of finance.

The budget has demonstrated the commitments that were made during the last federal election. On the weekend the Prime Minister's key line was “promises made, promises kept”, and that is absolutely evident. It can be seen at every stage in the budget. The budget builds on a long record of success, in the long history of the government having to make tough and at times difficult decisions to get the financial conditions of the country in order.

Over the years we have achieved that, and we have been able to begin the reinvestment so critically necessary in the areas of health care, infrastructure, the farming community devastated by the closure of the U.S. borders and other endeavours.

The federal budget goes further in fulfilling commitments in key areas, and I will name a few.

We have committed a $12 billion investment in national defence over the next five years, a support that is critical to the modernization of our armed forces. There will be a $3.4 billion investment over the next five years in international assistance, a hallmark of Canada's role in the world and something we are well recognized for around the world.

As promised, the federal government will contribute $5 billion to early child care and learning initiatives. To assist our seniors, we have committed to providing an additional $2.7 billion through the guaranteed income supplement for low income seniors. For Prince Edward Island, that is an especially important endeavour because we have such a high proportion of seniors in our province. They actually move back when they turn 55 or so because Prince Edward Island is a little paradise within Canada.

For the low and middle income earning Canadians, we are providing direct tax relief by increasing the amount of income which can be earned before federal taxes are applied to $10,000 annually. This will ensure that 860,000 Canadians are removed from the tax rolls.

For Prince Edward Island and Atlantic Canada, there are some direct benefits in the budget. The budget marks once again the efforts of the federal government to meet the recommendations of the report of the Liberal Atlantic caucus report called “Rising Tides” by bringing forward a $700 million investment for economic development, which includes an additional $300 million in the Atlantic investment fund. That fund has proven to be successful in creating business and economic spin-offs to those businesses. Within the $700 million, an allocation of close to $290 million will support a new innovative community program to assist in the diversification of vulnerable communities to strengthen human capital, trade and tourism.

There will be an increase toward the wind energy initiative of $200 million over the next five years. That is being futuristic in terms of lessening our dependence on fossil fuels and using some of those alternative energy capacities out there.

In terms of fisheries, the budget has announced the commitment of a total of $276 million for the Coast Guard to procure, operate and maintain six new patrol vessels. There will be a $15 million infusion into efforts to address the problem of overfishing in the NAFO area off our east coast. Overfishing in the Atlantic fishery has been a concern for years. The government is acting on that concern and moving forward with the necessary moneys to deal with it.

There will be a one time investment of $30 million to establish an Atlantic salmon endowment fund to assist in improving the sustainability of the salmon stock. That has been another long term request in moving forward and strengthening the salmon industry within our province.

I neglected to mention in the beginning, Mr. Speaker, that I will be sharing my time with the member for Scarborough Centre.

Another important area in the budget is the changes which will be brought forward in employment insurance, changes that tremendously will assist my region and all rural areas in Canada.

I want to turn for a moment to the area of farming and rural Canada. There is no question that primary producers have faced tremendous financial difficulty over the last number of years. However, I want to point out a couple of positive statistics, and that is how valuable the farming sector is to our country and the fact that it is one of the economic backbones of Canada in our production potential as a nation.

The agriculture and agrifood sector provides one in eight jobs in Canada. It accounts for 8.2% of our GDP. Agriculture and agrifood exports have increased from approximately $10 billion in 1990 to approximately $26 billion in 2002. In other words, farmers are not only creating economy within Canada, they are attracting foreign exchange back to the country because they have increased their exports, which governments have asked them to do. The sad part and the reality is the marketplace itself is not returning to those primary producers a fair return on their labour and investment. We have set up a consultation to target and focus on the farm income problem from the market itself.

Canada currently, our producers, is the fourth largest exporter of agriculture and agrifood products after the United States, the EU and Brazil. Sadly, farm debt has almost doubled between 1994 and 2003, going from $24.4 billion to $47.6 billion. The farm income data tells us a sad story as well. In 1997 dollars, farm income has declined from over $3 billion annually in 1989 to below zero in 2003. That is the reality and we recognize it. However, I have to underline that this is the return to producers from the marketplace itself without government payments included. As a result, the government has stood with farmers in their time of need. In the BSE situation, when the Americans unnecessarily closed the border as a result of BSE, we stood there with producers and we paid out moneys to assist them in their time of need. We will continue to do so as we look at the problem down the road.

Direct farm support to farmers in 2003 is an estimated $4.8 billion. Sadly, that accounted for almost all the total cash farm income received by farmers. The marketplace has not responded with the kind of returns that producers need so much. As recently as 2000, 73% of total average farm family income came from sources off the farm. I am raising that point to say specifically that farmers are doing their part to stay on the land and to force the issue.

I would have liked to get into some of the measures in the budget but my time is almost up. However, let me point this out because it is something I heard in my farm consultations consistently. Farmers want the CAIS deposit dropped. In the budget, the Minister of Finance clearly stated the position of the government. The federal government agrees with Canada's farmers that producers should not be required to put funds on deposit annually in order to be eligible for CAIS. That is a clear commitment by the federal government. We have to negotiate that with the province to ensure that farmers do not have to pay out a deposit before the CAIS program kicks in.

I would ask members to turn to the budget plan 2005 and they will see the kinds of measures we are taking to assist the farm community in their time of need. We will continue to stand with them in their time of need. We will do everything we can to try to push up prices from the marketplace and have the safety net program in place that meets their needs